(Note: I wrote this a year ago for my friends at Patta and Converse as part of a zine to coincide with a collaborative Chuck Taylor celebrate their 10th anniversary in 2014 — I think this might be a slightly rawer version.)
“How long have we known each other?” Gee — a Patta co-founder — is weaving in and out of traffic en route to Amsterdam’s west side while in deep conversation. A towering Surinamese-Dutchman on a bicycle with a backpacked Brit perched on the luggage carrier would be a comedy distraction in any city other than this one. The driver of an approaching bus, accelerating faster than pedal power, definitely isn’t amused. The answer to the inquiry is nearly nine years. Blame the early 2000s and their youthful numbers, but that doesn’t seem like a long time, Patta turned ten this year. You might want to go and read one of several other history lessons out there, because Gee isn’t interested in another one.
Guys work in record store, other guys hang around, guys open sneaker store, store closes briefly, guys bring it back, and guys build the brand. That’s the first decade.
Patta is a tribe. It’s an entity with many faces and upstairs in the store on a Friday afternoon, the work gets done that’s necessary — the reality nobody ever triumphantly Instagrams. From a cluster of glowing MacBooks in front of racks of vintage runners, tees and sticker sheets, Danny sits with a screen of production and mail order details, while Masta Lee updates the site and Virgil holds down the lower floor while a younger generation politics and talks with customers. Tim, the always-hustling store manager, operates from both floors, while his older brother, co-founder Edson logs some invoices — the best-dressed man (more on that later) in accounts at that moment in time. For such a small space, it’s remarkably well occupied. A crammed paragraph doesn’t even begin to convey the dynamic.
Patta is Surinamese slang used for Sneaker and it’s commonly used on the streets of Holland too.
An admirable amount of footfall passes through Patta’s door, and the open-plan structure means everyone without headphones can hear peals of laughter from downstairs, a soundtrack that could be Sade’s greatest hits or one of a handful of discordant, robo-goon Young Thug tapes that dropped this last month, or the booming bark of a particularly stocky boxer dog whose amiable Essex-bred, coffee shop proprietor owner insists, “He’s soft as anything.”
Just as nobody needs to be told another 2004 – 2014 shop saga, there’s no need to make references to the city’s myriad temptations here either. But situated near Amsterdam’s small Chinatown, outside, the crimson glow, the impatient ring of warning bike bells and a faint herbal scent are a constant — locals, tourists and eccentrics stream past. It’s a far more accessible location than the prior incarnation that closed in 2012.
Rooted in an all-city approach that means Patta transcends a single space, there’s outposts dotted everywhere. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. Music plays a vast role, and the mindset is distinctly hip-hop, even if that’s not always the choice sonically. Everyone seems to be a rapper, singer, DJ, producer or promoter, and even in these digital times where somebody can build a rep from the sofa, it’s clear that Patta places a serious currency on participation. Never not working means the name extends far beyond opening hours.
A conversation about Surinamese food reiterates the cultural complexity of the country that Gee, Edson and Tim are proud to descend from. Gee breaks it down, “You want roti? You need to go to the ill roti spot — there’s a lot of types of Surinamese food. The Surinamese kitchen is a very big kitchen. You have Chinese Surinamese, Indonesian Surinamese, you have Indian Surinamese and you have the Surinamese people that live in the city, and you have the Surinamese people that live in the forest.You have the Indians too — the original inhabitants.”
Over forkfuls of white rice, chicken and beans at Meo’s Colosseum — a neighborhood favourite — you can get a taste of at least one part of that crowded worktop. “My ancestors were in the forest — they were the runaway slaves. Some people would look down on the people who lived in the forest. My father believed in knowledge of self. He taught me to be proud of where I come from — how to stand for things. If we know where we come from, we know things should be. It defines how we interact. It’s how we get ahead.”
