Kangol: Born in England, Raised on the Streets of New York
Some seventy years ago a Jewish Polish refugee and British World War One veteran who made his trade importing the newly popular French beret to England decided to meet the increasing demand by producing his own, setting up a factory in the rural and remote northwestern English village of Cleator. From that bit of Depression Era entrepreneurial ingenuity, through the next world war then dawning, collaborations with designers Mary Quant and Pierre Cardin, endorsement deals with The Beatles and Arnold Palmer and an iconic role in the American Girl Scout movement, Kangol would earn a modest place in history. It took the emergence of Hip Hop as a major cultural force out of New York City in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when Hip Hop artists like Grandmaster Flash, Kaz, LL Cool J, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys started rocking their gear to make Kangol history itself. In homage to that moment when urban attitude met style through music and art, we celebrate two pioneer photographers, Janette Beckman and Ricky Powell, who lensed the old school glory days of New York Hip Hop back when turntablists, rappers and graffiti writers redefined youth culture and forever changed the world.
In 1938, while Jakob Spreiregen was setting up that first Kangol hat factory in Cumbria England, across the Atlantic, Orson Welles directed and narrated a radio play of H.G. Wells’ “The War of The Worlds” Set up as a series of news bulletins, unsuspecting listeners in the United States believed it to be live ongoing reportage of an actual Martian invasion, setting off a wide spread national panic. Flip those digits to 1983, and you get a sense of what Ricky Powell witnessed in the clubs of New York or Janette Beckman first experienced as these artists began to make their way over to London. A look and language so utterly foreign and fantastic to anything we had ever known before, the prevailing sense was our world was truly experiencing an alien invasion. Hip Hop was here, and it was taking over. It still took a number of years for everyone else to notice, but Beckman and Powell were on the front lines, war correspondents documenting a new war of the words. This is what they saw- check it out y’all.
written by CARLO McCORMICK
photos by RICKY POWELL & JANETTE BECKMAN
gallery curation by TONY ARCABASCIO