MORE BOUNCE TO THE OUNCE

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In the era of the preview and early look, it was extra surprising to hear that a new edition of 12ozProphet is fully formed and primed for release. Coinciding with the relaunch of the website and forums (while the idea of a forum for streetwear is out — as the impending end of Hypebeast’s boards attests — in favour of the Reddit and private FB group chatter, graffiti still seems to work well in that format), plus a new store that debuts this week, we get Volume 2.5 in The Official Bootleg Series (contained again in “flavor-saver” packaging). Continue reading MORE BOUNCE TO THE OUNCE

STRESSED

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Stress magazine is the hip-hop magazine that doesn’t get as shouted out as it should be. Completing a quartet of Tower Records buy-on-sights with On The Go, Mass Appeal and Ego Trip, KET and the team’s labour of love had a nicely politicised side when The Source seemed to let that angle slide more than a little. The annual Black August events they sponsored in aid of political prisoners and freedom fighters (an event that’s still ongoing) showcased an interesting collection of intelligent artists. Stress ran from 1996 to the early 2000s (did it get beyond issue #25?) and this Unkut interview with KET that dates back almost a decade is a lot of real-talk on the publishing process. In December 1997, the magazine “Made from the best stuff in NY” ran several interesting articles, including a brief dual timeline of Gucci and Versace (this was the close of the year when Gianni was murdered) by Jessica Green. It’s certainly not the very best thing from this project’s run, but for that mention of a bizarre 1996 Versace hosted rap themed party where pretzels were handed out to evoke a hip-hop ambiance, it stuck in my mind throughout the years. And has there ever been a citation for the Tom Ford “I design for the urban person…” quote that’s used in it?

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SPORTING GOODS ’94

Didn’t have much to add here, but this footage from a sporting goods show (possibly filmed around early 1994) has some brief gems in it. Presenter Mark White upped the clip on YouTube and the interesting stuff arrives near the end — legendary Nike spokesperson Liz Dolan introducing the Air Max2 system and the CB 94, plus the obscure Tinker Hatfield designed sandal called the Nike Free that would, apparently inform the Nike Free technology his brother helped helm several years ago. Reebok — then caught up in a war with Nike — debut BOKS hikers and the InstaPump technology via the Pump Fury. Blink and you’ll miss those Jordan III retros too.

GRAND OPENING, GRAND CLOSING

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Nike, Comme, McQueen and Canon in the same product mix? It’ll never catch on. The place will be lucky if it survives into the 21st century.

Fast-forward two decades.

It’s a fond farewell to Colette at the close of this year and it’s easy to forget just how mind-boggling their approach was when it opened those doors in 1997 — grander than just another sparse boutique, that styledesignartfood combination was something very different. There were influential stores globally long before colette, but it was one of the few to actively engage with the streetwear realm credibly and without condescension. Now, the idea of grabbing a drink, an import magazine, stationary as a souvenir, 35 pound t-shirt or an item of clothing worth thousands is a business model we’ve come to expect. On first visiting 213 rue Saint-Honoré, the exhibition section, book area, pre-stream edits of import DVDs and oddly democratic blend of high-end and my interests on the same rack opened my eyes to a lot of new things. It looked like the work of a discerning eye rather than just another blog reaction. Of course, in 2017, the rest of the world has caught up, and it’s easier than ever to grab the same selection in other key cities or online, but while a trip to colette hasn’t caused me to impulse buy of late that it did a few years back, it’s not fizzling out — in a quintessentially Gallic move, the Colette who put her name to the store is stepping down in December and without her, Colette goes too. A lot of stores studied the moves this Paris institution made, but few could steer it to the very end like Madame Roussaux and her daughter did.

HARRY

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Flicking through an old issue of The Face the other day, I spotted Harry Jumonji modelling some Subware, reminding me that he has a habit of appearing in some relatively unlikely places. That had me Googling the recently screened documentary and I hadn’t realised that “OG” the Story of Harry Jumonji and the Birth of NYC Street Skating was online to rent or buy right now. The trailer has been drifting around for three years and the documentary includes footage shot seven years ago, resulting in something that gives a deeper overview of Jumonji’s life, up to his recent Go Fund Me aided return to Brazil courtesy of director Erica Hill. The letters O.G. are thrown about with little justification, but with Jumonji, we’re dealing with a true originator — Brazil’s best surfer turned skater who was forcefully sent to NYC by his dad where he helps father the city’s scene, with Jimmy Gestapo of Murphy’s Law putting him onto the Brooklyn Banks. It’s clear that Harry was a pioneer alongside fellow legend Andy Kessler (R.I.P.), and the film offers a sensitive portrayal of both its subject’s life as well as telling some of Kessler’s story.