With Suriname colonized in the 17th century, taking until 1975 to get its independence back, it has a dark past. Tim maintains the importance of that knowledge of self, “In the forest they kept their gods and their stories — if you go back to the forest there now you can really go back to your essence. It’s crazy. People from the Guyana and Nigeria area, which is where a lot of the slaves came from, will visit Suriname and go to the forest to learn their old language and old traditions — that’s the only place they’re still alive. They talk about gods and they talk about energy and how to use it — for me I have double luck. One side is the black side and the other is native Indian, who have similar thinking.”
Tim and Edson grew up in Amsterdam, where there was still hardship, “My mum was always about loving yourself — she was never into religion. My father is Indian. She never pushed us in any direction beyond loving ourselves, which can be hard enough. She told us that we’re black so we’ll have to work twice as hard — there are no fairy tales. If you’re good at something, be extra good. If you think it’s good, bring more. She was not satisfied with a result, but she was always thinking forward.”
The company name is part of that pride. Gee explains, “Patta is Surinamese slang used for Sneaker and it’s commonly used on the streets of Holland too.”
Tattooed up to the chin, artist Vincent van de Waal wears his aesthetic on his skin. Born 20 minutes outside the city, he’s a product of his environment, “There’s a street language here and a lot of slang is being used by kids of all nationalities — Moroccan, Turkish, Dutch…but a lot of the slang is Surinamese.”
Regardless of Gee’s request, a little background is necessary. Hip-hop’s role in the brand’s birth is vital, but it’s worth examining how it evolved in Amsterdam.
Tim cackles as he recollects the madness a few decades back, “The 1980s were the wild, wild west! We had a neighbor and he had money problems and he lived above the bank — he went downstairs, robbed the bank, went back to his house and looked out the window to watch the police turn up. And he robbed the bank with a remote control in his pocket like it was a gun.The mayor, Ed van Thijn, came to my neighbourhood and people spat in his face! Can you imagine that? He said that this area where the store is now was a no-go.”
This one store Roots had all the exclusives from the States.
Rap never rubbed Tim up the right way to start, and vandalism without profit never made any sense either, “My brother got me into hip-hop. When I first heard it, I hated it — we were sleeping in the same room and he was older and stronger so he had the power over the boom box. The 808 drums! As I was under the age of 10, my English wasn’t great. So I hated it. When sampling started and melody kicked in, then it starts for me. Edson took me out to write graffiti and we had to run and we had to hide. It was fucked up! And I was like, ‘Where the money at?’ And Edson was like, ‘Nah, it’s for the love boy!’ And I was like, ‘I’m out!”
Gee was paying attention from the late 1980s onwards, “When I was young, I lived in the south of Holland and it was an hour from Amsterdam. I was around ten and I went to school and this kid in my class was really into hip-hop — he had De La Soul, Public Enemy and NWA on record. That gave me the spark and there was a kid in my neighborhood who was three years older. I was taping stuff from him. The 1990s were my hip-hop years. I would watch Yo! MTV Raps and try to get the look.”
Tim would end up emceeing for a minute, “I liked the rapping and I was inspired to do that. Edson was DJing in the early 1990s with a record player, radio and CD player — somehow he was mixing with that! I don’t know how. It was some ghetto shit. Edson started working with two champion DJs — white guys who were making house music because there was more money in it. They mixed a certain way. Edson would approach his hip-hop DJing the same way. I rapped in a crew with my brother and my cousins — we were called The Lunatics. From hip-hop, everything evolved.”
Some significant pre-Patta sneaker spots left their mark. Tim remembers staring at some costly classics back in the day, “This one store Roots had all the exclusives from the States. They had a guy who would walk into a store with a hip-hop record cover looking at the sneakers on it and be like, ‘I’ll have 20 of those!’ It would be like 600 or 700 gilders. Dealers could afford them. Roots was inspiring. As kids we were just window shopping.”
