Talking to Hassan Hajjaj is a lesson in how style and culture often come full circle. Hajjaj, who is sometimes called Morocco’s Andy Warhol, was a key member of London’s first wave of street labels in the 80s, the kind that Palace and Aries follow on from now. He arrived in London aged 14 in the late 70s and set up RAP, or Real Artistic People – both a label and a shop – in 1984 when he was 21. Part of a community of twentysomethings from Africa and the Caribbean, he was keen to make something bespoke for them. “I met people who had similar journeys, we were all from different cultures but made a village in London,” he says. “There wasn’t fashion for us, we couldn’t get into the clubs, we couldn’t find the food we wanted to eat. This was doing something for ourselves and built on lifestyle.”
With bright colours and bold branding, RAP clothes were designed to reflect the London that Hajjaj and his friends lived in. Avoiding obvious American influences, it was about “anything that denoted a Londoner – cricket jumpers, duffel coats, sports tops …” They were soon taken up by the growing scene, worn by Caron Wheeler from Soul II Soul and a young Ian Wright when he was still playing for Crystal Palace.
The label will be relaunched this month at Dubai’s Sole DXB fair, after sponsorship from Cadillac, with 12 pieces – some original archive, others newly designed – part of the new collection. Hajjaj, who closed RAP in 1996 and has been working as a photographer since, said he had to think carefully when it came to relaunching it. “I did it for myself and my friends originally, but that doesn’t work now,” he explains. “If I was the age I was then, I would be into the grime scene, and that is the perfect model, they present a new London.” Buttoned-up shirts and oversized parkas would work well then or now.
Ultimately, Hajjaj was convinced because the parallels between the 80s and now are striking. “Post-Brexit is a good time to relaunch,” he says. “We did the melting pot thing then, and that needs to be celebrated once again.”