If you know anything about 90’s fashion you know that Karl Kani reigned supreme when it came to urban streetwear. His two piece short sets, bright colors, and baggy fits were all the rave for so many of us. With the recent release of Tupac’s biopic, All Eyez On Me, Kani is back in the headlines for the very thing that made him popular for over a decade: his clothing! Kani designed vintage pieces for the film which was a no-brainer considering that the iconic west coast rapper wore his pieces. Check out our interview where the fashion designer chats it up with us about everything from the film to which artists today he can see wearing his clothing.
How did it feel to see your work come to life on the big screen in that way?
It was amazing because you know a lot of the pieces that we made for the film were pieces that came out in 1992 and 1993. So it took me back down memory lane. It also made me appreciate the moment of what we were able to establish with streetwear culture and fashion from back in the days because it’s never been done before. And to see it all come back full circle 28 years later. It’s amazing.
Can you just tell me a little bit about the process it took to recreate the vintage looks and so fast for the film?
You know it was pretty interesting because you know the fits that we have nowadays are not as baggy as it was back then. So we had to really remake all the patterns and all the fits look authentic because you know back then guys were wearing their clothes very much oversized. We had to dig into the crates and pull up our old patterns and we had to recreate the fabrics for them to look and appear vintage to give it that authentic feeling. So it was very fun, it was intriguing and it showed the power of streetwear culture and especially when the movie comes out people will see it all come together full circle. It’s an amazing experience.
What would it take to bring the 90’s essence of streetwear into 2017? How do you modernize it but keep it authentic?
I think it’s about slight alterations. That’s what we’ve done and will continue to do with the looks but I think the overall aesthetics of the line is the same. The theme, the colors, the quality, and the fabrications are all the same. But maybe the fits are going to be altered just a tad bit but the pants are probably not as baggy as they used to be. So we kind of adjusted it towards today’s modern day culture. They still want that look but it just needs to be slightly adjusted and because we created this look it’s a lot easier for us to be able to do that.
Will there be more options for menswear in the near future?
Absolutely! We just launched a small capsule collection for the launch of the movie. (All Eyez on Me). But for going back to school and upcoming holidays this year, you’ll see a broader collection of men’s denim woven shirts, outerwear, socks, and underwear. You’ll see a whole complete collection. So we just wanted to get this small capsule collection out there in time for the movie and gear up for holiday.
I recently saw a picture of Rich Homie Quan wearing a Karl Kani sweatshirt. If you could handpick one or two artists to represent or wear your clothes today who would that be and why?
I’ll say, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and ASAP Rocky. ASAP Rocky for one when you look at him he’s just fashion. He knows how to put things together you know he’s about the culture, he gets it. He did wear one of my orange vintage wear sweat pants at Coachella this year which is big. I think Travis Scott because his music is dope and he just gives you that vibe of Karl Kani. Kendrick Lamar, I mean he’s on top of the list of rap artists right now in terms of lyrics and he reminds me of that new up and coming Tupac or a new up and coming Jay-Z. So I feel like guys like that are going to transcend time and be around for a long time. Those are the kind of people that have longevity throughout the years. I mean we’ve had many icons from Diddy, Snoop, and Puffy in 1991. These are all people that have done clothing advertising for Karl Kani and that’s the type of caliber that we want to continue with.
I know your real name is Carl with a “C” but how did the name Karl Kani come about?
Well, my name now legally is Karl Kani with a K. It was Carl Williams. I was born in Costa Rica and my dad’s from Panama. When he came to the United States he used to get his clothes tailor-made and that kind of gave me the idea of starting to make my own clothing. When I decided to launch my line Carl Williams jeans just didn’t have a ring to it. So I wanted a name that represented a feeling and a vibe. “Can I” was a question I would ask myself all the time. It is a question of self-doubt. I wasn’t really sure if I can make this thing happen. So I used to always ask myself, “can I?” And one day I was writing on a piece of paper the words can I, and I wrote the name Karl next to it for some strange reason and I was like “Karl Kani, that’s going to be my name” and every day this brand has to answer that question yes I can. Yes, you can, yes we all can. So that’s the vibe of being inspirational. When we started there was no one before us to give us a blueprint. We had to learn as we went along. You know we’re proud to say that we’ve opened the doors up for many, many, many young black designers that are going to go out there and do their thing. I always say to people that it only takes one. It takes one person that looks like you, one person that talks like you to achieve certain success in a certain area to make you believe you can do it too. I feel with Karl Kani we’ve inspired many people to feel they could go out there and make things happen in the garment industry because when they look at me they’re like man Karl’s just like us. And that’s legit and it’s real.
You were the first recipient of the Icon Award for the block association and the fashion 500. How did it feel to win that award and to be the first recipient of that?
It was awesome. I haven’t been in New York for a while to do any events and when they invited me out to receive the award I was very honored. It was great to be around my people and to be able to accept this award amongst my peers. Just to see how many people are so inspired by the Karl Kani story is amazing and it definitely gives you that feeling that you have to continue to go strong and be successful in your field because a successful Karl Kani means a lot to the industry. We have to be that brand that’s going to make people believe that a black designer can be around for a long time just like Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Giorgio Armani.
Can you give us two tips to keep in mind on how to rock streetwear style?
I think streetwear right now is very unique. I think you keep it simple. I think the oversized tops definitely have become more fashionable now and the bottoms are still slim so you could still show off your sneakers and be cool about it. I think colors are getting more brighter now. Don’t be afraid to stand out because at one point everything was black and white which got pretty boring. That’s why the 90’s to me is so exciting because the 90’s was vibrant. It was colorful and exciting. So I think just open up a little bit to be more colorful because I think that’s the wave of the near future for sure.
What’s next for Karl Kani and what can you tell us about the future of the brand?
Well you know the biggest thing for us right now is we’re about to open our 10th store in Japan in November which we’re really excited about that. We’re the only streetwear brand to have our own stores in Japan. So we don’t sell to stores, we have our own Karl Kani stores. So eventually once that store opens our goal for 2018 is to open our first flagship store here in the US market. Which we’re eyeing a couple locations now but that to me is going to be our benchmark for the brand because that’s the one last thing that we need here so people could really see the whole ambiance of the brand and bring people into our world. So the flagship store for Karl Kani in 2018 you could mark that one down, it’s already been manifested. Urban Outfitters will be carrying our brand as well.
Click here to view Karl Kani’s website.