Caps as Cultureby Rob Cockcroft / 21.02.2012
Last Wednesday the New Era Introducing exhibition came to Cape Town. The private function was held at The Bank which kicked off a 3 day exhibition and drew the likes of media workers, art fags, streetwear aficionados and, um, Bryan Habana. The invitation was scant on details of what a cap exhibition actually entails, but I was nevertheless sold by the fact that it contained the words “VIP” and “invite only”, meaning someone out there had finally realised that I deserve to be on the guest list. I’d like to tell you I attended because caps are an increasingly relevant cultural medium, but really launches hold the promise of getting free shit from brands trying to butter you up.
From outside the venue was freshly revamped with a graffiti mural to mark the occasion. The bar was stocked with complimentary &Union craft beers and expensive wines. Waiters were steadily serving up snacks. From behind the decks tunes were played at elevator music decibel levels by writer-cum-DJ and masterful slacker, Dj Big Space (Montle Moorosi) and the venerable OG of The Beatbangaz Crew, Dj Azuhl. Expecting just to see a display for a new range of fitted hats, I was surprised to find the exhibition showcasing collaborations between the cap company and up-and-coming creatives from around the world. The caps in cabinets and lining the walls were covered with over-the-top detail that was a cool sight to behold, but the majority of which only bonafide crackpots would put on their head.
“Proudly South African” label-rocking pedants may question the cultural relevance of this and how the hell these caps with names of American baseball and basketball teams have crept into our local fashion scene. So to address their concerns I confess, with a tad shame in my game, that as a devout fan of the 59-Fifty fitted hat, it boils down to the plain and simple answer that we have been influenced by the media and now emulate the Yanks. Don’t blame me, blame MTV music videos, blame the slew of baseball movies that we were subjected to as young’uns. But above all blame rap. I’ve always admired how, for decades, rap culture has appropriated fashion marketed to an entirely different group and given it a new meaning. Just like how Timberland boots, which were marketed to rich old men as smart casual shoes to wear when they walked their golden retrievers in the meadows, became a staple for thug rappers of the 90s to stomp their foes teeth out. The same for New Era. Rap changed the cap’s meaning from showing support for your favourite sports team to repping which city you come from. One of my new favourite rappers, Danny Brown, has a whole song dedicated to adorning the Detroit Tiger cap to let everyone know where he is from. So I guess my fondness for the New Era cap is the same as a surfer wearing some Quiksilver Kelly Slater edition boardshorts or a skater seeking out the Marc Johnson signature Lakais.
Out of all the participants from 8 countries, Mzansi had 11 representatives who all got a chance to blend their local flavour on the caps and given a chance to get some international exposure. Mandulo Myaka echoed my sentiments with the creation of “European and Western influence in terms of fashion and entertainment” with his creation of the “shoecap” which blended sneakers and cap into one with laces and all. Others repped Mzansi’s local heritage by incorporating traditional beadworks and fashioning caps into tribal huts. If you missed out on the exhibition you can check out all the designs on the Introducing site or you can check out pics taken at The Bank over at One.Dog.Chicken.