So are ya'll hip to singer-songwriter and producer Angela Hunte-Wisner? Sure you are if you have heard the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys anthem "Empire State of Mind" for which Hunte (her stage name) won a co-writing Grammy award for- she also sang the hook that sounded like children's voices on the rapper Nas' song "I Think I Can" and has worked with everybody (singing and writing) from Britney Spears, Snoop Lion and Danity Kane to Amy Winehouse, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and so many more. Her music career started after singing in a short lived 90's girl group called 7669 on Motown Records, but she is actually one of the creators of the "New Jack Swing" style of dress that became popular in late 80's and early 90's. Come on in and get this lesson...
Hunte's career began in the late eighties when she worked as a casting director for Lionel C. Martin- the in demand music video director who was working with some of the hottest R&B singers and rappers at the time (Father MC, Guy, Bell Biv Devoe etc). That all changed one day when Micheal Bivins called and asked Hunte to style a newly formed "rap" group called Bell Biv Devoe for their "Poison" video in 1990. Bivins didn't even care that Hunte knew nothing about styling, he just wanted her to dress everybody in a style similar to her own and she did that creating an early street style look that consisted of big bold colors, baggy denim and oversize silhouettes.
The video style was a hit and she soon became the go to stylist for Biv 10 Records and continued to work almost exclusively with Martin. She styled R&B artists in a way that reflected the current R&B and hip hop fusion that evolved from the New Jack Swing sound started by producer Teddy Riley and Bernard Bell and she worked with up and coming artists like Jodeci and Boys II Men, two very different singing groups that she gave two distinct styles to.
Jodeci had a decidedly rugged and hardcore look as she put them in oversize hoodies and shorts with Hi- Tech Magnum boots at a time when nobody was really wearing boots for style purposes. But for Boys II Men, Hunte went in the opposite direction and created the preppy black "Alex Vanderpool Era" a term she came up with to describe the Ralph Lauren denim shirts, Tommy Hilfiger sweaters, jean shorts and sporty tie nerdy look that they somehow pulled off. I remember seeing my friend's older brothers who were in high school at the time practice for school talent shows rocking that very same look- and they weren't the only ones!
She adorned other artists like Another Bad Creation, Hi-Five, H-Town and Robert Kelly (before he became R. Kelly) in styles that included leather, utility vests, army fatigues, airbrushed graffiti denim sets, Starter jackets, jerseys, colorful Nike shoes, Jordan's and most importantly- baggy clothing.
Working with a very small budget at the time, Hunte got her hands dirty by taking crayons and markers to color in the stripes and checks of athletic shoes to match the outfits that her clients were wearing. She also utilized up and coming street brands like Walker Wear by April Walker, Cross Colours and the HBCU clothing line AACA clothing (whose collegiate inspired sweatshirts were worn by H-Town, Bill Cosby and Martin Lawrence) and taking pieces to graffiti artist friends who tagged jackets and jeans worn in videos, helping to spread the influential street style that is still emulated today.
Hunte was one of the first Black stylist for music videos in a time when there was no blueprint. She created a lane that helped open the doors for many after her and in the process ushered in a New Look that in my opinion is equivalent and just as important as Christian Dior's New Look and both are still referenced today.
I know that is a bold statement to make and may seem like a reach, but hear me out: the New Jack Swing Era got its name from Barry Micheal Cooper, the Village Voice journalist who interviewed producer Teddy Riley for an article back in the late 80's (Cooper also wrote the highly popular hood movies New Jack City and Sugar Hill in the early 90's too). This new sound was emerging out of the devastating crack epidemic that was taking over the east coast which brought with it lots of money and newly minted young millionaires who wanted to look stylish and be seen and heard. The result of that was the flamboyantly wild colors, prints and logos, exaggerated silhouettes and expensive threads. Hunte had the vision to take the street style she saw and wore herself and translate that style to the masses through popular music videos, album covers and magazines.
Christian Dior did something similar in 1947 when he designed a post war new look in an attempt to revive the French fashion industry that had become boring and staid due to the rationing of fabrics. When he debuted (yes this was actually his first collection EVER!) he caused a stir in a good way with his full skirts, severely nipped in waists, soft shoulders and the overall use of excess fabric. According to legendary Harper's Bazaar editor Carmel Snow (Anna Wintour before there was an Anna Wintour) the two part collection was a breath of fresh air and "such a new look". A fashion star was born, the look and term both spread and voila'- same damn thing, in different eras proved that beautiful ideas can emerge from turbulent times...
I believe Hunte doesn't get the credit that she deserves for a number of reasons: she was a Black stylist working with Black artists at a time when fashion publications didn't even acknowledge the fact that such a thing existed, back then stylist played the background and usually worked for record labels as a part of artist development which was different from independent stylists working today, and lastly and probably most importantly is because Hunte went on to become super successful further on in her career as a singer-songwriter and her earlier most influential work got put on a back burner...
Now that I have refreshed your memory, do you remember any super stylish music videos from back in the New Jack Swing era that you liked? Let me know about them in the comments below!
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