In the first episode of HBO Max’s new fashion design competition show, The Hype, nine young streetwear designers have been brought together at a cavernous industrial space in Los Angeles. They’re there to showcase their design skills and are introduced to their first guest judge, the inimitably stylish rapper A$AP Ferg. The challenge is to produce a “timeless” look for the musician to wear on a billboard with intentionally little direction given. And though there was an opportunity to ask Ferg about what he envisioned, the contestants surprisingly opted out. Straight away, stylist Marni Senofonte—one of the show’s three judges, or “co-signers,” in a nod to hip-hop parlance—chides the designers’ decision.
“They had to make something for a major artist, and they had him right there,” says Senofonte on remembering the moment, before breaking out into a guilty laugh. “I got so angry! With Google and the Internet, you take for granted the amount of information you have access to, so that was one thing I wanted to explain to them—how much further ahead they are and how fortunate they are. It made me see myself when I first started, and then through that, I was able to see what an amazing opportunity they had, because it’s so easy to take it all for granted.”
It’s this sense of the judges not only caring deeply for the success of their contestants but also the culture they are representing on-screen that sets The Hype apart from its most obvious predecessor, Project Runway. And why wouldn’t they? All three co-signers are deeply enmeshed in the streetwear community. The show’s de facto lead judge Offset—of rap trio Migos fame and partner to Cardi B (who makes an appearance later in the show)—launched his menswear label Laundered Works Corp in a church at Paris Fashion Week last year. Then there’s Bephie Birkett, founder of the streetwear Mecca that is Union Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Senofonte’s illustrious list of clients has included everyone from Lauryn Hill to Diddy; her most famous long-term styling relationship is with none other than Beyoncé.
For Senofonte, the show was an opportunity not just to connect with a new generation of streetwear designers, but also to reflect on her own relationship with streetwear, and to dissect what the genre truly means. “It’s funny,” she says. “The way that I dress has been the way I dress my entire life, and I guess it could be considered streetwear, but to me, it’s just what I wear. I know that there are people who are more streetwear purists, but I’m not a purist. I’ve been mixing it with high fashion for years.” It was these conversations that Senofonte was having with Offset and Birkett, both ahead of and during the show’s filming earlier this year, that led to the palpably tight bond the trio share on-screen. “Bephie is incredible, and Offset I was just so impressed by,” she says. “We instantly became such good friends and shared our common love for fashion and music.”