In the D.C. area, the owner of U First says, shoppers opt for pink sailing jackets with green hoodies that can cost $450. It’s not just women and girls scooping them up, he says, but also men and boys who buy them to match the $300 pink Nike Air Foamposite shoes that recently hit stores. The name of the shop’s owner is not being used because The Washington Post does not name victims of crime without their consent.
Trendy jackets and other fashion staples are nothing new — recall, for example, Triple F.A.T. Goose, 8-Ball and Starter, and shoes such as the Reebok Pump and first-generation Nikes. Still, there doesn’t seem to be a simple reason Helly Hansen is in this year.
Area retailers insist that they were as surprised by the fad as anyone and have struggled to meet demand. And while the brand was linked with hip-hop culture during a boomlet in the 1990s, experts struggle to find a contemporary connection.
It seems largely concentrated in the D.C. area, said Dave Mays, co-founder of Hip Hop Weekly magazine. The District “has a history of being a very stylish city,” he said, credited with launching the Timberland boot craze in the 1990s, creating “the staple shoe of the hip-hop generation.”
“Hip-hop culture is always looking for something new and different,” Mays said. “We take traditional brands and reinvent them with an urban flair, and they get adopted to our own market.”
Mays said Helly Hansen advertised in another magazine he founded, the Source, in the early 1990s. Around that time, the brand turned up in rap lyrics, and its puffy ski jackets — designed specifically for the hip-hop market — were sported on stage by Funkmaster Flex and Redman over large gold chains.
In March, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier mentioned Helly Hansen as she ticked off items popular with criminals. The stabbing of 18-year-old Olijawon Griffin at the Metro station cast new light on the issue, and police said another man was robbed of his Helly Hansen jacket at gunpoint Nov. 27 in Southeast.
Two days after the Metro stabbing, Gay Carden said, her 18-year-old son was the victim of the Clinton robbery.
“They were after his Helly Hansen,” Carden said. “It’s every kid’s dream to have a Helly Hansen. But if I had known there was so much danger that comes with the coat, I never would have gotten him one.”
Shopping at U First this week, Peggy Welch of Upper Marlboro said both her daughters, ages 13 and 23, wanted Helly Hansens for Christmas. She said yes to the older one but not the teen because of concerns for the younger girl’s safety.
Welch said she doesn’t understand the allure, but she knows this much: “It’s the hottest thing out.”
Maggie Fazeli Fard and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.