This week I headed to the Californian African American Museum to find out more about an iconic 90’s brand I’ve been obsessed with for some time: Cross Colours. The exhibit, on until the 1st March, is the first ever to examine this ground-breaking brand: its inception, inspiration and impact on African American culture. Coming from the UK, I didn’t experience this 90’s brand firsthand so I was ready to learn. Here are some of my take-aways:

 The Beginnings

The founders with Muhammad Ali, image from The Hundreds

Founded in 1990 by Carl Jones and TJ Walker, two friends based out of South Central Los Angeles, Cross Colours became the symbol of racial pride, community, inclusion and shared ideologies. They coined the slogan

‘Clothing without prejudice’

But the inspiration behind the label traces back as far as black nationalist tendencies such as Marcus Garvey’s ‘Back to Africa’ movement in the 1920’s and Malcum X in the 50’s and 60’s, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement.

Style with Substance

In the 80’s, 32% of African Americans lived in poverty and half a million were incarcerated. Acts such as NWA, Public Enemy and MC Lyte addressed issues that the black youth could relate to and expressed their desire for change through music and fashion. This meant bright bold colours, oversized gold chains and chunky sneakers.

In 1992, director Spike Lee filmed a Malcom X biopic featuring Denzel Washington that fuelled a resurgence of interest in Malcom X’s vision for the black community, in which an X was used as a prominent design feature. Cross Colours adopted the same X into their logo and their earlier looks, in homage to Malcom X.

Cross Colours achieved its early commercial success in the early 90’s, making it the go-to brand for musicians and the community as a whole. The garments sported positive messages such as ‘Stop D Violence’ and ‘Educate to Elevate’, forming a strong visual communication and activism. The colours spoke to values promoting social change and the silhouettes sent unspoken social messages to the world.

The iconic label, inspired by Malcom X, image from The Hundreds

In the 1960’s, when the BPP was formed, blue jeans represented freedom from structured clothing but remained relatively form-fitting. By the 1990’s, Cross Colours Seized on the growing popularity of a baggier silhouette and created jeans with a fitted waist but upsized front-rise and hip. The trend is said to have developed in part, due to the distribution of oversized prison uniforms without belts to prevent inmate suicide and their use as weapons. Cross Colours embraced this trend in response to mass-incarceration.

Actor Djimon Hounsou in that iconic fit, image from the CxC website

The brand was also rooted in community outreach. Jones and Walker aligned themselves with various organisations and outreach campaigns, including Los Angeles Garvey School and the Common Ground Foundation, a program to keep students in school.

The original hype brand

CxC began styling musicians such as Tupac, TLC and Snoop Dogg and worked with the Fresh Prince of Bell Air and Sister Act 2, which made them an embodiment of African American youth rebellion and bought a black urban aesthetic to the mainstream. In March 1990 they bought the brand to Magic trade show in Las Vegas where they received an overwhelming $25 million worth of orders (equivalent to $50 million in 2019) According to Jones, CC made $30 million in sales to retailers and shipped $15 million worth of product in its first year alone.

Dr Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg in a Cross Colours advert in 1993
Will Smith, AKA the Fresh Prince in CxC

The 90’s then saw an explosion of Hip Hop brands emerge such as FUBU (1992) Phat Farm (1992) Ecko (1993) Karl Kani (1994) Sean John (1998) Baby Phat (1998) and Rocawear (1999) Labels such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren woke up to this movement, beginning to mimic the cross-racial demand for streetwear and luxury brands. Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel showed hip-hop inspired fashion shortly afterwards.

In January 2018, Bruno Mars partnered with Cardi B on the song Finesse which pays homage to the 90’s TV show In Living Color and its signiture brand Cross Colours. They even performed at the Grammys wearing the brand. We’re so excited to see this iconic brand resurrected and are even more excited to be able to buy into the brand once again online.

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Trend forecaster, denim designer, industry journalist and author of Denim Dudes.