A millennial pink meme before its time
Cam’ron is no stranger to the world of fashion. Last month, as New York designer Telfar Clemens debuted his collaboration with fast food chain White Castle, the Harlem rapper was scheduled to perform on the roof of the restaurant’s Queens location, before the NYPD preemptively shut it down. But even if the show had gone ahead, it would have been decidedly more low-key than Cam’ron’s most famous fashion appearance – a moment of sheer pop culture brilliance, and one in which he engineered what may be the most enduring, iconic and widely-shared NYFW photo of all time. Yes, we’re talking about that baby pink, furry outfit.
In 2002, after a Baby Phat fashion show – the spin-off brand from the then-wildly popular clothing brand Phat Farm, owned by rap mogul Russell Simmons and designed by his wife, Kimora Lee – Cam’ stepped out in front of the paparazzi. Although he had already broken into the top twenty of the US’s Billboard 200 by this point, with tracks like “Oh Boy” and “Hey Ma”, and developed a penchant for pink ensembles, this was Cam’ron’s first fashion week. He came prepared to dazzle. Dressed head to toe in pink, he stood holding a pose for several moments, a flip phone held to his ear, the exact same shade as his fur coat and hat.
In the years since, the look has spawned tribute t-shirts, socks, bathing suits and a whole line of Cam’ron’s own apparel emblazoned with the image. It has also inspired a new Pantone colour; been referenced by the likes of Kanye West, 2 Chainz and Frank Ocean; as well as being incorporated into recent videos by the likes of Solange and Rihanna, and serving as the inspiration for countless Halloween costumes. Oh, and you can get Cam’ron pink fur ensemble emojis too.
For that brief period, the colour became his M.O. He first debuted the hue prior that year in his video for “Hey Ma”, but his Baby Phat ensemble took the look to a whole new, exaggerated level. The hue was ‘Killa Pink’, to be precise – which last year he registered with colour-authority Pantone. In turn, Cam’ron, best known for his knack for elastic bars, punchy humour and excessive machismo, kicked off a trend – and a remarkable one at that in the hyper-masculine world of early 2000s hip hop. “I did it so I wouldn't be dressing like everybody else,” Cam’ron told the New York Times in 2004.
Quickly, stores in New York which typically sold men’s sportswear began seeing pink items, from t-shirts to sneakers, fly from their shelves. One store allegedly sold 30 pink suits within a week, according to the NY Daily News. Other rappers also got in on the act: Prodigy, the recently deceased member of Mobb Deep, claimed he did it first, writing in his autobiography that Cam’ was inspired by his pink get-up after seeing him in LA; Kanye took the hue and mixed it with his own preppy style, later rapping that he was “doing pretty hood in his pink polo,” on Barry Bonds; and the likes of P Diddy and Nelly were also were partial to the colour. Then there was the case of 10 homicides in New York, carried out by 12 members of a gang with a liking for all pink, and who went by the moniker ‘Dipset’, the name of Cam’ron’s rap group. “They love how we move, they love how we dress. It’s almost like a cult,” said Juelz Santana, a fellow Dipset cohort of Cam’ron in a 2005 Vibe Magazine article, when asked about the devotion of their fans.
“He wasn’t just supremely confident, he was tough too – perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he’s the only person ever, probably, to be shot and then subsequently drive themselves to the hospital in a Lamborghini, as he did in 2005.”
Cam’ron’s ensemble itself was custom-made, cost $5,000, and was put up for auction in 2014 for $75,000. Indeed, despite having occurred in an era where pop culture was hyper-stylised, often at the expense of any notion of timelessness, that the image remains relevant today is noteworthy. In part, that has been aided by a “millennial” pink renaissance in recent seasons, infiltrating collections that range from Céline to Stone Island. But even so, the mere mention of the name Cam’ron, even if you’re not overly familiar with his music, instantly conjures up that image. Despite sporting a flip phone, what he had done was predict the future. Cam’ron had created a fashion meme – long before fashion memes even existed.
The power of the image was that it was visually striking, but also, it was created with a knowledge that some people might, and probably would, poke fun at him for it. It effectively flew in the face of the conventional machismo that dominated his industry at that time. Fortunately, for Cam’ron, his imperious nature allowed him to pull off such a look. But he wasn’t just supremely confident, he was tough too – perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he’s the only person ever, probably, to be shot and then subsequently drive themselves to the hospital in a Lamborghini, as he did in 2005.
The resulting trend caused Cam’ the same problems that many online-creators find themselves grappling with today: how do you profit from ephemeral popularity and monetise influence? Last year, a single joking tweet was quickly turned into an idea for a fully fledged heist movie starring Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o. It was similar to what Cam’ron would later muse on in an interview with Forbes. “I was like, these people are making money off my likeness,” he said of the market that was created for apparel and homeware adorned with the iconic image. And while his next phase was accented by the colour purple – and accompanied by an album titled Purple Haze – it never had quite the same effect.
That sense of knowing humour and self-awareness, which made the image such a success, has become a defining became characteristic of both hip hop, and mainstream pop culture of late. Whether it’s Kanye West’s “I Love ” track – which played on perceptions of his own ego to brilliant effect, Drake’s “Hotline Bling” dad dancing, or Balenciaga dropping a £1,600 luxury bag inspired by an Ikea tote – often, the most effective way to dominate pop-culture consciousness is through sheer brashness bordering on the surreal.
In fashion, this sort of hubristic excess meets ironic tackiness has become increasingly relevant. Demna Gvasalia, of Vetements and Balenciaga, has it down to a fine art, creating items he knows will dissected and derided, but will undoubtedly cause a stir. Often, they come from the same place of outlandish ostentatiousness and subversive humour as a $5,000 pink fur ensemble with matching flip phone. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is fairly adept at this too, deriving much of his success from his irreverent showiness at the Italian label, through collaborations with the likes of Gucci Ghost or ad campaigns created by prominent meme-makers.
We probably will never know whether Cam’ron’s fashion week moment of 2002 had a direct impact on the minds of contemporary creators like Gvasalia or Drake. (Although the latter did don a similar pink-fur coat in 2016, in tribute to the iconic look). But it almost doesn’t matter – culture isn’t linear like that. The image, however, remains unforgettable, tucked away in the minds of anyone who grew up obsessed by early-2000s rap, a reminder of a time when video budgets would run into the tens of millions and MTV Cribs led us to believe all rappers had fridges exclusively stocked with Cristal.
If we’d studied it and its impact close enough, we might have gleaned some insight into what was to come – but it’s easy to be distracted when someone’s wearing a $5,000 pink fur coat.