CLOTHING WITHOUT PREJUDICE

dresnoopcrosscolourssource1993

Seeing verification of the Beats deal and hearing about the Cross Colours comeback made the image above doubly relevant. Few brands were putting an artist as uncompromising as Dr. Dre in their ad campaigns back in 1993, but Cross Colours — a brand that deserves to be recognised as a game changer — connects to pretty much every key player in rap and the shirts on their back during the golden era of African-American owned brands. Created in 1989 by South Central LA-based Carl Jones and Thomas “TJ” Walker Cross Colours wasn’t their first brand. Jones had put in work designing graphics for Ocean Pacific and Guess, before becoming a partner on the popular Surf Fetish surf brand in 1986, with Walker as part of the team. After spotting the potential in rap’s wardrobe, Fetish Blues was launched in 1989 — drop crotch trousers being a key seller and musical notes being part of the branding.

That same year, Jones and Walker would leave to launch Cross Colours to build on that success — Afrocentric colours, patterns and imagery played a significant part of the brand’s signature aesthetic.

From 1990, it was on. Labels read “Ya dig” and delivered “Academic Hard wear” for the “Post hip hop nation.” Spike Lee’s Spike’s Joint store would open in July that year with some labels designed by Walker. Cross Colours would take some inspiration from Lee’s pioneering endeavour, with a holding company called Solo Joint. Lee’s people would take umbrage with those parallels leading to a legal outcome that would prove problematic for the newer brand and the formation of Threads 4 Life, which would also carry another brand — Brooklyn-born Carl Williams’ Karl Kani line, which connected with Cross Colours after Williams and Jones met in 1990 and would be sold as the more upmarket part of the portfolio — a rap-related response to the Ralph Lauren business model. In a short period of time, Cross Colours would unite Stevie Wonder, TLC, Snoop Dogg and Mark Wahlberg, with some superior celebrity-led ads in magazines like The Source. Their decision to give clothes to the crew of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color paid off.

By 1992, Cross Colours (and a Spike’s Joint concession) would make it to Macy’s. With sales growing from 15 million in 1991 to 160 million by 1993, Threads 4 Life was huge and in response to a change in hip-hop’ sound, the look became less playful. It opened up a number of warehouse stores, plus a flagship store. Check out this footage of a group of dancers plugging the brand in Japan. Another upstart line, April Walker’s Walker Wear, almost became part of the family and Karl Kani had started to become the leading brand in profits, even expanding into footwear with Kani and Cross Colours’ shoes made under license by the Skechers company. At one point, Magic Johnson — who appeared in ads for the brand — was rumoured to be investing heavily, but the deal never manifested. This kind of thing might not have helped in the long run either.

By 1994, Threads 4 Life found itself in trouble — demand outweighed production, the ramifications from the Spike Lee lawsuit (as detailed in Lewis McAdam’s lengthy Loose Threads article from June 26, 1994’s LA Times magazine) had caused some critical damage, bootlegging was epidemic and a retail chain that spent big (as in accounting for 60% of sales) with the company had gone into bankruptcy. Seemingly as quickly as it blew up, Cross Colours was gone — it never ceased to be relevant entirely, but Kani’s name held much more prestige. Williams’ would take his company from the ailing Threads 4 Life and launch Karl Kani Infinity to thrive in subsequent years. Several Threads 4 Life staffers would make an impact in the industry where Cross Colours’ ultimately floundered by heading up Mecca, Enyce and Sean Jean.

Carl Jones had consulted for the brilliantly named Cy-Borg Millennium Clothing around 1992 and in 1997, he and TJ Walker would work on the brand again (according to the Daily News Record at the time, “The new, innovative streetwear line, launched this spring, is based on a futuristic concept that integrates technology — the information superhighway — with fashion…”). Jones would go on to found a self-titled brand, plus Juke Joint and a line called California Vintage, before working on creative direction for clients including Forever 21 and currently heads up the Bleulab reversible denim brand. Walker would run the Nation Design Studio that worked with AND1 and Converse, co-found Modisch, head up Jaded Apparel Corp and currently consults as a brand technician, designer and product developer. Both are still Los Angeles based.

Cross Colours was relaunched in 2000 as a mid-priced brand without Jones or Walker, with the trademark bought by a group that included Skechers’ CEO Robert Greenberg. That never seemed to make much noise, and there seemed to be more dud re-ups with that license in subsequent years, but it’s good to see the brand relaunch in 2014 with the original duo involved again and holding the license. While I’m unlikely to start lusting after an Ethnic Rhythms jacket (though I was all over that piece decades ago), this brand deserves its recognition. I know some of you W)Taps and visvim disciples first took interest in clothing by the vast denims and unnecessary adornments on garments created by the some of the sons of Cross Colours. The new site is here, with a brief history that’s accompanied by some great images. To this day, I still don’t know why they used the non-American spelling of colour. Was Cross Colors already taken?