He made the Yankee cap hotter than anyone in pinstripes ever could. But on Monday night in Austin, Texas, Jay-Z shelved the New Era snapback and topped his denim ensemble with a printed ball cap by Leroy Jenkins. In a flash, the man who bleeds blue gave the upstart designers the ultimate co-sign — as a packed SXSW crowd (and millions watching Hov's solo show via live stream) took it all in.
On Tuesday afternoon (March 13), MTV News caught up with Leroy Jenkins founder and creative director Ron Upperman just as he headed out to re-up on floral fabric for the company's caps, which were now, of course, sold out. Upperman, who typically roams NY sporting the toppers, explained how Jay copped the accessory and what it means to have the God MC wearing his wares.
"A friend of ours is a backup dancer for Santigold, and she was in a car in Austin on the way to the show when she noticed it from the live stream," the New Jersey-dweller recalled. Upperman got a message from another friend not long after: ''Hey, you know Jay is wearing your hat right now?" the friend informed him and passed along a link to the stream. Soon, the calls of surprise and congratulation were pouring in.
"I was just flattered; that's the top guy right there," Upperman said of seeing the Roc Nation mogul in LJ.
While Upperman and Leroy Jenkins art director Upendo Taylor founded the apparel company back in 2005 as a natural outlet for their fine art and graphic design pursuits, the pair had taken an 18-month hiatus after being bruised by the recession. Having re-emerged invigorated, they turned their focus to stitching their line back together. The collection would balance the new with cult faves from the line — including that Black Palms Jungle ball cap seen at SXSW.
"A friend of ours who works at [Jay-Z's] Roc-a-Wear told me he went to work in the hat and Jay noticed it and asked if he could slide him one," the creative director said. "I figured maybe Jay would wear it just to hang out at home or whatever. Maybe he might get snapped by a photographer in it."
Or maybe not; the ever-laid-back Upperman had no big expectations. In fact, the label prides itself, he added, on moving their high-fashion hoodies, pants and hats organically, rather than chasing celebrity placements like some brands.
Now that they've won Jay over, we wondered whether the label has its eye on any other artists.
"Kanye West," Upperman said after some thought. "Because our line is for guys who've already gone beyond streetwear."
Even Leroy Jenkins is watching the Throne.