Hear Kehinde Wiley discuss the immortalization of modern street fashions in his paintings.
Instead of the clothes typically found in royal portraits, Wiley’s Emperor Napoleon wears a camouflage printed jacket and pants. Camouflage was originally designed to disguise soldiers in aerial and trench combat in World War I and has become standard attire for soldiers. More recently, it has become a fashion item that transposes the power associated with the military to the individual. Celebrities like Jay-Z exemplify the printed fabric’s place in fashion. As New York designer Michael Bastian says, “It’s the one pattern that pretty much every guy is down with. What other pattern has a macho angle to it?”
Timberland boots, also worn by Wiley’s sitter, have similarly risen through the ranks of fashion from working to high class. The brand began in the early 1970s as a durable leather working boot, but found fashion fame in the 1990s when worn by U.S. hip-hop artists like Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and DMX.