Category Archives: Apparel

PIXELS

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With every larger-name Supreme collaboration — and the digital division of every once-great magazine hopping on any streetwear moment like it’s having a mid-life crisis — there’s a faction out to declare the brand dead. “It’s not underground any more! It’s mainstream“, they bellow with their Facebook fingers. Then your cousins, kids and friend’s friends all descend on the store and demonstrate that it’s more popular than it ever was, thus contradicting those self-important declarations of obsolescence. One key complaint is that people want to say they were into Supreme when it was “underground”. It was certainly less prominent before (social media’s clout is undeniable), but let’s not act like the logo wasn’t featured in Vogue back when magazines really mattered, glimpsed at primetime on Absolutely Fabulous or on that chunky laptop in the almost-popular and instantly dated Hackers. Those were, of course, fleeting moments, but September 1999’s Thrasher Presents Skate and Destroy PlayStation game — a Rockstar production — was absolutely riddled with Supreme.

On playing it late that year I was taken aback that the big in Japan box was on walls and an earned option as board or apparel sponsor alongside other credible brands like Zoo York (also quick to sell out in stores at the time), FTC or Think. Want a pixellated take on the motion logo board? It was yours if you could learn those intricate tricks. You could have a vast D-Wade size Supreme logo on the back of that tee or hoody too (it was nice when athletes weren’t haplessly trying to ride a stylist-assisted streetwear wave and dons like Allen Iverson both defined and reflected how the streets dressed on their own terms).

Skate and Destroy was much more difficult than the quick to pick up Tony Hawk offering, with the Southbank, Brooklyn Banks and Embarcadero locations and risk of a tasering at the hands of cops and moment on the magazine’s cover giving it a certain edge, but those sponsors made a lot of difference too — while the giant Converse shoes of the time have aged poorly and some of the newer big beat songs on the soundtrack were bad from the off (EPMD and Tribe made up for it though), that inclusion of legitimate coast to coast stores and companies was way ahead of its time. All of which begs the question — given the impact that later Tony Hawk instalments had on a generation’s tastes (much of today’s Soundcloud-hosted Percocet emo rap owes a debt to some degree), if Thrasher’s effort had been as much of a hit 18 years ago as Hawk or Rockstar’s more recognisable titles, in an alternate future, what would that have meant for the smaller companies it included?

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MERCH

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Ahead of Blade Runner 2049‘s October release I’m sure we’re going to be assailed with merch and tie-ins. Once, it was low-key adidas, now-defunct companies on billboards, a Marvel adaptation and ERTL toys. This one won’t be quite as low-key. Merchandise is an unpleasant certainty now, but in the very early 1980s, readers of magazines like Starlog could buy some more considered gear to tie in with a new breed of sci-fi that was largely focused on headwear. The Thinking Cap Company was a key player. Based in California and founded in 1979, its origins remain something of an enigma to me — the name Sy Gottlieb crops up online as an original agent, and I know that the trademark had lapsed by 1987. Continue reading MERCH

YET ANOTHER AD BREAK

Apologies for the delay in updates. In the meantime, here’s a 1989-era Champion commercial via the superb Analog Indulgence channel, plus a 1992 trip to Dom’s Outdoor Outfitters in Livermore from Keith Richardson and a 1995 visit to Bay Ridge Brooklyn’s Legends Sporting Goods. It’s good to see that both Dom’s and Legends are still very much in business, unlike most of the mum and dad spots that only exist via YouTube sightings and old newspaper ads. Normal bi-weekly business should resume once this jet lag is done and dusted.

GRAND OPENING, GRAND CLOSING

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Nike, Comme, McQueen and Canon in the same product mix? It’ll never catch on. The place will be lucky if it survives into the 21st century.

Fast-forward two decades.

It’s a fond farewell to Colette at the close of this year and it’s easy to forget just how mind-boggling their approach was when it opened those doors in 1997 — grander than just another sparse boutique, that styledesignartfood combination was something very different. There were influential stores globally long before colette, but it was one of the few to actively engage with the streetwear realm credibly and without condescension. Now, the idea of grabbing a drink, an import magazine, stationary as a souvenir, 35 pound t-shirt or an item of clothing worth thousands is a business model we’ve come to expect. On first visiting 213 rue Saint-Honoré, the exhibition section, book area, pre-stream edits of import DVDs and oddly democratic blend of high-end and my interests on the same rack opened my eyes to a lot of new things. It looked like the work of a discerning eye rather than just another blog reaction. Of course, in 2017, the rest of the world has caught up, and it’s easier than ever to grab the same selection in other key cities or online, but while a trip to colette hasn’t caused me to impulse buy of late that it did a few years back, it’s not fizzling out — in a quintessentially Gallic move, the Colette who put her name to the store is stepping down in December and without her, Colette goes too. A lot of stores studied the moves this Paris institution made, but few could steer it to the very end like Madame Roussaux and her daughter did.

