The 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards air Monday night. Under the “Best Music Documentary” category three out of the five titles nominated share an element of hip-hop: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story, Jay-Z’s Footnotes for 4:44, and The Defiant Ones; a Netflix docuseries that highlights the relationship between Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. In all three films, fashion gives power to plot lines and helps thread together iconic moments in hip-hop history. MTV Canada recently partnered with luxury streetwear brand OneMeth Goods in Toronto on a new capsule collection and pop-up. The gallery and shop space showcases the undeniable connection between music and fashion over the past 20 years. While in my hometown, I caught up with Max Sawka, Associate Creative Director of OneMeth Goods and lead curator behind the exhibit. Sawka schooled me on how the collaboration came together, the challenge of narrowing down historic moments, and kindly reassured me of Tupac’s presence on the gallery’s wall.
<Semmi W: How Did You Decide Who Was Featured?>
Max Sawka: For me personally, I wanted everything to have a very clear connection to fashion instead of just being a loose trend. Right behind you, I am looking at Nirvana and they started the grunge movement. And here we have Perry Ellis [still pointing], who designed this grunge collection. You can see it on a runway and actually learn how it traces back to Kurt Cobain in the ‘90s. An isolated fashion moment [like the kind we’ve curated] usually involves the design community instead of just a popular moment or look. Like, if I look at Madonna’s corset [featured in the exhibit], I mean the corset itself is interesting… but when you trace it back to the designer, Jean Paul Gaultier—you learn more. Does that make sense?
SW: How were you not biased while putting this together? You and the team grew up when all of these moments were happening.
MS: We were totally biased.
SW: Oh really? [laughing]
MS: I mean, I tried not to be. But you’ll notice… it just slowly goes towards hip-hop as time goes on. And I think that is just symptomatic of what’s going on in the world. I think hip-hop has married itself with high fashion. Like with A$AP, Kanye… Who else? [another team member yells “Drake”] Yeah, Drake. All these people are intimately connecting themselves with the fashion world. More so than rock or country music. I think the world has gravitated that way. At our office, hip-hop is playing 24/7. We just naturally go in that direction. We tried [definitely at the beginning] to keep it neutral, like genre-agnostic… but we always are just thinking of hip-hop.
SW: How did this pop-up and gallery collaboration get started?
MS: MTV hit us up and said, “We love your clothing, do you want to do something together?” and we said, “sure.” So we put together a capsule collection blending our brand with their brand. We just built this whole timeline… a gallery experience documenting all the times where fashion and music cultures have intersected; from the day MTV went on air in 1981 to yesterday.
SW: What do you want people to get out of the exhibit?
MS: I want people to see the intersection between both spaces. As we were building this, it became really surprising. I had no idea Filip Pagowski designed Drake’s album art [promotion] for VIEWS. We saw Drake’s album art all over Toronto… it was huge. And once I learned that, it was like, ‘Holy shit, of course!’ Those eyes. It’s the same eyes you’d see on the famous Comme des Garçons “PLAY” heart logo. Or look at who designed Jay Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” album cover… it’s a Givenchy designer. Those seemed like two purposeful intersections… that to me [at first] were just loosely connected. So I hope people walk away thinking, ‘Holy smokes, I had no idea how tight these two worlds are.’
SW: Do you think it’s actually the fashion labels that decided to embrace hip-hop? Personally, I think hip-hop has always embraced high fashion.
MS: Totally. Yes, I couldn’t agree more. And right beside us is the ‘90s. I think ‘94-95 Wu-Tang and the New York guys started wearing Polo and Hilfiger first. Tommy Hilfiger embraced it right from day one and said, ‘This is cool. These guys get it. Grand Puba gets it. Raekwon gets it.’ They did a campaign with Aaliyah, which you shouted out when you were here earlier. Polo on the other hand was not into it. Ralph Lauren was not on board. And it took him like ten years to come around. And now, Polo re-released the Snow Beach collection, which is what Raekwon wore in the “Can It Be All So Simple” video.
MS: It took them ten years to be like, ‘Yeah, these guys have something and it’s important to fashion.’ He came around. Your opinion is right on point. Hip-hop led it and now fashion is sort of…
SW: Catching up.
