Urban Culture Refined at ROCK Fashion Week

The fusion of fashion and music just got a whole lot smoother. As I awaited the opening of Russell Simmons’ Argyleculture show poolside at The Eden Roc in Miami Beach, the mood, previously pink with a high-energy pop soundtrack, noticeably shifted as the lights dimmed and hip hop beats from Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, Method Man and Digable Planets permeated the humid night air.

“Our vision for this show was to convey the energy and vitality of Russell’s pop-preppy line, both to the consumer and media,” said Tara Solomon of Tara, Ink., the public relations firm retained by Rock Media and Entertainment for ROCK Fashion Week Miami. “We wanted everyone there to leave the show with argyle short-shorts, sweaters and tennis dresses – as well as clean, tailored men’s suits – on their spring shopping list.”

In unison with the laid-back, yet refined, vibe of the evening, his ready-to-wear line reflected a combination of cool spring pastels, khaki and white argyle knit sweaters and sweater vests, in addition to plaid prints, seersucker striped button-downs, classy suits, Bermuda shorts and Adidas in an array of colors and styles to complement the fashionable, yet professional, urban culture-inspired gear. The predominantly male line even had a little something for the ladies, showcasing argyle print mini dresses, sweaters, hip-grazing jeans and hot pants, swimsuits, short shorts and oversized bags. The mix, a combination of elegant and casual attire, heated up the runway. Even the ever-unpredictable South Florida rain that caused the show to be moved inside mid-strut couldn’t dull the shine of his fashion forward line. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to catch up with Simmons to find out a little more about the vision behind his creation.

“It’s a big void, you know, it’s an underserved community that creates so much culture in America, that’s been guiding America from a creative standpoint but didn’t really have a fashion brand that spoke its language,” said the hip hop and media mogul. “It’s like no one made anything that’s easy for somebody who came out of all the many brands [to wear]. From Triple 5 Soul to Phat Farm, Rocawear, Sean John, Enyce to LRG, there’s so many brands, right? And then what do they do, grow up and all wear Ralph? I’m not saying that’s wrong, I’m just saying that there’s something that speaks their language. So that’s what we wanted to do, get a little more edge, more inspired by the classics.”

And so the Argyleculture line was born. Marketed toward the 20-something “urban graduate”, his menswear line allows the sophisticated urban professional to shed his baggy jeans and seamlessly transition from work to the weekend with relaxed, casual, yet polished, style without sacrificing the roots of his urban lifestyle. Simmons has long been known to have a predilection for argyle prints himself, and identifies so closely with the evolution of his clothing into this new line that he is serving as the face of the advertising campaign.

“Twenty years ago when I started my clothing business Tommy helped me a lot and Ralph, I always got inspiration from him and some of the American designers, but the idea that there was something different, that was where we found our first urban brand,” Simmons continued. “There’s no other brand since Phat Farm, and it was inspired by those classics but younger, with more edge and now this—the fit, the energy, the styles, the colors are more vibrant, but it’s still inspired by those same ideas. Our suit collections have a little more twist. It’s more fashion than corporate. Corporate is not something I think about when I’m designing.”

So what inspires this successful entrepreneur to do what he does? It’s simple. “It’s creative and it’s fun,” he said. “I do things I like doing. I don’t do anything else. I enjoy my charities. I enjoy designing. That’s pretty much it.”

If you know anything about hip hop music and the deep-rooted urban culture it embodies, then you should know the name Russell Simmons. And if hip hop music is embedded in your DNA as deeply as it is in mine, then you can truly appreciate the contributions of a man who has not only made an indelible mark on the media, advertising, art, entertainment, fashion, finance and telecommunications worlds through Rush Communications and the multi-million dollar entities housed under its innovative umbrella, but was the driving force behind the promotion of Kurtis Blow, one of the first commercially successful rap artists, and the revolutionary rap group Run-DMC, inarguably one of the most influential and groundbreaking acts in the history of hip hop (and the second rap group of all time to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Enter Def Jam Recordings, and the list goes on.

While Simmons is no stranger to the art of making a profit, he is equally as successful in the philanthropic arena.  Co-founder of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and Co-Chairman of the Hip-Hop Action Summit Network, with a long list of additional charities under his belt, he continues to do his part to give back to communities locally and abroad.

In 2006 he became the first African American to launch a major jewelry company (Simmons Jewelry Co.) and later created the Green Initiative jewelry line, an endeavor in which 25 percent of proceeds from all sales will go toward his Diamond Empowerment Fund, a program which aims to raise funds to support schools and colleges in South Africa and Botswana and help boost economic development. The first Green Initiative creation, the Green Bracelet, which is made from green malachite beads and conflict-free rough diamonds sourced from Africa, was included in the show as an accessory to the Argyleculture line. Fifty percent of net profits from sales of the bracelet will go to the D.E.F. as well, so go out and get one.

The Argyleculture line can be found at Macy’s. A more recession-friendly derivative of the line is available exclusively at Wal-Mart.

It’s clear to see that, in any arena, Simmons remains at the very top of his game, keeping his finger on the pulse of global culture (which is why he made our “Haute 100” list of New York’s biggest power players in this month’s issue). As he continues to evolve, we will undoubtedly see more valuable contributions to hip hop and the world at large. I can’t wait to see what’s next.