The Stylish New Netflix Series You're Going To Be Obsessed With

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Picture 1970s New York. What comes to mind? Bell bottoms, disco, Studio 54? Music buffs aside, you’ll be forgiven for not knowing that during the heyday of disco, another even bigger cultural revolution was being born over in the Bronx: hip hop.

This captivating period of hip hop’s prehistory is the subject of Baz Luhrmann’s new Netflix venture and first foray onto the small screen called The Get Down. Starring Jaden Smith and Jimmy Smits in a crowd of otherwise unknown faces, the show follows the lives of young teenagers growing up in the poverty-stricken, gang-ruled Bronx with no money, no prospects but a hell of a lot of ambition and talent.

With the same mashup of longing romance, ballsy attitude and non-stop action of Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and an equally irresistible soundtrack, you’ll want to climb through the screen and join the party.

Catherine Martin, the costume designer for the first episode, is no stranger to the wardrobe complications of big casts and even bigger productions. She’s worked with Luhrmann since being producer and set designer on Romeo + Juliet in 1996 (and has been married to him since 1997; the couple have two children together.)

Since then, Martin has become one of Hollywood’s most revered costumers and set designers, winning two Academy Awards for Moulin Rouge! in 2002 and another two for The Great Gatsby in 2014. The old cliché of ‘behind every great man stands a great woman’ could not be more true for the pair; Luhrmann has found success through his ability to reinterpret stories and contextualise traditional themes in untraditional settings, and Martin brought these reinterpretations to life.

But where the couple’s previous films have found them dealing with characters from Paris at the turn of last century and 1920s America, the people who lived in the time of The Get Down are still around today and that may partly explain the vividness with which Martin, and the lead costume designer for the series Jeriana San Juan, are able to portray late ‘70s New York.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

“One of the most interesting things about this period, and about the prehistory of hip hop, is that all the founders – Herc and Flash, Bambada – are still around, and have worked on the show,” Martin explains. “You know with Moulin Rouge! I couldn’t go and ask Toulouse Lautrec what he thought about anything – that’s what’s been extraordinary.”

Many of us have been invited to a '70s disco or Studio 54 themed party, and the ease with which a modern audience who’ve grown up on films like Boogie Nights can recall the costumes of that period was one of the biggest challenges facing Martin. “With the disco costumes, Baz was concerned when he first saw them that they would be too fancy,” she explains, "but if I’m completely honest, the problem with disco is it’s been done so many times and also very spectacularly, so if you don’t push that hard, there’s no contrast with the hip hop look.”

And there has to be contrast with the hip hop look for this show to work. One minute you’re in the dazzling lights of ‘Los Infernos’, the wild disco that everyone wants to get in to, the next, you’re in the sweaty, secret underground rave of The Get Down, watching Grandmaster Flash spin the decks to a two-hundred strong crowd of bucket-hatted party goers (if you thought Dalston was a good night out, wait until you see this.)
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

But where disco prides itself on exclusivity, extraordinary dancing and the most outrageous, metallic, sculpted outfits, hip hop comes from a very different place. “The other thing about hip hop is that in those origins they’re non-judgemental about the musical style,” explains Martin. It’s less about genre, more about how you’re using your turntables (which Martin describes as "the piano of The Bronx.") And in many ways, this inclusivity and lack of judgement is reflected in the clothes the early hip hop-ers wore.

“One very much comes from a limited palette of street clothes; T-shirts, jeans, sneakers,” elaborates Martin. “And one is a shiny, peacocky presentation of oneself. But they both come from exactly the same desire to be fly. Everyone wants to look good. There is no culture, whether it’s in the Bronx or an Australian Aboriginal [...] that doesn’t want to look good. That is the fundamental human desire.”

With these different cultures jockeying side by side in The Get Down, the show makes great use of demonstrating how intrinsically linked music and youth culture are, and how young people in particular use these to find a sense of identity. Because whether you were a 1960s Brit kid defining yourself as a mod or a rocker, or a 1970s Bronx kid choosing between disco and hip hop, these powerful cultural scenes have helped young people find identities time and time again in modern history – particularly in times of hardship.

And while our modern perceptions of 1970s New York have always been dominated by the white-washed scenes of Studio 54 purveyed by popular culture, Luhrmann and Martin’s bright new musical vision is about to put a firecracker under all that. Welcome to New York as you've never seen it before.

The Get Down
is available on Netflix from 12th August.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

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