MS: I think it’s realizing the power of hip-hop versus the reverse. Dapper Dan is such a great example. The atelier he did [with Gucci] opened up last year in New York, I don’t know if you passed by it in Harlem. It’s such a cool story. It took them like 30 years before they went, ‘Oh wait, there is something really special here.’ It was crazy for me… I knew the Dapper Dan story really roughly, but I didn’t know the album art for Eric B. and Rakim… the jackets they were wearing on it were by him.
SW: What do you think makes Toronto a great location for an exhibit like this?
MS: Right now, we are at Toronto’s intersection for music and fashion. We did that on purpose. Right beside us is MuchMusic, which is Canada’s famous music station. Queen West is also right where the shopping district kicks off. For Toronto in general, I think the whole world knows we’re having a music renaissance right now. It’s crazy. All the musicians at the top of the charts seem to be coming from Toronto. For fashion, we like to think of [OneMeth Goods] as adding to that. We make all of our stuff in here… Toronto is killing it for music. We like to think we’re helping kill it for fashion.
SW: Music videos used to be a big deal. You had people like Hype Williams, Benny Boom, Jake Nava, and X directing big budget videos… that’s [in part] where fashion cues came from. That sense of “pulling” or word-of-mouth doesn’t happen in the same way.
MS: I don’t even know if kids these days watch music videos. And that does have a huge impact on fashion. It’s definitely been replaced by Instagram. Like, I never watched A$AP’s “Fashion Killa” music video until we took on this project. I knew the song. It’s a beautifully shot video, but I saw him wearing a lot of those clothes on Instagram. People are still out there making beautiful videos. It’s just that now they are more like pieces of art… versus these mass pieces of communication. And I feel bad for the kids. I remember going home on a Friday and watching the countdown on TV or seeing a new video come out and being blown away. And now it’s a little underwhelming. It’s not because people are not making awesome videos, it’s because we have been conditioned a certain way. It’s pretty crazy.
SW: What is your favorite part of the exhibit?
MS: We have super talented artists working with us so watching them do the hand-lettering was really cool. We are both looking at Keith Haring right now… there was a Keith Haring dress designed for Grace Jones in the ‘80s so our designer was like, “What if I did classic Keith Haring lettering?” and she did it in one shot. Just watching it all drip… she did it in maybe 30 seconds.
SW: More record labels and musicians are dependent on selling merchandise. How do you think that impacts the visual statement these artists have to make? Is it less organic? Like, I remember watching LL Cool J with that FUBU hat on and it felt more real. But now…
I mean, it’s crazy.
SW: How does it impact luxury streetwear brands like yours?
MS: For us, it’s changed the way drops happen and the way hype is built into marketing clothing. Specifically, looking at the ‘Pablo’ tour and Justin Bieber’s ‘Purpose’ tour… those tours took merch to a level I have never seen before. Kanye’s ‘Pablo’ tour did pop-ups in over 11 cities just to sell merch. They had like hour-long lines for $80 Gildan t-shirts.
MS: So they were really just doing basic screen prints on Gildan. There is an art store right there [pointing to street] that sells Gildan shirts for $2.99. Just imagine: $2.99 t-shirts which they bought in bulk so it was cheap. And I mean, it was still designed so there was definitely an aesthetic there. All of a sudden that’s transitioned into high fashion because it’s being sold outside of the concert. And as a streetwear label, you’re a bit like ‘Oh tour merch is seeping into our space.’ We have to compete and understand that our consumers are involved in that hype and how it changes everything.
SW: But do you consider it real fashion?
MS: It’s tough… the consumer in me feels really weird about paying $80 for a Gildan t-shirt. I do think there is purpose behind it. And I do think it’s art. It’s just not the same as us. Our designer Jonathan Shimoni goes to the factories and picks out fabrics. That to me is another level of art… gravitas.
First published in 2018. The ONEMETH X MTV pop-up shop & gallery ran from from June 1 – June 17 in Toronto at 227 Queen St. West. Peep the exhibit’s timeline here.