Every drug addict has their “coulda been a contender” spiel, but in this case, it’s true — the local celebrity and cult hero could have been a superstar like friend Christian Hosoi who ended up with his fair share of demons, but, as the blunt talk of those relapses and incarceration testifies, Jumonji hasn’t come out the other side like Hosoi quite yet. The no-bullshit talk from associates like Tony Converse, shocking scene of heroin snorting, and situation with his child — echoing a distant relationship with his own dad — don’t give the Harry Jumonji story any easy Hollywood narratives, but his charisma and curious optimism in some doomed surroundings make him a likeable subject. This hustler since childhood lives that shambolic junkie life, but, just as those NYC skaters had to make do with the terrain they were given, he still has a lot of style both on the board and off it. It’s both a cautionary tale and it’s a celebration of a character who embodies the worldview every streetwear brand wants to sell. Most of us aren’t built for it, so we’re better off with just the t-shirt. Hopefully between that overseas excursion, this film and the recent Know-Wave and Supreme supported ”OG” book, Harry Jumonji is on the road to greater recognition and some positive steps that, in an ideal world’ will give us the slightly happier follow-up one day. Go rent it.

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T-SHIRT KINGS

Knowledge god Mr. Brendan Dunne of Sole Collector put me onto a little project that appeared on Nike Harajuku’s blog at the end of last month. Nike Basketball seem to have teamed with Shirt Kings (presumably PHADE is involved?) for a set of t-shirts. Having worked with Supreme and Stüssy a while back, the Nike project is an interesting evolution that legitimises their work after years of homaging Nike classics like the Air Force II in their art, and including an artist called NIKE in the team. The uninitiated might be baffled at the cartoonish graffiti art, but it’s important to reiterate the importance of their work in hip-hop fashion and streetwear in general. I conducted a very brief interview with PHADE for Stüssy in 2014 that’s reprinted below:

Taking a graphic identity from trains to torsos, this is a little story that needs to be told.

Anybody that ever appreciated a hand style or graffiti iconography on a t-shirt, probably owes the Shirt Kings a little something. Before Shirt Kings, there was graffiti on vests and jackets, but this was one of the earliest examples of a successful company, despite being a labor-intensive production line rather than mass-produced gear. There’s a soul to each flashy, eccentric one of one that can’t be commercially reproduced.

The forefather of the hip-hop brands (arguably the real street wear companies) that would boom in the 1990s — whether it was PNB Nation, Phat Farm, Too Black Guys, Triple 5 Soul, Cross Colors or FUBU — was a spot in Jamaica Queens’ Colosseum Mall run by Edwin “PHADE” Sacasa, Rafael “KASHEME” Avery and Clyde “NIKE” Harewood. PHADE had been putting in work on trains with legends like KASE 2 after a move from Brooklyn to the Bronx in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until he took his skills to cotton in 1984 that he realised graffiti on apparel could be a lucrative endeavour, “Seeing the reaction to my graffiti pictures in school gave me the confidence to know I had something.” The move from spray can to airbrush wasn’t too severe a transition, “It was the same just a little bit more detailed.

The Shirt Kings name coined in 1986, with the company making power moves in 1988. Flicking through the pages of Sacasa and KET’s book, ‘Shirt Kings: Pioneers of Hip Hop Fashion‘ (Dokument Press, 2013), it becomes apparent that this trio was onto something significant. Their custom creations became a status symbol for every key New York rapper of the late 1980s as well as a rolling cast of hustlers, cool kids and Queens characters. Heavy D, Nas, Jay-Z and LL Cool J felt its influence. Even if their work on cotton rarely crossed the water or went all state, a global audience was exposed to the Shirt Kings’ art on Audio Two’s ‘What More Can I Say?‘, Biz Markie’s ‘Pickin’ Boogers‘ and the Transformers piece on the ‘Red Alert Goes Berzerk‘ sleeve. The crew even managed to get their work onto Bill Cosby’s back.