Another place that made an impact is Cafe De Duivel on Reguliersdwarsstraat. True to its demonic namesake, the city’s notorious hip-hop bar, abbreviated to simply De Duivel, has been known to attract some bad behavior. For many, this bar is a place where everybody knows your name and Edson is a regular, “De Diefel came before Fat Beats. That was the place to go. It’s a beautiful place. I’ve been spinning over there since 1992. There were shoot-outs. People got hurt. But the owner is like, ‘I’m going to be hip-hop ’til I die.’ He won’t change it to play jazz or house. He believes that hip-hop brings all cultures together. He’s right. At one point it was 80 guys, 20 women, weed smoke…I play on Thursday every two weeks and people get tipsy. Piet Parra — all these kids are from the Fat Beats, De Diefel era. It’s a love thing.”
Tim has witnessed few casualties in his time, “I’ve seen DJs cry there, man.”
It was the opening of a Dutch outpost of New York’s famed hip-hop store Fat Beats — making sense given the local love of the music and American artists’ willingness to visit, with the lure of the city’s famous pastimes — that really connected the team. Open from 1996 until 2007, it left a mark that included a visit from the late Big L. Lee saw the shop as a pivotal moment for an existing scene, “It was brewing for a few years before Fat Beats opened — that solidified it and made it official. I was actually working at Fat Beats but I’d met Edson through the nightlife before — we were both DJing. That was the early 1990s. You would bump into anyone because Amsterdam is a small place. Gee moved over to Amsterdam and met everybody when it opened. Everybody had the same interests.”
As good as we are with each other, we clash harder.
While Tim was content to just pass through, Gee made his connections through his new job, “I met Edson at Fat Beats — there was me, Edson, Wix, Vic, Lee and a couple of other guys, Piet was a regular and from Pete and his friend’s circle, I met Vincent. We started working with Mo — he does the production stuff and Patta Sound System, and he is one of Vincent’s best friends. Edson’s first mixtape was getting some heat — it was super original and the mixes were tight. He was like an older brother to me in the beginning. He knew a lot of people and a lot of people knew him.”
Before Fat Beats’ Amsterdam’s demise, Gee would end up working for a record company, and discussions regarding a possible sneaker store began. For Edson, the reasoning was simple, “When I was supposed to leave Fat Beats and Gee was supposed to leave Sony, I wanted to open up a store — we both loved sneakers. We wanted to have sneakers nobody else had.”
Back in the present day, work spills into night as Vincent wields a Yashica to shoot dreadlocked local rapper/producer duo Hayzee and Rosco for a Patta project to launch their EP as Deux Deux. Even passing an upmarket looking hotel foyer, Patta’s presence is there, with that familiar script visible on a bouncer’s barrel chest. Taking pictures on the street, in the infamous De Diefel (overseen by a painting of Ghostface), by the National Monument and in Ludwig, a bar where Parra’s artistic influence is a constant, Vincent breaks down the state of the scene, “There’s maybe three groups that are really making money. Some can live slightly from it. The live performances are where the money is at. The most talented guys often don’t make anything. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.”
The following morning in Vincent’s studio, with its high ceilings, a wall covered in paint trails like arterial sprays, dog-eared Source back issues far out the reach of anyone without wings and rats preserved in a formaldehyde jar, Gee and Vincent are creating the artwork for the Deux Deux project, which will be accompanied by long-sleeve t-shirts. Gee finds the creative process fairly fluid, “I strongly believe that things happen for a reason — what Vincent does and brings to the table is super important to what we’ll do in the future. There’s people like Danny who are super important and you might not see them upfront. I can work with Vincent very fluently and reach into talents I never realized I have — usually I’m working on marketing or with the music side. I never thought I was that type of guy — I like clothes, but I’m not a fashion guy.” “We want to put attitude into it — maybe that’s more important than fashion to us,” adds Vincent.
