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A fixture amongst the Brooklyn and New York fashion scene, Brooklyn Circus’ Ouigi Theodore has made inroads for the reinterpretation of black youth fashion. Long gone are the days in which being young and black was instantly associated with the baggy, anti-fit attire brought on by hip-hop culture. Ouigi Theodore along with a crop personalities such as Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs of Street Etiquette have effectively reshaped the constructs of fashion amongst black youth. The New York Times highlights Theodore through an article documenting his foray into fashion and style and how he went out to start Brooklyn Circus with $8,000 USD worth of savings. The inspirational article in its entirety can be viewed over at The New York Times, while a selection of paragraphs are seen below.
OUIGI THEODORE, the founder of the Brooklyn Circus, a retro-urban fashion boutique and label, has heard it all before: dandy, preppy, Anglophile, fop. Still, he was flummoxed when a customer walked into his boutique a year ago, took one look at the bow ties and straw boaters for sale, and declared it the height of “steampunk.”
Mr. Theodore, 35, had to Google the word to find out that it referred to a neo-Victorian style built around gas-lamp-era suits, starched collars and gold watch fobs.
“It’s a mix of old and new, so I guess that’s the comparison,” he said as he took a break from chatting up customers in his boutique on a recent Friday. He wore a pair of Mark McNairy red-and-black wool trousers and a newsboy cap, accessorized with a Balinese scarf, silver Navajo rings and a camouflage German military jacket. The look was Jelly Roll Morton, channeling Hendrix.
His fashion quest, besides making a buck, is to elevate a side of black urban culture that goes beyond the baggy jeans and sneakers that still define hip-hop. “Our goal is to refine the image of urban America,” Mr. Theodore said. “My dream is to see guys hanging on the corner in suits.”
“Urban always had a style to it, a swagger,” Mr. Theodore said. But it came with baggage, too — “overuse of the ‘N’ word, the pants sagging,” he said. “It just created this stigma. When I travel overseas, people see the way we dress and say: ‘You guys don’t listen to hip-hop. You’re not urban.’ Yes, we are.”
Growing up, Mr. Theodore himself had the kind of swagger that was noticed. When he was 8, his family moved from Haiti to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where he quickly became known as a neighborhood fashion plate. He cited James Brown, Liberace and Fred Astaire as fashion influences, and would set off to Brooklyn Technical High School wearing a Ralph Lauren cashmere sweater around his shoulders one day, a ski suit and goggles the next.
Along the way, he sloughed off his first name, Quincy (“Quincy Jones already did his thing,” he said) and went by his middle name, Ouigi, which is pronounced “Wee-Gee,” like the photographer or the board. He also developed the coolly detached verbal patter of a hipster — that is, in the 1940s daddy-o sense, not the 2011 Williamsburg sense.
After graduating from the State University at Stony Brook with a degree in history, he studied graphic design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He worked as a graphic designer by day and club promoter by night. But his high-wattage personality did not lend itself to a desk job, so he scraped together $8,000 and opened his shop. Although he originally helped design the clothes at Brooklyn Circus under the BKc label, Mr. Theodore now farms out the designing, casting himself more as an idea-generator and curator. Meanwhile, he took on a strategic partner, Gabriel Garcia, to handle production and wholesale.
The collection became more dandified and genre-busting each year, befitting the label’s name. “Circus for us is just that chaos, that orchestrated, organized confusion,” Mr. Theodore said. “It’s not for the old, it’s not for the young. It’s not black, it’s not white.”
This wedge of whiskers, which he grooms fastidiously with a pick, has inspired an alter ego, the Bearded Man, which is also his handle on his popular style blog, thebkcircus.com. The character has also been featured in print ads for Bushmills Irish Whiskey and Citizens Bank, and a television spot for Tide.
“I haven’t seen my face, my actual face, in five years,” Mr. Theodore said. “What’s odd is that people run into me in the streets and are like, ‘Yo, the Bearded Man, right?’
“I’m not cutting this off, I guess.”
How do social constructs and race affect what is deemed permissible or not permissible in fashion? Let us know your thoughts below.