Every nightlife scene comes with its own rules of sartorial cool. If you head out to the downtown clubs, you'd better be dressed to the nines in the top Prada/DKNY/Men's Wearhouse suits or maybe a pair of leather slacks. For the ladies, a leather tube-top/pants combo complete with the cowhide jacket they inevitably drape over their forearms even though it's erect-nipple air-conditioned inside, is, as they might say in Paris, de rigueur.
If you should find yourself on either the Richmond or Westheimer strip, first off, you should know better. Second, you'll find the mode of dress more subdued but still fancy: khakis and long-sleeve button-downs, with the occasional Hawaiian shirt here and there.
For southwest Houston black clubs, it's either the loosest, most stylish gear from FUBU, Phat Farm, Sean John or any other clothing label owned by folks in the rap industry, or outfits (like the red cocktail dress you wore to that Maze concert in '82) that are way too damn tight to be worn out in public.
But there's something even more unusual about the wardrobe choices made by the young crowds that frequent alt-dance havens like Hyperia (2001 Commerce) and Club Space (799 St. Emanuel) or those things they used to have from time to time called "raves." For starters, the clothes -- baggy pants or jeans, bellbottom trousers, jogging-suit bottoms, retro T-shirts, oversized golf shirts, belly shirts, low-top sneaks -- define comfort. Then there's the visor worn backward for garnish.
With threads like these, it's obvious that the dancers aren't dressing to impress. Jason Ankar, co-owner of the smoke shop/clothing store Smoke Dreamz (6451 Richmond), knows the young kids who show up at his store are looking for gear that's built for long-term comfort. "When they go to these nightclubs, it's not going to be for an hour or two," notes Ankar. "Usually, it's for countless hours."
It's a lesson not lost on Nigerian-born Houstonian Tunde Akindele, who came up with his own clothing label six years ago. Akindele's colorful line of wash-and-wear T-shirts, baseball shirts, baby tees and other forms of upperwear is called Enjoymusic Enjoylife (EMEL). "Our primary purpose is to remind people to do just that," he says. At first, Akindele sold clothes to a general music-loving audience at stores like Cactus Music and Video, but when the revered former acid jazz DJ started hyping and selling his product at spots like Hyperia, Spy (112 Travis) and CONXTION 2000 (800 Almeda Mall), he found a younger clientele. "You could be a Mozart fan or you could be out Saturday night dancing to Richard 'Humpty' Vission," he says. "Now it's appealing to everyone."
Vission can be found in Akindele's scrapbook of local nightlife VIPs clad in EMEL apparel, along with local spinners Sista Stroke, DJ Melodic and DJ Sun. Sun was more than happy to wear his former acid jazz comrade's designs. "He's definitely in touch with cool," he enthuses.
Akindele's aspirations as a part-time Calvin Klein have inspired many local yokels to follow, ahem, suit. Quirky T-shirts made by Knuschitt (pronounced "new shit") and local designer Steve Palazzo are some of the most popular items at stores like Bizarre Bazaar (various locations) and Liquid (1417 Westheimer), while the ecstacy- and ketamine-themed tees distributed by mysterious local clothier Wigginwear can most easily be found on the Internet at www.wigginwear.com.
While inside knowledge of your target audience helps, the loot to finance the whole affair is key. Local nightclub promoter Mike Frost has had Ralph Lauren dreams brewing in his noggin for two years now, but low cash flow has kept them from becoming reality. "You can't really put out a clothing line unless you're talking about 50 g's, 30 g's minimum," says Frost. "I've actually got two or three clothing lines that are designed with the names and everything. It's really just capital holding me back."
Even with money in hand you still have to find a way to attract the bees to the honey. "You just gotta know how to control the marketing and where you're putting that stuff," says Frost. "You gotta put it in the right hands, and it's gotta be seen in the right places."
Of course, it all boils down to what the kids want to wear when they head out to have a good time. Lately, finding a party has been quite a quest. Apart from those at Hyperia, Club Space and the teen-oriented Storm (1801 Dairy Ashford) -- 18-and-up soirees are becoming few and far between. Raves are almost extinct in this town, and all too often, wearing clothes that reek of the scene invites unwanted attention from the cops. Some wonder if it's worth it. But if ever an all-night techno shindig at an undisclosed location or a new hip-hop/house/ jungle night should break out, even a SWAT team couldn't stop these dance fiends from breaking out the baggy pants.
Like a groundhog, the local dance-party community is inching its head out of its hole and hoping it won't have to skitter back underground. Regional party team KAOS Entertainment is helping the cause by putting on "Conspiracy," a boisterous night of music and dance on Friday, May 10, at Selena's Hall (1505 Berry Road). The headliner will be Queens spinner Omar Santana, who's also bringing crew mate DJ Capsule to the proceedings. KAOS's Mister Spacely and Joshua Michael, Scooby Doo Crew's Kelly McCann and drum 'n' bass fiend SDF.3 make up the local contingent. Maybe the kids should dig those pants out of mothballs after all.
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