I have to be completely honest with everyone who will be reading the following piece. This one will contain a horde of firsts for me. I’ve never done an article about fashion of any category. I’ve never interviewed a journalist of Puerto Rican heritage. Nor did I ever entertain the notion that I’d be interviewing a remarkable woman who is expecting her third child and is two weeks away from her due date. Affix all those things together and that’s what you’ve got in this article.
Elena Romero is one hip hop’s most renown journalists and possesses a wealth of knowledge when it comes to its fashion trends. She’s seen it all from her youth growing up in Brooklyn to the current styles that dominate the landscape. Her eyes witnessed the early days when the hip hop fashion was once all things old, borrowed and sometimes blue. Elena can recall a time when garments were unisex and not made to fit. She can definitely tell you of time she experience sheer jubilation when designers dedicated their efforts to create women’s apparel that was made to fit.
Anyone who knows Elena and of her career can clearly see it has been fused with all things hip hop from the very start. Especially when it comes to the rise of some of the cultures most popular clothing brands such as FUBU, Sean John and the legendary labels presented by Marc Ecko. She began chronicling the budding market back in 1996 for Fairchild publications via their now defunct publication Daily News Record (DNR). Elena continued to document the scene until 2002 and in her time with DNR became the trade’s associate market editor and was the contributing editor at Women’s Wear Daily. She also saw this market go from boutique mom and pop operations to a $58 billion dollar industry at its apex; only to see the bubble pop a few years down the road.
Eventually she would leave the world of hip hop fashion and segue into academia teaching journalism at the collegiate level and pursue graduate work at NYU for publishing. However, prior to this she always had one constant idea burning in her soul. The very thought of writing a comprehensive book chronicling hip hop fashion from its inception to the present times was never a farfetched plan for Romero.
Her book Free Stylin’: How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry is essentially a written documentary on the evolution of hip hop fashion. It contains a treasure trove of stories on how urban wear and culture crossed over, garnered mainstream success and added a new flavor to popular culture. It illustrates with great color and detail just how urban designers were able to compete with established names such as Karl Lagerfeld and Betsey Johnson. Conversely what is just as interesting as the book itself, an utter must read, is the story of how it came to life. This will be highlighted in part two of this series.
Daniel Rivera, Guest Contributor