How Russell Simmons Plans to Style and Inspire Millennials Through Fashion
After shaking up the fashion industry with Phat Farm in the 1990s, can Russell Simmons do it again? Recognizing what he calls a “new frontier” in fashion, Simmons is launching his latest menswear line to revitalize urban fashion and cater to shifts in the millennial market.
“There’s something specific about the urban design sensitivity that’s not being realized in mainstream department stores,” Simmons says. This line “is an attempt to get that millennial customer.”
The spring line from Argyleculture debuted during New York Fashion Week. In addition to Macy’s, it will be sold at Belk stores and Bon Ton retailers. The collection is a structured mix of preppy style and modern flair, with solid navy and white tones underpinning argyle vests, bright blazers and multi-striped polos. It’s designed for the “urban graduate,” a term Simmons coined to define young professionals who grew up in hip-hop culture — a vast market that he says is overlooked and underserved by the fashion industry.
Simmons is an expert when it comes to marketing to young and fickle consumers, having launched successful music and style brands throughout the past three decades. After starting hip-hop label Def Jam in co-founder Rick Rubin’s NYU dorm room in 1983, he developed Phat Farm at a Soho showroom in 1992. Phat Farm, along with its sister brand Baby Phat, grew into a leading lifestyle line for urban youths and paved the way for a hip-hop fashion revolution throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s.
During that era, about 25 other lines entered the scene led by other top music industry names (including Sean John by Diddy, Rocawear by Jay-Z, and J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez). The lucrative brands paid homage to traditional street style while borrowing accents from high-fashion.
Two decades later, most of these brands have disappeared as the wave of consumers who donned these street style fashions have grown up. (Phat Fashions was sold to clothing producer Kellwood in 2004 for $ 140 million.)
Says Simmons, these changes have left a hole in the industry that can’t be filled just by ditching baggy jeans for a skinnier cut. Simmons’ says his new line caters to the new young professional, something department stores must do to reclaim market share as they compete with online retailers. The clothes reflect “a shift not only in the fit but in the color, the edge, the personality and I think we have to keep up with it,” he says.
The mogul is hopeful that a new wave of design for this market could be on the horizon. “I’m excited because I know this space and if I do a good job other designers will come in and there will be an inclusive atmosphere in fashion,” Simmons says.
“For now I’m excited to be a pioneer but I don’t want to be the only one,” he adds.