In the AFI DOCS film FRESH DRESSED, filmmaker Sacha Jenkins offers a fun and colorful history lesson in hip-hop fashion through the decades. The fashion trends which were initially born out of a mix of ingenuity, creativity and swagger soon found their way onto high-fashion runways and into suburban closets in middle America. The film traces the genesis of some of hip-hop’s most influential ideas and how they crossed over into mainstream culture.
We spoke to the Jenkins about the film and how it came about.
What led you to documentary filmmaking?
My father, Horace Byrd Jenkins III, was a documentary filmmaker and television producer. He actually taught media and communications at Howard University, and we lived in Silver Spring, Maryland until I was seven years old! Seeing what my dad did at such a young age had a profound influence on me.
I’ve been a journalist for many years, primarily focusing on music-related subjects. For me, journalism—the act of asking questions, discovering and processing those discoveries—that is truthfully at the core of what inspires me to use film/video as a medium to tell stories.
What inspired you to make a film about hip hop and fashion?
When I left Silver Spring for Queens, New York back in 1977, what I was exposed to on the streets of the Big Apple touched me profoundly. What we did as kids—danced, made music, made art, how we spoke, how we dressed—that would go on to be known the world over as “hip hop.” So moving to New York was the best thing that came out of my parent’s divorce.
How did you find the subjects in your film?
As someone who grew up with the culture, I knew who the players were. Hip hop has always been super grass roots, so I had those connections. But as a long-time journalist who wrote about the music, I have amassed a respectable Rolidex.
Is there a particularly memorable subject you interviewed?
Fresh Dressed is just dripping with real characters. Dapper Dan, who created such intricate clothing designs out of his Harlem shop, he has stories for days; I could listen to him talk about a sandwich for hours. So many interesting insights, such a strong voice. He’s a really important figure inside the world of hip hop fashion and his influence has touched so called “high fashion” without question.
What did you learn from making your film that you’d pass on to aspiring documentary filmmakers?
Keep asking questions. And keep listening to answers. These interactions will really help you to bring your vision into much tighter focus.
What’s the significance of screening FRESH DRESSED at AFI DOCS?
I’m honored to be screening my film in my original hometown. I love New York to death, but my first ideas on what documentary might mean—me pouring over old issues of Life Magazine for hours on end as a kid—all of that happened in Silver Spring. Coming full-circle feels really nice.
Watch the trailer below and buy tickets to the AFI DOCS screenings taking place on June 19 and 20, 2015.