"We're in a rebellion against the whole concept of how a man should dress," declares Olu, who, along with his best friend Ed, shatter black male style stereotypes with their biker jackets, drop-crotch jeans, treasured vintage coats, and attention to nuances like grey socks and cuffed trousers. Prior to meeting at Brooklyn's Berkeley College, the two each grew up in rough, urban neighborhoods (Ed in Boston, Olu in the Bronx) where any sartorial expression outside of the norm of luxury designer and the baggiest of pants is considered "gay." The best friends are committed to using clothes as a means to attaining personal freedom instead of something that creates a kind of social ghetto and the latest inert rebellion. "It was never looking in Vogue or Fantastic Man or whatever," says Olu, about his early influences, "it was Dipset on BET, it was G-Unit on 106 & Park -- these rappers showed us culture, and that's what we try to bring to the awareness of what style really is." Being bred in Boston with his mom, Ed, in his sharp windowpane blazers, was stripped of a father and modeled himself after the older kids on the block only to realize that "those dudes were losers." And with hair as wildly expressive as his emotions, Olu, a regular church-goer with his mother, reached an identical conclusion: "Me being in the hood cannot be life."
A crossroads came at Berkeley for the two when a professor asked Ed, who dropped out of school in the 10th grade, how he felt and thought about Melville's seafarer epic Moby Dick. These seemingly simple questions lead Ed to ask: "What do you want to be?" The answer -- for Ed and Olu -- is articulate, passionate, introspective men who bulldoze all the banal beliefs about what it is to be a male. With remarkably rare honesty, Ed reveals that his reconciliation with his father compelled tears and that he's never felt more like a man than when he held his mother after her father died. Olu shares his best friend's plucky singularity. While waiting for the bus, some men in a car rolled down their window and shouted, "Yo, why you wear those? You look gay, nigga!" Olu's response? "I'm just being me, and it's a great thing when you offend people by the way you dress." Olu says that he goes hard against the grain for his mom who made him think about caring for the world around him, or, as he puts it: "About being a leader." Similarly, Ed feels "every day I live my life, I make a choice about what I want to wear and the direction that I want to walk in."
- xo Elisa & Lily
See Olu & Ed's site, Street Level Culture, here.
Video Edited by Aileen Haugh