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British label, Kangol, is possibly the most known today for producing ‘hip-hop’s favourite hat’, as countless notable rappers and individuals in the hip-hop scene began sporting the brand’s iconic Kangaroo logo in the late 1980s.
As fashion was a way that many of these celebrities expressed their identities, Kangol became an important and iconic brand in hip-hop history with all of the genre’s heavy hitters rocking the bucket hat at one point of time. With approximately 80 years since its inception, the brand’s history goes back to a time even before hip-hop, to unearth an unexpected yet equally fascinating story.
Kangol’s story first began when World War I veteran Jacques Spreiregen emigrated to England and started manufacturing hats in London, importing Basque berets from France as headwear for workers and the military – a style that soon became popular. The brand only took on the name “Kangol” in 1930, which combines the “K” for “knitting”, “ANG” for “Angora” (a kind of wool), and the “OL” for “wool). In 1938, the company expanded and opened the first of its three major factories in Cleator, England. By the time World War II broke out in Europe, Kangol was a major supplier of berets to British troops.
The Kangol beret remained in demand even after the war and was worn by the British athletes in the opening ceremony of the 1948 Olympics – marking Kangol’s transition from work/army wear to casual wear. By 1954, Kangol had a monopoly on the beret market and had also started revising its designs, creating various classic designs that were versatile enough to be worn on any occasion and by anyone.
Its popularity in Britain reached its peak when The Beatles was seen wearing the Kangol hats, spreading the brand’s name both locally and internationally. The brand’s influence even had the royal family with Princess Diana, wearing Kangol caps.
As Kangol also started to export its products internationally, Kangol’s undeniable international appeal meant that it was high time to differentiate itself from other competitors. The Kangol logo was finally introduced in 1983, and its iconic kangaroo was actually decided upon when American buyers looking for the hats kept referring to them as the “Kangaroo hats”.
We finally reach the brand’s hip-hop era, when Kangol’s hats were taken up by the hip-hop community in the United States and given a whole new flair and added swagger. From LL Cool J to Slick Rick, from Notorious B.I.G to Missy Elliot, and from UTFO’s Kangol Kid to Eminem, Kangol’s hats were worn by a variety of hip-hop artists, and exploded in popularity amongst American youths at the same time as the genre entered the mainstream. Kangol’s hats also infiltrated the film industry, as famous actors were similarly captured wearing them. Samuel L. Jackson, for instance, wore the Fugora Spitfire in 1997 crime thriller film Jackie Brown. Wesley Snipes was also filmed wearing a Kangol hat in cult classic, New Jack City.
The retro revival and fashion’s inclination towards streetwear today have allowed Kangol’s timeless pieces to remain sought after by increasingly brand-conscious millennials. As Kangol continues to shoot campaigns, releasing more modern designs in tandem with their more classic ones, the brand keeps its legacy going strong – bringing its rich history to the present and into the future.