How Khalfani “Fani” Dennis Put Atlanta Streetwear on the Map

The designer's signature "Fandana" has been worn by the likes of Billie Eilish, SZA, Lil Yachty, and Rae Sremmurd.

by Atoosa Moinzadeh

Khalfani “Fani” Dennis
Photographed by Nicolas Coupland.

Khalfani “Fani” Dennis owns a boutique in Downtown Atlanta that sells a coveted, polka-dot patterned scarf called the “Fandana.” To get one, usually you’d have to make an appointment—but on this slow Saturday afternoon in October, Closette’s doors are open for a pop-up called “homecoming*,” dedicated to the annual HBCU-wide alumni event that’s been called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fani tells me over the phone that he has to be there at 12:30 pm to open up shop, where he and photographer Cam Kirk will be selling merchandise into the evening.

But Fani—who speaks in a soft, yet assured tone—isn’t in a rush to get off the phone. “I know I’m talking a lot, but I love telling this story,” he says. We’d just spent the past hour discussing his time at Clark Atlanta University, where he’d enrolled in 2008 and went on to help found one of the city’s most pivotal, eclectic rap cliques of the era, Two-9. Back then, he was in charge of the group’s entire creative marketing strategy, which bled into him doing all sorts of bridge-building for the region’s music scene. Today, at 31, he’s one of the most readily recognizable streetwear designers in Atlanta—his brand has been seen on nearly every rapper from the city, including Gunna and Lil Yachty. Major artists from outside Atlanta, including Billie Eilish and SZA, are also fans of the brand. And Fani is still steering nearly every aspect of his own trajectory.

Born in Chicago, Fani was drawn to skate culture, anime, and martial arts films at an early age—he immersed himself in the visual arts after moving to Atlanta and enrolling in his high school’s magnet program. Beyond the logo-centric aesthetic of skate brands, rappers like fellow Chicago native Lupe Fiasco made a major impression on him. “In the song called ‘Gold Watch,’ Lupe name-dropped all these brands and talked about couture, cars,” Fani says. He recalls spending hours on the Internet in computer class studying streetwear, hunting for coveted items. “I would just spend my time looking for [A Bathing Ape clothes], even fake Bapes, whatever I could get my hands on.”

Fani enrolled at Clark just as rap’s blog era was taking off, and established a reputation as one of the campus’ best dressed: “He was always sporting these rockstar leather jackets, turquoise pants—it was clear that fashion was his thing,” Atlanta-based music manager Steven “Stevo” Dingle remembers. There, Fani met Jace, who would go on to found Two-9 in 2009 with KEY! and Curtis Williams (two people Fani had already met in passing at boutiques like Wish and the now defunct Sole Munki) and others. “We were a group of like-minded individuals who skated and were into the same kind of fashion, so we naturally formed this clique,” Fani says. “Once they made a gang sign for it, and we were going to all of these parties together, Two-9 kind of became the movement.”

Two-9’s expansion into music seemed natural, at a time when DIY, fashion-forward rap crews (Odd Future, A$AP Mob) were taking hold. It was during that period, which Fani refers to as the “IllRoots Era,” that he started OriginalFani.com. The blog initially drove Two-9’s marketing, creative direction, and promotion, and garnered more attention as it expanded into a cultural hub. Perhaps the most remarkable part of it all was that Fani was doing it alone—and while his career trajectory was unclear at that point, Atlanta’s music scene was watching. “As I saw Two-9 grow and I got to know him a bit, I was like, ‘Fani’s gonna play the role that Don C. did in Kanye’s career for Two-9,’” Stevo says.

As Two-9 garnered attention from record labels, its structure began to change; Fani was recruited by Quality Control’s Coach K in 2012 to do cover art for Gucci Mane’s Trap God, and more graphic design opportunities began to roll in. “I wasn’t really making any money, but I was still designing clothes and mixtape covers, and touring all over America with Two-9,” Fani says. He occasionally sold t-shirts with the website’s logo, which was a spinoff of KAWS’s OriginalFake logo, but his pivot to designing pieces for his own brand full-time wouldn’t happen for another couple of years. “I’m always thankful for those experiences,” he says. “But I was ready to do my own thing.”

When we get to talking about the “Fandana,” it’s hard for Fani to establish a timeline at first: back then, like so many of the one-man bloggers and designers of his ilk, everything was buzzing around him. He spends a few minutes scrolling through his Instagram feed until he finds a post dated November 16, 2014: “New Patterns | For Promo Use Only,” it reads. “I guess if I ever write a book one day, I can just use my Instagram to date everything,” Fani quips. Indeed, the OriginalFani Instagram account functions as a living archive: the first design mockups, every design cameo, every rapper he helped cross-promote, every collaboration.

“I didn’t go into this thinking I was going to make a million dollars or anything, but I thought I was onto something,” Fani says now of the Fandana. Its simplistic, crisp print is what makes it palatable—an encircled “F” logo (an ode to the registered trademark symbol that’s loudly imposed on many Bape designs) mixed with polka dots. At first, Fani made Fandanas to give out to his friends, but he soon began selling them at live shows. “Fani started selling Fandanas hand to hand out of a bag,” producer Mike Will Made It tells me. “He was at every video shoot, every show, and it grew to people wanting his shirts, his hats, his bandanas, whatever they could get their hands on.”

It didn’t take long to see the Fandana sprinkled throughout Instagram posts. Metro Boomin, whose signature look was a headband tilted sideways, put Fandanas into rotation. Rae Sremmurd, Lil Yachty, and Kodie Shane became unofficial ambassadors, featuring them in their music videos and photoshoots. The Fandana’s popularity has traveled outside of Atlanta, as seen on artists like Wiz Khalifa, Nipsey Hussle, and Billie Eilish. “My whole sense of style is basically dedicated to Fani,” rapper KEY! says. OriginalFani has since expanded into other products, including silk shirts, t-shirts, pillows, and, more recently, masks.

While Atlanta’s fashion scene can’t be boxed in, its contemporary pioneers agree on one thing: the city has impacted high fashion on a global level. When I ask Fani, who’s held a number of educational workshops on streetwear, about the subject, he says the city has historically “kind of [gotten] left out” of the conversation: “If everyone’s just sucking all the resources out of Atlanta for the beats, but then they’re not viewing it from a zoomed-out perspective, that’s what happens.” KEY!, who’s remained a trendsetter in Atlanta’s music scene post-Two-9, sees potential for the city to finally get its due recognition through brands like OriginalFani. “We’ve always been setting trends—[shoulder bags:] 2 Chainz, ‘Dufflebag Boy,’ they started that,” he says. “It’s 2020, and Atlanta’s fashion is in the hands of people like Fani.”

Before Fani gets off the phone to head to “homecoming*,” I ask him what he’s dropping next. He can’t really talk about the ins and outs of it, but it’s a completely new product: a leather bag. “It’s been a long time coming,” he says, quickly interrupting himself: “But it really hasn’t been, I feel like I’ve been able to go really far.” Fani has plans to open Closette with full-time staff sometime in 2021, and doesn’t plan on going online-only anytime soon. Beyond making Closette a destination for coveted items, it houses other Atlanta brands and pop-ups which allow all walks of life in the city to congregate, network, and build bonds. “In Japan, some brands have designs that you can only purchase if you go there—I’m applying that ideology to Atlanta,” he tells me. He hopes that in the same way Supreme is to New York, and Stüssy is to California, OriginalFani can make Atlanta a streetwear destination—and tell its story. “People have their eyes on Atlanta,” Fani says. “The whole world is paying attention to our culture.”

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