Retail for the people: Black Panther Clothing


By Caitlin Donohue

It’s possible that on December 3rd, 1969, when he was arrested for alleged death threats against President Richard Nixon, Black Panther Chief of Staff David Hilliard could not have predicted he'd have a lasting fashion legacy. It was near the height of the Panthers’ international freedom fighting activities. The group was involved in providing food, medical care and legal aid to underserved African-American communities- but in a time of serious governmental persecution, Hilliard was arrested on numerous occasions for everything from possession of a weapon in a public place to his participation in the Oakland police shoot out that killed his comrade Bobby Hutton.

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"Hey Panther, where'd ya get that jacket?" A fashion show Friday's got the answer

They were rebels, social leaders, badasses- and man, could they dress. The “Panther look”- berets, traditional African textiles and sharp leather jackets- were a hipper, sleeker activist chic than the haphazard “hippie” look prevalent at the time. Although they didn’t set out to be style icons, “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States” (as J. Edgar Hoover memorably dubbed them) definitely made their mark on the fashion scene.

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SF fashion designer Andrea Lamadora with her artistic inspiration, Black Panther David Hilliard

It’s a tricky business, commodifying a social movement, but in preparation for creating a clothing line based on the Panthers’ innate vogue, fashion designer Andrea Lamadora had the unique chance to learn from a key player in the movement- Hilliard himself. Her friendship with the activist gave her “the privilege of seeing the Black Panther Party archives, including never seen by the public images and photos of actual Panther clothing from the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Lamadora says. “I was immediately inspired to lend my creative style to this very important historical, political and cultural organization.” After the jump, what she came up with.

The line that she wound up developing, Black Panther Clothing, relies on the group’s preferred color scheme- strong tones of red, black and green with gold accents. Like the revolutionaries themselves, Lamadora’s pieces integrate tough-guy leather with softer cotton swatches. Designs of party leader Huey Newton’s face stare out from many of the shirts, which start at $20.

A year after beginning work on the project, Lamadora will premiere Black Panther Clothing at her recently opened boutique, Loft 1513 during “Wishlist,” a fashion show that has Hilliard- now an accomplished speaker and head of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation- slated as a special guest.Price of admission is a donation of food or a toy for "La Casa de Las Madres," a domestic violence shelter for women and their children.

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House of Mamasan makes threads to clothe your queen in

The show will also feature designs from House of Mamasan, Lamadora’s other line of urban-ethnic style. In the past, the Mamasan look has hinged on dramatic shapes drawn from Asian cultures- traditional textiles that have inspired the designer since the days of her childhood when her mother would bring home bolts of cloth from trips around the world. “[The looks are] powerful, respectable- yet hip and stylish,” says Lamadora. The clothes are attention getting but like the Panther 'fits, look comfortable enough for today’s freedom fighter on the go.

“Wishlist” fashion show
Fri/18 5-9 p.m., food or toy donation required for entry
Loft 1513
1513 Church, SF