URBAN VS. STREET

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I never understood the streetwear and urban wear differentiation — if it isn’t sportswear and it isn’t surf or skate wear (and there’s plenty of grey area there), what is it? Why ghettoise apparel? Urban wear has been treated strangely, especially now the new FUBU is Raf-alikes by folks who wish that they were weird. Let’s not sweep the brands that burnt brightly in their heyday — the black-owned lines that paved the way, and the cash-ins too— beneath the carpet by pretending that we never wore them. Especially because folks who learnt their trade in the class of 1990s and early 2000s urban wear are the ones calling some senior shots at Nike Sportswear, Jordan Brand and adidas Originals. Karl Kani was streetwear, Cross Colours was streetwear, Maurice Malone was streetwear…any brand that gets kept out of the conversation with a hip-hop centric POV is streetwear. The perception that every rapper is dressed like General Zod or Rusty after he steps out the Rome boutique in National Lampoon’s European Vacation is erroneous — Bobby Shmurda’s G-Stars and Fetty Wap’s bejewelled True Religions are a testament to that. I’m happy to see that April Walker’s Walker Wear is back and collaborating with another of my teenage brands of choice, Starter — Walker’s boyfriend is former Giants linebacker Carl Banks, who has a substantial stake in the Starter company. I spent a lot of time trying to hunt down that WW logo before I ever had access to the WWW, but my grail was always the plate hoody by Karl Kani and it’s interesting to see that the current 1990s nostalgia boom has led to a reissue of this gold-plated design (incidentally, I was thrown when I spotted a Karl Kani store in Harajuku recently) that recently appeared on Kani’s Instagram (though the fit looks a little slimmer than it did in late 1994). It’s unlikely that I’d ever wear one again, but I’m glad that a pioneer could make some coin from it rather than an unofficial homage. Soon, Skepta’s current ascent is going to bring back the spirit of Dee Cee Clothes N Garms, with an Akademiks and Lake Elsinore New Era revival, so you should get familiar anyway.

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Troop was, famously, not black-owned. That’s why false allegations of racism damaged the brand like they did back in the late 1980s. With its athletic-inspired luxury looks, over the top use of pattern and insane detailing (outsoles based on a map of the Bronx being a personal favourite), it’s a company that was key to me taking an interest in the things I have a tendency to discuss here. That Fila-esque T, the sponsorships, the insane price tags and the strange world of Troop licensing (the feature on the UK wing of Troop from a 2006 Sneaker Freaker is essential reading) and the speed in which the brand ceased to be makes it ripe for revisiting. Enough time has passed that the brand is worthy of a revisit whether you hated it in 1988 or not (the fact they sponsored LL Cool J and hooked up Stetsasonic made them instantly cool to me as a youngster, and cash-in or not, an early brand rooted purely in hip-hop) — that the minds behind the brand had the balls to launch it in the first place and turn it into a brief phenomenon is an amazing feat. SPX will always be trash to me though. I’m unlikely to ever wear a pair, or bust out a Hi-Deal graphic shell suit but I always though that this was another brand that deserved to be revisited properly. It made a brief comeback that bricked in 2003 and Nelly tried to relaunch it in 2008 — now the line seems to be returning via the same squad that resurrected Ewing Athletics, which means that the abundance of extra details, like hangtags banging on about madcap, placebo-effect cushioning innovations will be back too. As with the Ewing site, the newly launched World of Troop site has some great archive imagery on it (see above and below) that’s worth checking out, and if you’ve been waiting decades to finally own a pair of Ice Lambs (did the 2008 reissue even happen in the end?) and a leather jacket with flock lettering, you just lucked out.

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While we’re talking unfounded racism rumours, I never thought I’d find myself gripped by footage of people flexing their Tommy Hilfiger Team Lotus thrift store come ups until I found myself watching hours of thrift store “unbagging” videos on YouTube. Try it, and tall me that you don’t end up disappearing into a 45 minute session, with at least two finds that have you cursing the lack of similar spots near you. Videos based in stores are doomed to end up having that Discovery Channel scripted drama applied, but the folks who run Round Two, a second-hand shoe and clothing spot in Richmond Virginia, have a popular Vimeo documentary series that’s genuinely likeable. Going on the North Face and Polo gear they wear each episode, Richmond is a good thrift spot, and in episode #2, when one of the store’s owners rushes in to announce that he found a Hilfiger Lotus five-panel for the princely sum of 22 cents I won’t pretend that I wasn’t faintly exhilarated at the prospect that bargains like that still occur in the eBay age. I’ll take that drama over some scripted beef.

3 thoughts on “URBAN VS. STREET

  1. Sir,
    Anyone that name checks Terence Stamp’s most underrated performance before 8am is fine with me.
    Please keep it up.

    B

  2. Love this post. Always wanted a pair of Troop Cobra back in the day. Would definitely check out anything that they bring out this summer, but, who other than the late thirties-early forties nostalgia junkies are going to give a shit about Troop in 2015? ‘Heritage’ releases from brands like Fila and Ellese aren’t making a whole lot of sense to me. Troop coming back is even more confusing. But still, looking at the archives, you can’t help but love the design and effort put into the product. There is a seller on Ebay with the LL tracksuits and jackets, mad money though.

  3. I’m in two minds about the Kani / Cross-Colours / Walker Wear / Starter revival. On the one hand I get a comforting, nostalgic kick out of seeing these beloved staples of my youth back, but on the other it just feels a bit desperate and regressive given the once trailblazing status of these brands. Ultimately I’d rather just admire Tre in his Hoyas Starter t-shirt in Boyz N The Hood than cop a licensed Boyz N The Hood tee by Starter Black label. Like you, Gary, I fiended for that Kani metal plate hoody back in the boom-bap era, but to see it now on the Kani website amidst some trend-chasing skinny calved sweatpants feels like the fashion equivalent of watching a Tribe Called Quest do ‘Award Tour 2K15’ with DJ Mustard on the beat and OT Genasis on the chorus.

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