Garment Renaissance: The Return of Wu Wear

Photo: Wu Wear “Renaissance” Collection, courtesy of Wu Wear Renaissance Instagram.

Nearly a decade after Wu Wear was discontinued, the RZA, Oliver “Power” Grant, and Live Nation have partnered to bring the fabled streetwear brand back to market. Donaldson Sackey and Sainey Sidibeh of the German brand CPxArt have been named creative directors of the company’s “Renaissance” 10-piece collection that will launch in Spring 2018 to time with the 25th anniversary of Enter the 36 Chambers, the group’s seminal debut album.

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Originally launched in 1995, Wu Wear was the apparel division of the Staten Island’s own Wu-Tang Clan, the legendary Hip Hop group that helped to shape and redefine the music industry as an artist-led collective.

Wu Wear launched in 1995 with a series of streetwear pieces featuring the group’s iconic logo. To take it to the next level, the following year, the RZA dropped “Wu Wear The Garment Renaissance,” a song featuring Method Man and Cappadonna that completely dedicated to the brand. The song was featured in the cult film on the High School High and distributed on the soundtrack.

The philosophy of Wu Wear paralleled RZA’s philosophy as a whole, which is beautifully outlined in his book, The Tao of Wu. Fusing elements of the 5% Nation with Zen Buddhism and entrepreneurism, the RZA advocated for support of black-owned business during an era when streetwear was transforming the garment industry.

Back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Hip Hop began to openly express its love for the material world, advocating for various fashion labels on wax, in videos, and photographs. Whether it was Dapper Dan “Africanizing” the biggest houses and giving them the Harlem touch or Brand Nubian big-upping Tommy Hilfiger, trends quickly caught on.

In the midst of this, streetwear came to the fore as brands black-owned businesses FUBU and Phat Farm brought their distinctive take to the industry. With “Wu Wear The Garment Renaissance,” RZA reminded folks that heads had the power in their hands – that they could build other people’s labels or support their own:

“Eighty-five didn’t realize, til the truth opened up his eyes / Then he became highly civilized / And spent time amongst the wise, went through a garment renaissance / And stopped wearing Benetton / Tommy Hill, Perry Ellis, Nautica, or Liz Claiborne /Ocean Pacific, Fila, Bill Blass and leave fitted / Quit the Armani sweaters with the Gucci wool knitted / Now all he buys, Kani’s, Cross Colours, Shabazz Brothers / Mecca, Pelly Pell, 88, North Q, Bear and a few others / For the new year, strictly Wu Wear.”

With the creation of Wu Wear, the Clan designed a look that has since been reinvented by many since, whether licensing their logo to companies like Forever 21, or simply influenced a new generation of designers who understood the value of brand loyalty.

“Just like Wu Tang Clan’s Music, Wu Wear Brand has stood the test of time for the primary fact of its uniqueness,” the RZA said in a press release. “Being a sound and style that’s Hip Hop in its foundation, it has evolved to be a subculture of its own. The spirit and swag that the brand invokes has been inspirational to multiple generations across a diverse spectrum. Although there have been pirates who’ve sought to imitate the brand, there’s nothing like the real thing and this official relaunch by the founders will be just that – ‘The real Wu Wear/Wu-Tang brand.'”

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.