T-SHIRT KINGS

Knowledge god Mr. Brendan Dunne of Sole Collector put me onto a little project that appeared on Nike Harajuku’s blog at the end of last month. Nike Basketball seem to have teamed with Shirt Kings (presumably PHADE is involved?) for a set of t-shirts. Having worked with Supreme and Stüssy a while back, the Nike project is an interesting evolution that legitimises their work after years of homaging Nike classics like the Air Force II in their art, and including an artist called NIKE in the team. The uninitiated might be baffled at the cartoonish graffiti art, but it’s important to reiterate the importance of their work in hip-hop fashion and streetwear in general. I conducted a very brief interview with PHADE for Stüssy in 2014 that’s reprinted below:

Taking a graphic identity from trains to torsos, this is a little story that needs to be told.

Anybody that ever appreciated a hand style or graffiti iconography on a t-shirt, probably owes the Shirt Kings a little something. Before Shirt Kings, there was graffiti on vests and jackets, but this was one of the earliest examples of a successful company, despite being a labor-intensive production line rather than mass-produced gear. There’s a soul to each flashy, eccentric one of one that can’t be commercially reproduced.

The forefather of the hip-hop brands (arguably the real street wear companies) that would boom in the 1990s — whether it was PNB Nation, Phat Farm, Too Black Guys, Triple 5 Soul, Cross Colors or FUBU — was a spot in Jamaica Queens’ Colosseum Mall run by Edwin “PHADE” Sacasa, Rafael “KASHEME” Avery and Clyde “NIKE” Harewood. PHADE had been putting in work on trains with legends like KASE 2 after a move from Brooklyn to the Bronx in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until he took his skills to cotton in 1984 that he realised graffiti on apparel could be a lucrative endeavour, “Seeing the reaction to my graffiti pictures in school gave me the confidence to know I had something.” The move from spray can to airbrush wasn’t too severe a transition, “It was the same just a little bit more detailed.

The Shirt Kings name coined in 1986, with the company making power moves in 1988. Flicking through the pages of Sacasa and KET’s book, ‘Shirt Kings: Pioneers of Hip Hop Fashion‘ (Dokument Press, 2013), it becomes apparent that this trio was onto something significant. Their custom creations became a status symbol for every key New York rapper of the late 1980s as well as a rolling cast of hustlers, cool kids and Queens characters. Heavy D, Nas, Jay-Z and LL Cool J felt its influence. Even if their work on cotton rarely crossed the water or went all state, a global audience was exposed to the Shirt Kings’ art on Audio Two’s ‘What More Can I Say?‘, Biz Markie’s ‘Pickin’ Boogers‘ and the Transformers piece on the ‘Red Alert Goes Berzerk‘ sleeve. The crew even managed to get their work onto Bill Cosby’s back.

In terms of style, each New York borough brought its own aesthetic — PHADE noticed those differences, “The styles were different — each borough was unique in style and fashion. Brooklyn was an athletic, tough look, Bronx was a more rugged Timberland hood style and Queens was a kind of combination of Bronx ruggedness and Brooklyn flash style.” That variation in looks from neighbourhood to neighbourhood created its own set of creative challenges, twinned with the sheer speed that trends moved at — Champion, Coca-Cola gear, Air Force IIs, MCM and Gucci all had their moment as status symbols and each artist needed to be versed in that imagery, “The work was evenly dispersed. A customer may have a preference in artist because of relationship, but otherwise we trained to be one. Art never goes out of style. Luckily we were all graduates of The High School Of Art and Design in Manhattan, NY — all capable of working in any field in graphics.

Like getting a tattoo, Shirt Kings customers would get an initial consultation, “The customer played a big part in the process — we just were vehicles used to bring their vision to life.” In terms of cost, that work didn’t come cheap, “A shirt was around 50 dollars, we provided the garments unless the customer had a special item of clothing they wanted painting.” The work wasn’t a one-wear affair either, “The shirts were washable and kept their color if heat set hot and hand washed in cold water.

