Vic Mensa has been making a habit of using his clothes as a canvas for issues that he’s passionate about, and walking the 2015 VMA red carpet was no different, as Vic showed up in a suit covered in black and white and red patches meant to shine a light on police brutality and oppression.
The woman whose face is printed across the blazer and shirt under “Free Assata” is Assata Shakur. “She’s still the FBI’s Most Wanted Woman in 2014 after being locked up as a political prisoner in 1977,” Vic explained to MTV News. “That’s ridiculous to me.” Assata is an African-American activist and member of the former Black Panther Party who was the subject of a multistate manhunt and was convicted of first-degree murder in the ’70s. She’s also the first woman to be listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List. (You can read more about Assata here.)
The designs, which Vic describes generally as “anti-police,” continue to the back of the outfit with statements like “KKKOPS ARE THE BIGGEST GANG.” This theme has been carried through many of his recent outfits for public appearances, from pants emblazoned with the names of five black women who have died in police custody (Sandra Bland, Raynetta Turner, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, and Ralkina Jones) to a flight suit with the Dead Kennedys’ “KILL THE POOR” scrawled across the front.
All these politically charged looks have been created in collaboration with art director/designer Franc Fernandez. If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Franc is the same artist behind Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress—another VMA outfit choice created with the explicit intention of sparking a conversation. “I’m interested in pop culture if it’s questioning or upsetting people or creating a problem for people to handle,” said Franc of working with Gaga and Vic. “I think that’s really important. I feel like there’s a lack of that.”
“What we always do is: I just come up with a bunch of stuff, and I just send him words and he turns them into designs,” Vic explained of their collaboration process for his VMAs look. “A lot of this was I went to a punk store and bought a bunch of patches and we chopped them up to say what we wanted to say. We did this all last night, this morning.”
From Miley’s freed nipples to Amber Rose and Blac Chyna’s empowering takedown of slut-shamers, this VMAs has been a big one for politically statement-making ensembles, but in the larger scope, these are definitely anomalies.
“I mean, most people want to show up here to look pretty and get on a blog,” Vic intimated. “I’m not so concerned. I want to get my point across.” And it’s just that attitude that has brought Vic and Franc together. “The reason I love working with him is he’s equally as interested in being disruptive as I am,” Franc explained. “I feel like I work with so many artists that either want to be safe or be beautiful, all these things that are fine, but it’s nice when someone just sort of wants to f–k s–t up.”