Fashion Designer and Stylist Zoid Haem Brings Hip-Hop to Artopia

Zoid Haem wearing an outfit he styled himself.
Zoid Haem wearing an outfit he styled himself. Photo by Modified PhotoGraphics
Wrap yourself in hip-hop at the 2019 Artopia, Westword's annual arts extravaganza that will celebrate decades of hip-hop culture at The Church on Friday, March 1. The artists on the lineup that night include local stylist and fashion designer Zoid Haem, who will not only be creating a hip-hop installation and selling his designs, but styling VIP guests.

In advance of Artopia, we caught up with Zoid to talk about hip-hop culture and what people can expect at the event.

Westword: How did you come to style in the VIP area of Artopia?

Zoid Haem: I had an amazing opportunity from one of my good friends, who I am actually doing the exhibition with; he goes by No One Special, and some people in the city know him as Hustleman. He hit me up: We used to work together, and he wanted to bring me on due to some of the conversations we’ve had. One conversation in particular we had was about Nike and Colin Kaepernick. After that talk, he was like, "I have to bring you on board for this." He introduced me to the curator, Jolt of Guerilla Garden. We sat and had a few drinks and talked about the city, we talked about art, and we talked about hip-hop.

Since December, we've been working on developing the idea, a thesis and a philosophy behind the exhibition, and curating the pieces of fashion, too, that we know people will enjoy.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOHN YU
Photo by John Yu
So people come in looking basic and leave looking extra?

What does Blood Orange say? You gotta be extra out here. For our exhibition, there will be two elements. Up in the VIP section, there will be a booth where we have our actual installation, consisting of six mannequins and a few other art pieces that tell a story about hip-hop. Outside of that, we will have several racks of fashion that are curated specifically for our theme and for the evening. So when people come up there, they get to look at the installation as well as enjoy all of the fashion that pulls from this deep cultural history of hip-hop — from its origins in the Bronx to gangsta rap in California to Luke down south in Florida to UGK in Houston.

I did a lot of research and tried to collect the exact pieces or make the exact pieces that are similar to those we all know from these iconic characters and iconic moments in hip-hop. So when people come up to the racks, they'll be like, “Wow is that an Ecko jacket? Is that Coogi?” I’m really excited for people to experience the fully immersive side of hip-hop in the forefront. Everyday people can have this ritual where they look in the mirror and look in their closet and begin to picture themselves and how they want to be projected out in the world. They design themselves with emotions and feelings with fashion pieces. So when it comes to the experience for Westword, I'll be able to do that in a context of what hip-hop has done and continues to do.

My thesis, "Fashion of Hip-Hop Past, Present and Future," tells a story of a collective resistance we're involved in, regardless of race and class. We are all involved in hip-hop, which is one of our greatest art forms. See, hip- hop is just another name for what jazz was. With this opportunity, I hope that guests will have an empathetic understanding of hip-hop’s origins, my experience with hip-hop in the present, and also my creative idea of what hip-hop will be in the near future. When people get styled in these pieces, I want them to feel like a B-boy or like Lil’ Kim talking back to somebody right now, or these Dickies are creased clean, like they were back in the day, cuffed perfect. That’s the vibe we're going for.

The exhibition also has a deeper meaning — really a critique on our culture. No One Special and I hope our exhibition calls out all the capitalist giants like Nike, like Adidas, like Tommy, like Polo, like Gucci. Not just to drag them, but more so to educate the consumer on how these corporate giants can misrepresent, can appropriate and can exploit our culture.

If social media has taught us anything, with examples like United Airlines or H&M, it’s our "like," and our dollar is our vote — period. We can destroy, we can shift and we can support. So it’s up to us to educate people about what’s happening in the world — especially a world that is teetering on extinction due to overproduction and waste.

Me and No One Special hope that our exhibition breaks the silence of those who don’t even know they are mannequins. We want to say something as to what we can do as conscious consumers, still be fashionably lit, but also very, very aware of the climate of our world and how we can no longer allow unruly capitalist destruction to permeate our existence. There is a deeper meaning to it.

No One Special has some amazing pieces talking about Adidas and talking about Nike, and my pieces talking about the past, present, future of hip-hop really highlight what hip-hop is. It’s not all glossy. It’s not all pink hair, chartreuse hair and face tattoos, like we think of now. That's what it's developed into after massive amounts of consumption. But hip-hop started in a dark place. I'll go in depth with different clients there who come up to get styled and get to see the pieces on the mannequins — like the Bronx Zoo wasn't an actual zoo, but it was just the Bronx and people called it a zoo because people were acting like animals due to the fact that there was so much crime, poverty and drugs. Drugs literally dropped on them from a helicopter. Can you imagine that?

There is one piece I'm making for the event that people can buy when they come up to the VIP area, which is about a young kid who was murdered, and his murder was the catalyst for this element that we consider B-boy. Instead of fighting with chains, knives and guns, the youth started fighting with dancing. There was this one moment when the kids said, 'This is enough.' The adults were strung out, and the government, Reagan, had them pulled up. So it was the kids that sparked a revolution. The history of hip-hop has not been really talked about or expressed to our generation fully.

Now, of course, I talk about the present, talk about tall tees, talk about FUBU, talk about the stuff that I grew up with, like Phat Farm and Baby Phat. I do a whole opus on the white tee. It lets you know I'm here and I'm clean and fresh. It has to be clean. We talk about the future, too, where hip-hop will go, what brands will look like in the future, how this element of poetry between rhythms and the style of dance and the style of graffiti will all meld together in the future to create this new human, a new-man, that we can consider to be a hope, that we all hope to be.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID LANGLOIS
Photo by David Langlois
Will all the pieces be for sale?