Another pioneer of New York street style from the same era, legendary Harlem tailor Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day played a key role in Shirt Kings’ success when PHADE took the brand to another iconic indoor marketplace, “Dapper Dan is my mentor. When I had expanded to The Mart 125 across from The World Famous Apollo Theater, he came and said, ‘We need to work together — come on down to my spot.’ I asked him how much rent and he replied, ‘No worries.’ He took me all up and down the East Coast selling clothes.

Dan’s exaggerated amplifications of luxury logos and prints are present in some of the company’s images. With their brand represented heavily during a golden age for street culture and music, PHADE, KASHEME and NIKE would become celebrities, with an escalating client base that led to two-week waits for product. From cars to gooned-out Roger Rabbits and diminutive psycho Chucky as a b-boy with a bucket hat and pager, some commissions were odder than others — PHADE had his limits, “I don’t do demonic stuff or negative images, just fun and culture.

Jamaica, Queens was no stranger to dancehall’s flamboyant fashions either — rudeboy customers had some wild requests, “They seemed to be big on the pants as well as the jackets. They expressly wanted explicit art on their clothes with rhinestones and rips and glitter.

If you’re wondering about how the Cosby connection came about, Shawn Carter plays his part, alongside Theo Huxtable, “We were invited to a party and Jay-Z was showcasing with Jaz-O, I saw Malcolm (Jamal-Warner) downstairs, I had the picture book that I carried everywhere we went — I gave it to one of our young interns and he approached Malcolm. We all came over and took pictures and next thing we were at Malcolm’s house in Brooklyn ordering shirts.

Shirt Kings would spawn imitators, but PHADE doesn’t see it as a negative, “I wouldn’t call them imitations. It was youth in a culture using their gift to cause other creators to start thinking about making their own way in this culture.” While KASHEME passed away, both PHADE and NIKE are still painting and airbrushing. PHADE has put his energies into working with non-profit groups to teach youngsters to create their own artwork and develop their own skill set and sense of empowerment.

Despite breaking it down it in more local terms, Sacasa acknowledges that the business’s legacy is colossal, “Shirt Kings design creations were pivotal to the foundation of the science in branding between hip hop artists and a designer who was an aerosol artist in the NYC subway days teaching kids how to do legal art on a t-shirt.

TOMMY BOY CLOTHING

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Tommy Boy’s promo Carhartt jackets are part of hip-hop fashion lore by now, but their role in preempting this whole contemporary brand orgy bears repeating. Those late 1991/early 1992 pieces probably weren’t the first streetwear collaboration (after all, pretty much all proto-streetwear seemed to engage in what would be considered a collab in current terms), but they set a standard with that three-way Shawn Stussy/Carhartt/Tommy Boy credible brand of the time teamup. Whether it was ever officially sanctioned by Carhartt or whether it’s technically a Stüssy project have never been made entirely clear (incidentally, seeing as GFS got the Phillies Blunt co-sign, wasn’t that a collaboration in itself?). What is known is that Tommy Boy marketing head Albee Ragusa was a Stüssy Tribe member and he headed up the Carhartt pieces as well as 1992’s merch line with Rock Embassy. After starting with 800 promo-only pieces, an Active Jacket variation of the coats went to retail a little later, accompanied by a set of baseball caps with Shawn’s distinctive hand style on them too (from memory, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal of House of Pain rocked the headwear) to coincide with a rise in hip-hop related fashion brands. In an era where music merch constantly crosses over with assistance from streetwear heads, this seems a lot more considered than another tinpot metal homage.

LOADED

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Right now, the online incarnation of every men’s fashion magazine is putting up some generic streetwear list to get that traffic. Where you might once have memorised that moment Stüssy got a Sunday supplement mention or Supreme got the Vogue treatment early, it’s pretty much everywhere. Unless New York Times affiliated, not much of it seems to tell you much at all (salutes to the folks at Supreme and Palace who generally seem to leave bad rag journos hanging for soundbites, meaning it has to be some friend-of-a-Facebook-friend-of-a-friend who has to contribute some loose insight). Back when Loaded seemed revolutionary, it ran a 1994 four-pager that left an impression on me, talking streetwear with dons like Shawn Stussy, Rick Klotz, Erik Brunetti and Eli Bonerz, that starts with talk of the mystery Beastie Boys Slam City show and incorporates Curtis McCann and James Lavelle as models. Plaid shirts and chinos aplenty.

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