In terms of style, each New York borough brought its own aesthetic — PHADE noticed those differences, “The styles were different — each borough was unique in style and fashion. Brooklyn was an athletic, tough look, Bronx was a more rugged Timberland hood style and Queens was a kind of combination of Bronx ruggedness and Brooklyn flash style.” That variation in looks from neighbourhood to neighbourhood created its own set of creative challenges, twinned with the sheer speed that trends moved at — Champion, Coca-Cola gear, Air Force IIs, MCM and Gucci all had their moment as status symbols and each artist needed to be versed in that imagery, “The work was evenly dispersed. A customer may have a preference in artist because of relationship, but otherwise we trained to be one. Art never goes out of style. Luckily we were all graduates of The High School Of Art and Design in Manhattan, NY — all capable of working in any field in graphics.

Like getting a tattoo, Shirt Kings customers would get an initial consultation, “The customer played a big part in the process — we just were vehicles used to bring their vision to life.” In terms of cost, that work didn’t come cheap, “A shirt was around 50 dollars, we provided the garments unless the customer had a special item of clothing they wanted painting.” The work wasn’t a one-wear affair either, “The shirts were washable and kept their color if heat set hot and hand washed in cold water.

Another pioneer of New York street style from the same era, legendary Harlem tailor Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day played a key role in Shirt Kings’ success when PHADE took the brand to another iconic indoor marketplace, “Dapper Dan is my mentor. When I had expanded to The Mart 125 across from The World Famous Apollo Theater, he came and said, ‘We need to work together — come on down to my spot.’ I asked him how much rent and he replied, ‘No worries.’ He took me all up and down the East Coast selling clothes.

Dan’s exaggerated amplifications of luxury logos and prints are present in some of the company’s images. With their brand represented heavily during a golden age for street culture and music, PHADE, KASHEME and NIKE would become celebrities, with an escalating client base that led to two-week waits for product. From cars to gooned-out Roger Rabbits and diminutive psycho Chucky as a b-boy with a bucket hat and pager, some commissions were odder than others — PHADE had his limits, “I don’t do demonic stuff or negative images, just fun and culture.

Jamaica, Queens was no stranger to dancehall’s flamboyant fashions either — rudeboy customers had some wild requests, “They seemed to be big on the pants as well as the jackets. They expressly wanted explicit art on their clothes with rhinestones and rips and glitter.

If you’re wondering about how the Cosby connection came about, Shawn Carter plays his part, alongside Theo Huxtable, “We were invited to a party and Jay-Z was showcasing with Jaz-O, I saw Malcolm (Jamal-Warner) downstairs, I had the picture book that I carried everywhere we went — I gave it to one of our young interns and he approached Malcolm. We all came over and took pictures and next thing we were at Malcolm’s house in Brooklyn ordering shirts.

Shirt Kings would spawn imitators, but PHADE doesn’t see it as a negative, “I wouldn’t call them imitations. It was youth in a culture using their gift to cause other creators to start thinking about making their own way in this culture.” While KASHEME passed away, both PHADE and NIKE are still painting and airbrushing. PHADE has put his energies into working with non-profit groups to teach youngsters to create their own artwork and develop their own skill set and sense of empowerment.

Despite breaking it down it in more local terms, Sacasa acknowledges that the business’s legacy is colossal, “Shirt Kings design creations were pivotal to the foundation of the science in branding between hip hop artists and a designer who was an aerosol artist in the NYC subway days teaching kids how to do legal art on a t-shirt.

TOMMY BOY CLOTHING

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Tommy Boy’s promo Carhartt jackets are part of hip-hop fashion lore by now, but their role in preempting this whole contemporary brand orgy bears repeating. Those late 1991/early 1992 pieces probably weren’t the first streetwear collaboration (after all, pretty much all proto-streetwear seemed to engage in what would be considered a collab in current terms), but they set a standard with that three-way Shawn Stussy/Carhartt/Tommy Boy credible brand of the time teamup. Whether it was ever officially sanctioned by Carhartt or whether it’s technically a Stüssy project have never been made entirely clear (incidentally, seeing as GFS got the Phillies Blunt co-sign, wasn’t that a collaboration in itself?). What is known is that Tommy Boy marketing head Albee Ragusa was a Stüssy Tribe member and he headed up the Carhartt pieces as well as 1992’s merch line with Rock Embassy. After starting with 800 promo-only pieces, an Active Jacket variation of the coats went to retail a little later, accompanied by a set of baseball caps with Shawn’s distinctive hand style on them too (from memory, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal of House of Pain rocked the headwear) to coincide with a rise in hip-hop related fashion brands. In an era where music merch constantly crosses over with assistance from streetwear heads, this seems a lot more considered than another tinpot metal homage.