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Andy Sullivan: Against the Grain

We are very close to the end of the National Geographic ‘80’s top 10 fashion countdown so this week will be a bit longer.  Settle in as we pick up our countdown at #4.  Run DMC are the first hip-hop band to make it big on the charts and they were about to make streetwear history.  Yes, the first was technically The Sugarhill Gang with what is .  credited as the first rap song, “Rapper’s Delight” but this isn’t about those guys.  Darryl “DMC” McDaniels: “when we did our first album, Run’s brother Russell Simmons was like “y’all need stage wardrobe”.  We wanted to be authentic and real.  Our wardrobe is the tracksuit.  It’s what we wear, It’s real”.  Sneakers were also a part of the look.  They loved one brand so much that they made a song about them.  In 1986, “My Adidas” became a top 5 hit.  Sales of the brand soar.  This mysterious spike in sales caused some serious head-scratching back at Adidas’ headquarters in Germany.  They couldn’t understand why it was selling like this.  

An intern clued them in that Run DMC had made a song about Adidas.  They had no idea what a Run DMC was, so they sent a spy to New York City.  “We get to the point we’re ready to do the Adidas record and Run says “take it off”.  I take off my shoe.  I hold up my shoe as he says.  I ask what this is and the reply “My Adidas” starts the song.  We did the record and the whole place went crazy.  All 18,000 people held up their new sneakers”.  After Adidas saw the show, they gave Run DMC an endorsement deal.  The $1.6 million endorsement deal was the first ever between a sports brand and a hip-hop group.  Adidas sales in the U.S. in 1984 were $140 million.  In 1989, sales were at $400 million.  Now we move to #3.

On September 16, 1984, the debut episode of an entirely new kind of tv show airs.  It blends the natural rhythms of a cop drama with the designer looks and execution of a music video.  An alluring mixture that was going to launch a sleek kind of men’s fashion, the Miami Vice look was based on what the two main characters, Don Johnson’s James “Sonny” Crockett and Phillip Michael Thomas’ Ricardo Tubbs would wear: suits and a t-shirt along with loafers and no socks.  Miami Vice was one of the biggest tv cop shows of the ‘80’s.  Show creator Michael Mann and his costume team had to keep up with all these costume changes.  In the early ‘80’s, Colombian drug lords flood Miami with cash from cocaine.  An estimated 70% of the cocaine in the U.S entered via Miami.  So of course, the main storyline was always stopping drug runners-the biggest of the show villains were The Escobars.  At its height, Miami Vice was watched by up to 22 million people.  Many of those people went out shopping.  They made a huge impact culturally.  Once you saw how popular the show was, you started seeing the fashion replicated.

We’ve reached the runner-up position.  Ralph Lauren started out as Ralph Lifshitz.  One of his first jobs was working at Brooks Brothers.  What he saw there was the iconic quality of the button-down shirt.  When he started Ralph Lauren, he looked at what people wear that make them feel part of a club the way a Brooks Brothers customer felt.  He wants this heir of American aristocracy.  From his humble beginnings selling ties in the ‘60’s, by the mid-‘80’s, Lauren had hit the big time.  In the spring of ’86, he opened his first complete lifestyle store in New York.  

Lauren was inspired by Louis Lacey, an Anglo-Argentine polo player of the 1920’s.  However, when Ralph coined the “polo” name for his shirts, he’d never seen a polo match.  There were originally 24 colors of the polo shirt and the shirt cost $24.99.  Too bad all his shirts don’t cost that today, huh? The shirt was a best-seller of the ‘80’s.  Ralph Lauren sales grow by half a billion from 1980-1986.  I was wearing a Ralph Lauren long sleeve polo shirt as I was taking notes for this column.  We have now reached the #1 in ‘80’s fashion.  Drumroll please!

Once upon a time, shoes were just shoes.  Basketball shoes were no more glamorous than any other piece of sports equipment.  That was before Michael Jordan learned how to fly.  In 1984, two worlds collide.  Michael Jordan is a young player fresh from college and just drafted 3rd overall by the Chicago Bulls.  He has a lot to prove.  Nike is an upstart brand determined to take on its rivals by any means necessary.  Recruiting a new soldier to battle the competition was tough.  Michael had never heard of Nike.  He wanted to sign with Adidas.  Sports super-agent David Faulk wanted him to go with Nike because they needed him the most.  Therefore, they’d promote him more aggressively.  Jordan told Falk there was no way he’d meet Nike.  Falk called Michael’s parents.  They said “don’t worry.  He’ll be there”.  Sure enough, he got on the plane but didn’t crack a smile the entire day.  Falk thought Jordan was going to fire him when the day was over.  Nike was about to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse: in 1984, Nike signs Jordan for $2.5 million, the largest guarantee for any player at that time.  Nike had just come out with new technology called Air Soles.  Falk said “alright, we’re going to call them Air Jordan’s.  Air for air technology and because Michael plays above the rim”.  Nike’s Air Jordan’s went on sale April 1, 1985 with promotional hype that stood out even in the larger than life ‘80’s.  Jordan’s were popular on the streets but the NBA banned them.  Back when Jordan started in the NBA, then-commissioner, the late David Stern, had implemented a rule that sneakers worn by players on the court had to be mostly white.  However, MJ debuted his Jordan’s in a different color.  You could say he went…. Against The Grain.

They did a “banned in Boston” commercial.  The tagline was “The NBA can’t stop you from wearing them”.  Clearly it worked, as Nike beat their projected sales for the first three years in only one.  Projected sales-3 million.  Actual sakes-$126 million.  Air Jordan’s send Nike, the NBA, Chicago Bulls and Jordan on the way to becoming multi-billion-dollar brands.  Jordan became the face of Nike, so much so that lots of people in the early days called the company Mikey.  (NatGeo 80’s Top 10 fashion).  That wraps up the ‘80’s fashion countdown.  Next week will be on ‘80’s commercials! Below are the links to my podcast, Blendertainment.  Thanks for reading and listening!



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