“Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down and I’d like to take a minute just sit right there I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air”.
For those of us who grew up in the 1990s, this intro became a cult, a primal reminder of the joy, the small happiness that lay behind simply watching a sitcom that nevertheless polarized, and continues to polarize even 22 years after its release, the attention of millions of kids around the world, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
On September 10, 1990, the first episode of the unforgettable The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, created by Andy and Susan Borowitz and starring a young Will Smith, aired on NBC. The plot told the story of a sensitive and intelligent boy but who grew up in West Philadelphia, basic on the streets, and who, after a fight with some local bad guys, is unceremoniously sent by his mother to live at his aunt and uncle’s house in Bel-Air to keep him away from the dangerous and violent environment in which Willy was growing up.
Will is catapulted into the home of his Aunt Vivian (sister of Willy’s mother) and Uncle Philip, a prominent and wealthy L.A. lawyer; the two have three children: Carlton, Willy’s ill and hated second son and cousin who is a kind of nemesis of Willy, serious, studious, precise and punctilious; Hilary, the Banks’ scatterbrained and spoiled firstborn; and Ashley, the youngest sister of the three but already very intelligent, reasonable and empathetic.
Will then finds himself suddenly immersed in a social and economic context far removed from the one he had experienced up to that point, and this will be the constant spark that will give rise to all the vicissitudes that will make up the plot that will unfold over the 6 seasons of the series.
The sitcom was credited with launching the acting career of Will Smith, who, thanks to his portrayal of the character, would from then on see his stock rise until he won the Oscar for best actor in a leading role in 2022 for his role in King Richard.
A true cultural reference for all generations that came after the release of the series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a very powerful reference for the devastating impact styling the protagonist had on mass culture.
Let’s start with what is the main feature of Willy’s looks throughout the series, the sneakers.
Referred to by Complex as “the MJ of TV”, the character played by Will Smith undoubtedly reinforced and solidified the role of Air Jordans in 90s street style and especially the Air Jordan 5, worn by Willy already in the famous and aforementioned opening theme song written by black music guru Quincy Jones – also the Executive Producer of the series – and Smith himself.
“I wanted people to see them on Fresh Prince before they were out”, Will Smith told Complex, who often wore them without even the laces, an homage and reference to the adidas Superstar worn, precisely without the laces, by Run-DMC.
His outfits were a breath of freshness and collness. The references were those of the hip-hop and then streetwear worlds: baggy jeans, brightly colored tees and shirts, equally colorful caps, jumpsuits of all kinds, and Nikes on her feet, alternating now and then with the boots typical of that period.
“For me, the big thing was color. The attitude of the character was always color…”.
Our “Fresh-Prince” with the passage of time has become an eccentric and unique style icon, while at the same time, however, maintaining the ability to unite different styles beyond any kind of stereotype or cultural convention.
In general, all of the protagonists of the series, and their looks of course, helped to clearly define and explicate the street style of those years in a mainstream way, giving us hilarious and iconic moments in all respects as well as a flood of outfits from which to take inspiration.