Everything is for sale. No One Special said on his Instagram, "Bring your wallets, because this is art."

Are you curating or creating these pieces?

A little of both. There will be some original designs that are cut and sewn. There will be some curated pieces that we have collected from the past and present. This is one-of-a-kind artwork you won't be able to find anywhere else.

How many pieces are you going to present that night?

There's a lot. Well, if it was a fashion show, there wouldn't be enough models in Denver! I can't speak for No One Special. I've seen some of his designs, and people are going to be blown away by what they see. They're witty, and there is a depth to them. They really say something. I have three mannequins I designed original pieces for. On the styling side, there will be over seventy pieces for people to choose from and to enjoy.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID LANGLOIS
Photo by David Langlois
Those are pieces that the guests can wear for the event and then give back?

They can give them back or they can buy them. With being a stylist, I love the element of bringing you in and putting you in front of a mirror with some colorful lights and asking, "How do you feel today?" and using fashion to bring out that emotion and letting your dreams air out a bit. If it looks good on you and looks fly on you, then please, baby, take that home with you. Do yourself a favor; you look amazing.

I look around Denver and I see style. I see amazing style out here. Style goes beyond just what you wear; it's how you wear it. That is what is so unique to me, because I can look at someone and see that they cuffed their sleeves, and that's style. That is you expressing yourself with something you just found on the rack. You didn't sew it. You took something that was ordinary and made it extraordinary, with imagination and creativity. So when people come to the show that night, that's what is going to be happening. They'll come dressed how they are and then put on my clothes, and I hope they feel it. Feel immersed.

Fashion, for the most part, besides video games and virtual reality, is the only immersive experience we created as human beings. When you put on your Louis Vuitton shoes, how do you feel in those? You feel something special in that. I hope that people realize that fashion is the link between you going beyond yourself and feeling empathetic toward someone else's experience. It's my goal that after people put on these pieces and see the installation, they not only know what hip-hop is, but are like, 'I am hip-hop.'

What is your favorite hip-hop song or jam of the moment?

I like "The Message," by Melle Mel; that has been banging hard in my tape deck. Outside of that, I am a super-weirdo, so I like "Melting," by Kid Cudi. People don't really realize that hip-hop is punk, hands-down. What Kid Cudi did with his Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven album, his rock album, he really influenced this screamo trap that has been present in this new wave of music blending hip-hop and rock. The youth will always be punk — that rebellious spirit. I like stuff on the underground, the fringe and a little eerie, outside of mainstream hip-hop.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JESSICA MYER
Photo by Jessica Myer
What is your favorite film?

Belly is my favorite movie, period. I also studied a lot of films to gain inspiration for the event: Menace II Society, Paris Is Burning, Set It Off, State Property and Colors. It all adds to this image that hip-hop is developing into. I studied film after film, trying to dig deeper into hip-hop culture. I also watched lots of music videos, old school Dr. Dre, Missy Elliott and Timbaland. But, yeah, movies nonstop.

What is your style mantra?

Fashion is for the emotions and dreams. How can I use my imagination today? What is at the core of an individual's emotions? You know when something is a little off with your outfit and you're trying to get it right? It can be something as small as the color of your socks. That little small detail will change everything internally for the individual. It can give them that confidence, so it's important.

What is your favorite color?

Orange and metallic silver have been speaking to me a lot. Prison or monk-garb orange has been speaking to me, and the steel tone chrome has been speaking to me as well. I also like that chartreuse green as well.

What is your favorite accessory?

I love a shoe adornment or a little pin. Pins balance things for me. When I put a little pin on, I feel like I'm ready for today. My little anime characters on my buttons are what are special to me. When I can pull something from the fantasy world into my outfit, that is bonus points for me.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID BOLANOS
Photo by David Bolanos
Is there anything else you would like to add? Maybe what guests can expect at the event?

Guests can expect a ritual of style, what people usually take for granted about getting dressed. It will be heightened to the point where people will be like, "Wow, I had no idea this much conscious effort goes into what you wear." I want to bring our attention to that, because as humans, fashion is our entry point to ourselves and to others. Trust me, I am bringing some fashion to the GA area, too, because I don't want anyone to miss out on this. This is going to be nice and historical.

I am extremely honored, and I relish this experience to be around so many zeitgeists and amazing creatives for Artopia, from the people that beatbox, graffiti, the dancers, the collectors, and my fellow designer No One Special. I feel incredibly challenged and very nervous. For me, if there is one individual who comes up and says that they had no idea, but now they know, then that's it. That's the best for me if we can get that across. I hope everyone enjoys the pieces I have; they have a lot of thought in them, a lot of passion and hard work in them. Me and my team have been working really hard, and I hope people feel like they can leave the Patagonia at home and instead wear this.

Artopia will celebrate decades of hip-hop culture on March 1 at The Church, 1160 Lincoln Street. Purchase tickets and learn more about the event at Click here to check out Zoid Haem's Zoid Styles online shop.
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Mauricio Octavio Rocha graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English writing and a minor in cinema studies; He has been writing about fashion and style for Westword since 2012. Rocha also writes songs for his music and art project, VULGAR FEVER.
Contact: Mauricio Rocha