“The Return of Walker Wear” — Exclusive Photo Archive & Interview with Streetwear Designer April Walker
Hip-hop and fashion have always been synonymous. Fashion designers clamor to have artists rock their threads, just as artists love being the walking advertisement for their favorite designers. It’s a tale as old as hip-hop. Think back to Biggie putting on a Coogi sweater and everyone rushing to get their hands on the same one. Remember LL Cool J inspiring men to wait in line for a fresh Kangol to rock to the club that weekend.
Walker Wear is a brand that transformed the way the hip-hop world saw fashion. Seen on the likes of Tupac, Run-DMC, Snoop Dogg, Biggie, and many more the brand has become a statement, a lifestyle that you want to be part of. And now it’s back. April Walker, the mastermind behind the Walker Wear brand, took some time off to dabble in other ventures, but she’s decided to return to the fashion industry and continue creating classic, statement pieces that speak volumes. As Walker says herself, ”I think there is a gap between generations in the culture and I want to create an interesting conversation through clothing to bridge the gap in a creative way.” Welcome back.
So when did Walker Wear Start?
Walker Wear started in about 1990. It started from me having a tailor shop, and I was getting a lot of people that were asking me to make the same things that I was actually making for entertainers and artists. The artists would wear it in videos and then costumers would ask for the same things over and over. So I was like, ‘You know what? This is some necessity that’s missing in the marketplace.’ And that’s what prompted me to start Walker Wear.
And how did you originally link up with these artists?
I think it was a little bit of luck, and there was nothing in Brooklyn at the time. It was Dapper Dan in Harlem and I was inspired by Dapper Dan, so I opened a tailor shop in Brooklyn. I opened it up on a shoestring budget—literally had a curtain front—and it was much like a Dapper Dan’s setup.
In what way?
It was a custom shop. We weren’t 24/7, but we had long hours and we would make anything. At that time I literally started with Fendi, Gucci, Nike the knockoff stuff. [Dapper Dan] would make fabric like Gucci fabric, he would sell them to detail shops have cars, tire covers all that stuff. You could buy a mink full length jacket and the reverse was a Gucci print all over. I didn’t go that far, but I went far. And then when I saw the Feds shutting him down, it inspired me to say, ‘You know what this is not gonna be long term.’ So I transitioned into taking some of those great styles and just not having those logos on them and doing my own thing. At that time I had Audio Two, they were my first album cover. I styled it and made the outfits. They were one of my first customers that walked into fashion, in effect. That was in the store, the tailor shop. Shyne was another one. Shaggy was another one. These were all people that lived in Brooklyn or frequented Brooklyn. So that’s how that began. Then they started giving me so much dap that they’d say, ‘Why don’t you style the videos or the photo shoots?’ At that point in time there weren’t a lot of stylists, there weren’t a lot of budgets, but I gradually grew into that.
How’d you learn the ins and outs of being a tailor?
I went to school for communications in business, so the business helped me out. Dapper Dan’s tailors helped me out. I used to literally go sit in his shop and watch his whole setup. I was in awe. For a long time, they used to do this thing Wednesday nights at the Apollo Theater, Amateur Night at the Apollo, and I’d go and from there we’d go over there [Dapper Dan’s] and just hang out. So after a while I had a rhythm of exactly how it went down. It was just getting the money together and that took me a year to do. I was working at American Express, I was in school, but like I said I really opened with a whole in the wall that grew into something.
When was the first moment that you knew you “made it?”
One time I was at Kilimanjaro’s, a club that existed back in the 90s that a lot of people would go to, and I ran into Run DMC. I remember one of them coming up to me and asking me about my stuff. That was a big moment for me because Run DMC is iconic. So I was like, “Wow, my name is ringing bells.” And then another time I was on the street actually and I was walking down to the Empire State Building and I saw someone just wearing a tee. I didn’t know them, nothing about them, I just knew they went and bought that from the store and that was big.
So how did Walker Wear evolve? What is Walker Wear now? Obviously streetwear has changed a lot.
So how does Walker Wear sticking with the trend?
I think we’re on it with the trends. I think that creatively we’re a much different space so we’re right there. We work with young designers and we keep our ears to the streets so a lot of our influences come from here all the way to Japan. Like my sister lives in Japan, so I go there a lot. And just seeing what young people do which is different in many different places, but I think hip-hop has spanned. I call it “The Dandelion Effect” because it’s like its gona so many different places. Germinated. And I think that the influences can be seen from here to Japan to Africa and while they’re different, at the core it’s the same. I think we bring the spirit of it in our clothing.
What’s the spirit?
Well I think it’s about something that’s basically fresh, organic and an element of being uninhibited. I used to call it an anti-establishment and I don’t know if it’s so much that as you making your own set of rules and not letting other people define you.
This is B.I.G, I probably have a better picture of Biggie wearing it, but he was a good supporter of it and he was big because he actually started supporting me when I had a tailor shop. So he was still living on St. James and hanging on the corner and he was in high school and he used to come in the store and just put stuff on layaway and that grew into when he was an artist winning, he kept supporting.
Mike [Tyson], I think my biggest moment—one of my biggest moments—was I was the first Urban brand to hit the ring with the Heavyweights wearing it. In terms of there was Everlast and like that, but not an Urban brand per se. So, that was a defining moment for me. It was big.
This is one of my favorites just because it really captures a lot. Aaliyah’s gone and she had on Walker Wear and then R.Kelly.
You can snag the new Walker Wear threads at www.walkerwearstore.com
Additional reporting by Nina Long.