Russell Simmons resigned from his enterprises on Thursday as a result of many women accusing him of sexual assault. This will (presumably) cast a shade over Simmons’ illustrious reputation as the co-founder of Def Jam Records going forward.
However, music was not the only foundation of Simmons’ success. He also had a significant role in the “urban” design movement of the late 1990s as the creator of the clothing and footwear company Phat Farm, which he established in 1992, around the same time as the alleged sexual assaults, according to reports. Phat Farm swiftly established itself as the go-to brand for hip-hop enthusiasts during that time and grew into a multimillion dollar enterprise, enhancing Simmons’ status as a man of wealth and influence.
The womenswear equivalent of Phat Farm, Baby Phat, was created by Simmons’ then-wife, Kimora Lee Simmons, in 1998. Both companies, which were owned by Phat Fashions, were sold to Kellwood Apparel in 2004 for an estimated $140 million. (Kimora and Russell split in 2009; she now has her own clothing line using the same name.)
However, in the late 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, Phat Farm and Baby Phat, as well as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren (two companies who finally accepted hip-adoration), hop’s ruled supreme and were offered at high-end retailers like Macy’s. Everyone from Lil Kim to Brittany Murphy to Vanessa Williams attended their runway presentations during New York Fashion Week, which were pop-culture events that aided in the fusion of the fashion and celebrity worlds.
Urban streetwear companies were considered as an extension of hip-hop artists’ fashion influence because they served as instructors as well as aspirational style heroes by mentioning luxury brands like Versace or John Galliano in their anthems and fostering a new generation of brand aficionados.
A number of artists, like Diddy (Sean John) and Jay-Z (RocaWear), started their own labels after feeling that European brands had failed to repay their gratitude, creating a completely new market for clothing. We all know that in the middle of the 2000s, when designers like Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy and Alexander Wang started creating upscale versions of streetwear, high fashion’s stance toward hip-hop culture altered. Since then, there have been several articles on the appropriation of black culture due to those collections and their impact on the industry as a whole.
Phat Farm and Baby Phat no longer exist, and neither can be located on Instagram or Twitter. Both brands are not included in Kellwood Apparel’s catalogue, and when a caller inquired about them, the receptionist responded, “What’s a fat fashion?” before transferring the call to voicemail.
It’s not clear how long Phat Farm products have been lying on virtual shelves, but a short Google search finds that they are still available (and on sale) at Sears and K-Mart shops, including acid-wash skinny jeans for boys that will make you nostalgic for the early 2000s. Both brands appear to have largely quietly disintegrated.
A 180 from Phat Farm’s oversized denim and flamboyant hoodies but in keeping with his own later-in-life preppy taste, Simmons was busy planning a return to the fashion industry with Argyleculture while the Phat Fashion empire was imploding. Along with argyle sweaters, the J.C. Penney brand also sells board shorts a la Tommy Bahama and short-sleeve button-down shirts with flower prints. Simmons described his most recent endeavour as “vintage American with a certain edge” in an interview from 2016. These are the men who had been purchasing J. Crew and Ralph Lauren while taking their pants in. We therefore see this as a significant opportunity to fill the considerable gaps in menswear design. Following the accusations of sexual assault made against Simmons, J.C. Penney has subsequently discontinued the Argyleculture line.
One wonders whether the Twitterverse will react by doing what Twitter users do best and advocating for a boycott now that the accusations against him are in the public eye. So far, there isn’t one, though that seems to be mostly because consumers aren’t really aware that Argyleculture even exists.
The only clothing items Simmons has recently been actively involved in marketing are the $198 “Tanoluxe” unitards and $108 “Tanostretch” unitards on sale at his brand-new Tantris Yoga Center in Los Angeles, which he claims he will be converting into a not-for-profit centre for healing and education after the sexual abuse allegations came to light.
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