With so many personalities in confined and significantly roomier spaces, the creative process has the potential for chaos. Gee believes that it’s a little more orderly but undeniably combative, “As good as we are with each other, we clash harder. It’s a war! We have our Wednesday meeting and we say harsh things like, ‘This is unacceptable!’ We don’t fight but it can get emotionally loaded. In the end it’s for the one purpose we all have — to grow. If someone is truly upset, it’s because we’re slacking and haven’t done something well enough. Everybody gets a look, from Tim, Edson, Virgil and Danny to the interns when we launch a line.”
As a more quiet, reflective character, Lee gets to sit and watch these spirited encounters from the frontline, “Most of the time with brand collaborations it’s Gee and me, and we start it and show everyone before they feed back and we go from there. We’re quite flexible, thankfully! We know and are available to feel each other out on what we would or won’t like. It’s organized in a way but somehow it’s also a hot mess! It just makes sense!”
One thing that everyone can agree on is that Edson can dress. Style is subjective, and with a clothing brand at the heart of the store, there’s a consensus that Edson is the one who is — to resurrect an aged b-boy term — dipped. Steez has lost its swagger by being applied to too many Tumblr dudes in off-the-screen gear, but it exists in Holland’s capital. When it came to launching the Patta clothing line properly, getting Edson’s opinion could have been daunting, but Vincent found it an easy process, “Me and Gee made some plans and presented them to Edson, simple as that. We told him that we wanted to make some clothes and expand, and Edson said, ‘Okay, just start doing it.’ From the start Edson had faith in it. He wanted to just know that it’s good.”
Monogram fabric on denim! It’s crazy. I have four metres and I’m going to make a suit.
Tim believes that quest for fresh has roots in the old country too, “Old school Suriname people — and we’re talking my mum, dad and friends — have three outfits. You have school clothes, play clothes and the party clothes. The party clothes are banging. You have to dress to impress. It’s clean. It’s style. That’s your style and you can never front on cleanliness or colour combination. My aunts will do silver shoes and blue dresses. Even underwear has to match. The nails will match. Edson is more extravagant — he’s like my dad and I’m more like my mum. To take different colours and make it match is something else. You have to know your strength and go from there. Like Cappadonna said, ‘every other day my whole dress code switch.”
Edson is constantly on a mission when it comes to his wardrobe, “We had to go in. You got it through your parents. It was a natural thing to do. You weren’t taught how to dress. A lot of shoes — gold rings, rookie chains…I really enjoy having pieces like that. Custom-made…I just came back from South Africa and I brought fabrics back just to customize for myself. Monogram fabric on denim! It’s crazy. I have four metres and I’m going to make a suit.”
If that doesn’t sound outlandish enough, he unveils his plans for extra-bespoke flamboyance, “I’ve been travelling a lot this year — records, fabrics…as long as I like it. It has to have heritage — that’s the most important thing. I’ll pick up the custom-made thing I’ve made after two years. Make this in that fabric — boom! There are several outfits and shoes in mind. I bought three meters of a snakeskin print on a velvet texture fabric — I’ll make a long sleeve top and short pants. Velvet shorts!” “That’s dumb man!” snorts Tim.
Sitting nearby, Danny shakes his head, “I went to Japan and went vintage shopping with this guy. After a certain point, they got me man! I bought stupid stuff.”
As the self-proclaimed wild sibling, Tim only recalls one major maternal conflict when it came to Edson’s choice of dress, “My brother was in the high water pants like kids wear now, but back in 1988! My mother was not feeling that because she was ashamed that it looked like he had outgrown them and we couldn’t afford new ones.”
Lee respects simplicity when it comes to attire, “I had a period dressing West Coast, but it was more through skateboarding for me — khakis and Ben Davis. That was the San Francisco Embarcadero times. That Love Child period. Everything collided for me at that moment and it just made sense. That look is classic. The clothes during the period after that looked kind of ridiculous!”
Vincent has got a few skeletons in his closet in addition to the ones on his torso, “I got into hip-hop with Kris Kross! I had braids man! We lived in a flat and there was a group in front of it pumping Eazy-E — he was a neighborhood hero.”
