The trouble with shifting from the spotlight is that the uneducated might think you’re hopping aboard a wave, when, in fact, you might have been an originator. The LA-based X-LARGE brand changed my life. It’s the brand I saw on a shelf with FUCT and Fresh Jive in my hometown and made me want to spend 22 quid on tees instead of the 15 I’d been shelling out at sports shops in previous years. Eli Bonerz and Adam Silverman’s Beastie Boys connection (via Mike D’s investment — part of a cartel of friends and family who put up some initial cash) brand debuted in 1991 and, via Mike’s tireless promotion during the group’s Check Your Head return to commercial success, it came pre-packaged with its own esoteric pop-cultural universe. I wanted in.
With its primate mascot, morons will claim it’s a BAPE-alike, but, of course, we know that both brands trod different paths and X-LARGE came first, with its logo inspired by Gorilla brand boots and the cheerier Ben Davis monkey, rather than Charlton Heston bickering with Dr. Zaius. From the X-FUCT collaboration to the trade in workwear and old school basketball shoes, the store and brand pretty much wrote the blueprint for modern streetwear. Plus, lest we forget, Kim Gordon’s Daisy von Furth’s X-GIRL spinoff almost eclipsed its brother, offering intelligent women’s streetwear and laying a blueprint that all manner of recent bae-centric IG-led bullshit has pretty much managed to unravel.
After its cult status in the 1990s and very early 2000s, the brand seemed to fall out of favour in the later part of last decade — the NYC and LA stores closed, as did a very short-lived London store off Carnaby Street. But, as the cliché goes, it was big in Japan. In fact, Japanese investors were fast to launch the brand in Tokyo, opening a store there in 1992 and setting off a rollout of doors in the country that now numbers over 24. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of X-LARGE, they’ve put out a 240 page history book for the brand called True OG Streetwear that’s put together by the king of vintage, Mr. Rin Tanaka of My Freedamn fame. I always wondered what Tanaka would do on the subject of streetwear, and it transpires that he’d ace it. Archive shots of art, labels, staff, merchandise, articles — basically anything that a nerd would want — is in the first 150 pages of the book before it takes a more contemporary turn.
Many books on streetwear aren’t up to much, but this is absolutely essential if you want to understand the essence of something that’s gone on to become a global phenomenon. In terms of text, there’s enough roughly translated little paragraphs to contextualise the spreads, and as someone who’s been scrambling for day one imagery of the brand pre Grand Royal, this was a godsend. Even the lenticular cover that animates Slick’s hand style is a nice touch. Of course, there’s a downside at time-of-writing — like last year’s excellent Stüssy book (that got a brief UK drop online), this is a Japanese release and I have no idea whether it’s going to go on sale in other territories.