Londoner Nasir Mazhar
is breathing new life into hat design, pulling inspiration from what he sees as London's last true subculture: the grime scene—the culture that has sprung up around the bass-heavy, Garage-Dancehall hybrid that grew out of East London in the early 2000s.
"Because of the materials I use, I’m placing myself in the higher end of the fashion industry and when you start talking about rude boys it’s really the complete opposite of that," Nasir says. Hip-hop millinery is a pretty surreal idea, but this season, as always, Nasir's marabou headbands and floral caps tap into all the unbridled, ceiling-scraping crazy that this contrast brings. OC online's Gillian and I managed to catch Nasir in New York recently and got an education in grime, skanking, and sportswear.
Check out the photos from Nasir's Spring/Summer 2012 presentation to the left, and keep reading for his commentary on the Michael Jordan mask and a piece he calls "Erykah Bablue."
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Gillian Tozer: I'm really interested to hear more about the grime scene and the music culture you draw on. Earlier you were saying that it’s one of the only subcultures that still maintains a universal aesthetic: it’s the music, but it’s also about the way these guys talk, the way they dress, it’s everything.
Nasir Mazhar: Yes, a lot of what I’ve done comes really, really naturally. It’s not about what seems to be the trend. I’m trying to ignore what else is going around me and trying to hone in—really, really truthfully—on what I like. I asked myself what do I really like? What am I actually into? And what am I looking for that I’m not getting from what’s already out there? And that was a style that went with all this music—hip-hop, grime, Dancehall, and R&B. And it doesn’t really exist anymore. The whole progression of that style had stopped in the 90s and people stopped pushing it. Like the Missy Elliot and Hype Williams videos, which I will love forever and ever and ever—no one has come close to that in years. In the 2000s it all started to merge as one and suddenly R&B stars started looking like indie rock stars.
Alice Newell-Hanson: But you think Dancehall culture hasn’t changed?
NM: I think it's one of the last subcultures in which people totally have their own style and don’t want to give in to the commercial. Those artists aren't really making any money, but they stay true to themselves and they still wear hoodies and tracksuits, and they still go to underground raves and they still MC about all of the things they want to. It felt like in the fashion industry everyone wanted to be the same. And that feels really naff to me—it's just not cool.
GT: So what did you want to do with fashion that was different?
NM: I was thinking, how can I be honest to myself and do what I want to do without giving in to that. So I said let’s start slowly and let’s change the cast of what we do; let’s stop just using skinny white girls and skinny white boys, let’s bring in street-cast black boys, Asian boys, girls, whether they’re short or whether they’re tall. I’ve had bigger girls in my shows, I’ve had skinny girls, I've had short girls, I’ve had really tall girls. I want to incorporate everyone.
ANH: And why was it headwear you were drawn to?
NM: When you look at the styles of Dancehall or hip-hop, in terms of headwear the main pieces are hair styles, especially with Dancehall girls—they don’t really wear hats, they wear weave, they wear lace-front weave, and they wear wigs. So I thought let’s start making pieces that are actually hairstyles. So with this aqua Erykah Badu piece [see images on left]—we call that "Erykah Bablue"—it’s almost like a turban but it’s also just massive dreadlocks at the same time.
GT: And caps have become a really big thing for you too.
NM: Again, I asked myself what do all the rude boys wear, what is the street style? And it’s caps. And I’ve always worn a cap, since I was a kid, but I got sick and tired of everyone having the same cap, it was always the same cap. So I thought, let’s reinvent the cap, let’s make a new cap. That was the original idea but it took quite a while to perfect; I really had no idea, and I taught myself a lot of what I know now.
GT: How do you feel then about these very different spheres intersecting, these subcultures on the one hand and the fashion world on the other?
NM: It’s really difficult. It doesn’t always go hand-in-hand and it’s not so easy for, say, someone who’s going to spend £250 on a hat to understand “Oh, rude boys!" They don’t really care about rude boys, they care about what the next best thing is. But I have my references and they can make from it what they want.
ANH: What about the Spring/Summer 2012 caps?
NM: The shape of the caps stays the same every season but we vary the fabrics. This season the idea was 80s or 90s, and so we made them in these really jazzy, fresh fabrics. There are four different fabrics and they’re all printed chiffon. It felt really tropical, so it was like Dancehall, Jamaica, the tropics, the real jungle, and jungle music.
GT: Where do the sportswear references come in?
NM: The first commission I ever did was these trainer masks for AnOther Magazine
with Nicola [Formichetti] and I thought they were really, really cool. They have a real fetish element to them, like sportswear—I suppose that’s more in the gay scene—but sportswear is a real fetish. We took a pair of Michael Jordans and just re-worked them. That’s all it is: a pair of Michael Jordans with nothing else, cut up and put back together to make a mask.
ANH: And did you make the spring clothing too?
NM: Yes, we made two men’s outfits—tracksuits with a lot of mesh, like the one I’m wearing now. But again, I find it really funny when people are working within “luxe sportswear”. Please. I have friends who do that. You’re doing sportswear—what does “luxe sportswear” mean? Sportswear to me means something that’s made incredibly well, with high quality fabrics and an impeccable finish. I just want to make new sportswear. I grew up wearing tracksuits and I’ve always played sports, so that’s an area that I do want to drive into.
ANH: What first got you into Dancehall?
NM: I used to go to this night in Forest Gate, in London—which is not a cool area at all—I think it was called Club 19, and it was nuts. You’d go in and there would be TV screens everywhere, and the carpet had a Club 19 print and the whole place was UV-lit. The carpet went up the walls, and that’s a proper Dancehall night. There are women with butts starting half-way up their back and finishing at their knees! But the only reason I went in was because I went with my friend and she is married to a Jamaican guy—I wouldn’t go there by myself, I’d be scared. But that’s what I love about it—that’s their scene and you’re either in it or you’re not. And you can be brave enough to go and you would probably be fine, but it’s a risk, it’s not the type of place you go and say, “Oh hey, look at my new weave, look at my new hip-hop clothes”. It’s not a trend thing. You go there and your T-shirt’s gray and you come out and your T-shirt’s black from the sweat because you’ve been skankin' all night long. It's a culture.
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