Way before spending twenty quid at the Japan Centre on 200-page publication dedicated to dungarees was the done thing, I was obsessed with workwear for different reasons (mainly this picture). My first forays into the brands I saw Apache, Mobb Deep and the other Havoc and Prodeje wearing came through Camden Market and — bound to a small town as I was — the Duke American Workwear’s mail order service. Ashley Heath’s workwear article in The Face around 1992 was a real eye-opener too. Seeing as we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web and I’ve done Shoe Trends to death already, the Duke’s site was one of the first things I ever saved as a favourite back in 1999 when I got the Internet at home. There was no e-commerce on it and the method of buying was roughly the same as it was in the Transworld and HHC ads years before — send a cheque. With a ridiculous amount of Ben Davis (for whom The Duke was UK distributor), an array of boxy Carhartt shades of duck, Big Bill, Walls, Pointer Brand and Dickies, the catalogues (complete with a ton of stickers) were an education in themsleves. Bill who ran The Duke (no relation to Bill “You know you done fucked up, right?” Duke to the best of my knowledge) based the business in Manchester but worked on oil rigs for a living (where workwear can be a life or death matter rather than something to profile and pose in. There was Peterman-eque prose on the site about the mail order service’s origins,
“The threads of this website were originally sown, in the South China Sea, twenty-two miles off the coast of Kowloon. Whilst I was sat with my size 12 steel-toe rigger boots, dangling over the side of The Julius Offshore Drilling Platform, which I was working on. Where could I get myself some hard-wearing, well made workwear similar to those worn by the American toolpushers who were also working onboard? The journey has at times been a rocky, twisting, badly eroded mountain trail and on other occasions a fast-moving, well-tarmac-ed interstate highway. Never being one to shirk from the necessary graft, the search was on, to track down some suitable American workwear brands.”
The Duke ended up primarily being a Ben Davis retailer by 2002 and I never saw any more updates after that, but his work deserves respect. That monkey on the chest pocket has been a big influence on me (check the logo above and shouts to Sofarok) and after all, workwear was the only gear you saw on MTV Raps that you could afford to acquire without breaking too much of a sweat. Happy birthday to the WWW and salutes to the Duke.