‘Cross Colours: Black Fashion in the 20th Century’ Exhibition Coming to L.A.’s CAAM Museum
"Cross Colours broke a glass ceiling when urban hip-hip apparel wasn't considered a formidable player in fashion and merchandising."
By Booth Moore | Originally published on WWD.com, August 1, 2019
Photo: Courtesy of Cross Colours Archive
Los Angeles is shaping up to be a destination for African-American art and history exhibitions this fall.
In addition to the career-spanning “Betye Saar: Call and Response” exhibition opening Sept. 22 at the L.A. County Museum of Art, where the L.A. artist will be honored at the annual Gucci-sponsored Art + Film Gala, The California African-American Museum will open five exhibitions, including a 30th anniversary survey of pioneering L.A. hip-hop fashion brand Cross Colours, a group show highlighting local artists working in metal, an installation by visionary L.A.-based artist Timothy Washington, and an examination of the “mammy” caricature in films and popular culture.
“Cross Colours: Black Fashion in the 20th Century,” Sept. 25 to March 1, 2020, will trace the history of the brand created for black youth by Carl Jones and TJ Walker with the premise of producing “Clothing Without Prejudice.” An aesthetic as well as a sociopolitical movement, it continues to reverberate today in brands like Pyer Moss and Telfar.
“Cross Colours broke a glass ceiling when urban hip-hop apparel wasn’t considered a formidable player in fashion and merchandising,” said Tyree Boyd-Pates, who with Taylor Bythewood-Porter is curating the exhibition that will showcase vintage textiles, media footage, and brand ephemera of logos and concept designs.
Jones and Walker incorporated bright colors and graphic designs that were not only Eighties and Nineties contemporary, but also reflected Afrocentrism in response to the Reagan-era war on drugs, police brutality and substandard educational opportunities. They strategically used product placement, social justice messaging and community outreach to address issues in the headlines. “By serving as an urban outfitter, quite literally, they ended up speaking to a wider audience,” Boyd-Pates said.
The brand had a wide-ranging impact on pop culture after Will Smith wore some early samples on the first season of the TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” in 1990. “It was one of the earliest examples of influencer culture,” added Boyd-Pates, noting that there has been an uptick in interest in the brand, which is still going strong under Jones and Walker, since Bruno Mars and Cardi B wore it during a video and Grammys performance in 2018.
“This is the first of many exhibitions for Cross Colours,” Walker told WWD. “This exhibition celebrates the 30th anniversary, and doing the launch exhibition at CAAM speaks to the DNA of the brand, which promotes nonviolence, education and unity. We started back in 1989 as a brand of inclusion and we are the same inclusive brand today.”