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Homme + Femme's collection pays homage to the Black horsemen of the Kentucky Derby

Models pose in pieces from Homme + Femme's latest collaboration with Churchill Downs for this year's Kentucky Derby race.
Michael Greenburg
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Homme + Femme
Models pose in pieces from Homme + Femme's latest collaboration with Churchill Downs for this year's Kentucky Derby race.

From the vibrant dresses and dapper suits to the extravagant hats and the snazzy shoes, one of the most notable elements of the Kentucky Derby is the showcase of the latest spring styles and looks.

One of the latest styles making its debut at this year's race, which takes place on Saturday, brings a particular twist on the historic traditions of the Derby.

Black-owned streetwear brand Homme + Femme has launched its latest collaboration with Churchill Downs, the host of the Kentucky Derby, for a new clothing line that aims to maintain the historic and rich traditions of the annual race — all through the lens of streetwear fashion.

"The main goal [of the collaboration] is to just bridge the gap between parties of luxury fashion and streetwear," said Drew Evans, Homme + Femme founder and designer.

Evans, who grew up in Compton, Calif., says his main source of inspiration when it comes to the collection was the heritage of Black jockeys and the Kentucky Derby — acknowledging the influence that African Americans played on the sport.

"We want to bring this collection to a more modern generation. And the only way that I know how to [do so] is through clothes," he said.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Homme + Femme® (@hommefemmela)

The collection aims to bring inclusiveness to the Derby

Gaining inspiration from the legacy of Black jockeys and their contributions to the sport, Evans says the new collection both celebrates the reputation of the Derby while celebrating diversity and inclusiveness within the sport.

"I look at the Kentucky Derby as kind of a prestigious, high-end elite type of venue. And people look at streetwear as kind of like the 'voice of the youth' ...We want to bridge that gap and bring inclusiveness for everyone," said Evans.

The collection, which launched online the week of the Derby, includes several items all with unique designs such as letterman jackets, workout blazers resembling varsity sweaters, T-shirts and trucker hats.

The designs also include imagery of roses, horseshoes, horses and trophies incorporated into the streetwear pieces, according to a news release.

Models pose in pieces alongside a display of hats from Homme + Femme's newest collaboration with Churchill Downs, the horse racing complex that is home to the Kentucky Derby.
Michael Greenburg / Homme + Femme
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Homme + Femme
Models pose in pieces alongside a display of hats from Homme + Femme's newest collaboration with Churchill Downs, the horse racing complex that is home to the Kentucky Derby.

"We're thrilled to unveil a collaborative capsule with Black-owned brand, Homme+Femme," said Emily Turman, senior director of partnerships and licensing for Churchill Downs in a statement to NPR.

"Through the unique, modern lens of streetwear fashion, [it] will help bring to life the luxury and excitement of the Kentucky Derby for fans across the globe."

Evans, along with Kentucky native, Valerie Bruce, aimed to design pieces that bring people together from different backgrounds, with the goal of showing how they can connect, according to a release.

"In a world where division seems to take center court, we want to bring connection and unity to the forefront," Bruce and Evans said in a news release.

Black history runs deep in the sport of horse racing

When it comes to the contributions of African Americans and the Kentucky Derby, Black horsemen and jockeys played a vital role in the sport of horse racing.

From the first Derby race in 1875 through the early 1900s, Black jockeys and horsemen laid the foundation for horse racing, said Chris Goodlett, director of curatorial and educational affairs at the Kentucky Derby Museum.

During the inaugural year of the Derby, 13 out of 15 jockeys competing in the sport were Black, including the winning jockey Oliver Lewis. Black horsemen and jockeys later went on to win 15 of the Derby's first 28 races.

Oliver Lewis, pictured here, won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 on horse Aristides. During the inaugural year of the Kentucky Derby, 13 out of 15 jockeys were Black, including Lewis.
/ Churchill Downs Racetrack
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Churchill Downs Racetrack
Oliver Lewis, pictured here, won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 on horse Aristides. During the inaugural year of the Kentucky Derby, 13 out of 15 jockeys were Black, including Lewis.

However, it wasn't until the Jim Crow era when Black jockeys and horsemen were eventually pushed out from competing in races, Goodlett said. Due to Jim Crow laws, Black jockeys were not only victims of discrimination, but also victims of violence.

"At times, physical violence by white jockeys [was used] against their African American counterparts in racing," Goodlett said. "In the late 19th and early 20th century, many states were making it very difficult, if not even impossible, for African American jockeys to get licenses to ride at the turn of the 20th century."

In 1980, 11 Black jockeys who competed in the Derby between 1875 and 1902 were honored by the NAACP and the Lincoln Foundation for their achievements in the Derby.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.