It’s such a small country that you can’t help but run into people from all kinds of backgrounds.
Gee believes that one piece defines Dutch street style more than most, “Tracksuits were big. We’ve always been into that stuff. A tracksuit is one of our signature pieces.”
Vincent sees parallels between West Coast uniforms and clean living in difficult circumstances anywhere in the world, “I loved the poor man’s style — it wasn’t flashy. Making a style outside out of something that’s a dollar is true style. Making that look cool? Style. There’s a pride in wearing it.”
Gee feels that the Patta and Converse partnership is unconditional, “Converse is just a super great company to work with. They have supported us at all times — when things were great and when things were bad. They are quite unique in their loyalty. Other then that I have a great personal and long standing relationship with people that work there — a joy to work with anytime.”
The third Patta and Converse project in five years takes the notion of the limited edition to the limit — a handful of monogram branded Chuck Taylors in its recently resurrected 1970s shape, with remarkably few made. Lee breaks down the purpose of this minimal run of sneakers, “We have more stuff coming next year. We want to let people know that Patta and Converse are still good. It doesn’t have to be about moving units.”
Tim respects the design’s versatility, “That’s an iconic silhouette — grandma, gangsters and nerds all have the All Star. It’s clean! It looks good.” Edson has memories of them in the 1980s, “Back in the day I remember my friend had some — he had the mustard colour ones. There weren’t available in that many colours then. I remember the burgundy ones too.” Lee saw them around the same time, “I was looking at videos, magazine covers, record covers…I saw the Chuck Taylor in the mid 1980s — kids at school would wear them. Kids would then customize them, which I never liked, but I liked the sneaker. There was so much access to it, plus the colours — it worked with any outfit.”
Gee thinks they look better when they’re put through their paces, “I can think of everybody I know wearing Chucks. What I really appreciated about that sneaker is that when it’s destroyed and worn out it comes into its best. It gets better, you know?” Lee adds, “The Chuck Taylor never really goes away. It’s always there. It transcends all trends — you can always count on it.”
Regarding the international reputation of the Patta brand, Lee sees Amsterdam as a unique place to build up a name, “If you want to make things happen outside of the Netherlands you need to travel. You need money and you can’t be scared to be out there. Nothing was presented to us in the Netherlands. You had to find it — you had to seek it out. You meet people with similar interests and they know that it’s genuine and not a gimmick. That helps. It’s such a small country that you can’t help but run into people from all kinds of backgrounds.” Gee agrees, “Our curse is being in Amsterdam but it’s also luck — we’re not in one of the fashion capitals, so we have our own thing.”
If people think that we’re doing our best stuff now, hell motherfucking no.
Over a drink in Gee’s office, located in the same complex as the popular Red Light Radio station, he ruminates over the Patta brand’s current status, “Now we are getting our own aesthetic and that’s such a good feeling — we know what is us. A lot of brands are ashamed to be a streetwear brand but that’s what we are. We are a streetwear brand and we are proud of it. We’ve always been making a point to be original in our own world and have our own sensibility. We see someone doing something great and we know we can’t do that and have to do something different. We know that there is a telescope on us.”
Vincent is paying attention to the next generation, “We look a lot to the youth…to the kids in the neighborhood — they have to be really creative with it. Just observing people at street level is so important to what we do, it’s pretty natural for me — I can’t imagine not doing that.”
While Gee is goes to great lengths to reiterate that the brand could be bigger and better, don’t take the humility as weakness, “I’m fucking proud that we are European. If you see us saying we can get better it’s because I know that we are great at what we do. I think we are already doing better than a whole lot of people. If people think that we’re doing our best stuff now, hell motherfucking no.”
As if to underline his anti-nostalgia sentiment, he’s wishing the days away, “I can’t wait for the future man. I can’t wait for it to be next year.“