X Marks the Hip
Once just a symbol for adults-only movies. today X is not just street-chic fashion but also—for some wearers, anyway—a political statement, commemorating Malcolm X, the Black Muslim activist who was assassinated in 1965. The first spark of fad-fire was ignited two years ago when Lee, whose movie, Malcolm X, opens in November, began wearing an X cap. But the headgear didn't give oil any real heat until TV audiences saw Michael Jordan grinning beneath his X at a basketball game last year. Says Mc Williams, "We were flooded with calls."
So was Mark Roesler, CEO of Curtis Management Group in Indianapolis, which licenses names and images of the famous dead for their grateful families. "The explosion of interest in Malcolm," says Roesler, "exceeds anything I've ever seen—and that includes James Dean." (His-memorabilia, such as T-shirts and posters, generates more than $250 million annually.) Roesler, hired by Malcolm's widow, Betty Shabazz, nine months ago, has licensed 40 companies to manufacture and sell gear. He expects Malcolm X retail items to earn more than $100 million by year's end.
So vigilant is Roesler in protecting his X rights that he has threatened to file suit against filmmaker Lee for selling unlicensed merchandise at his Spike's Joint retail stores in L.A., New York and Atlanta. "We've given him deadlines," Roesler says, "but we're running out of patience."
Meanwhile, the cap has not only garnered Lee a heady amount of free movie publicity, it has also provoked controversy. Chastising while students who wear X caps, senior Kim Barker wrote in Northwestern University's The Daily Northwestern last fall that "Malcolm X and the hat that symbolizes him should be sacred territory for African Americans." Yet most hat-heads, like Leslie Idaglio. 16, of Norwood, Mass., have no political agendas. "Who cares anyway?" she says. "It's just a cool hat and I like it."