Category Archives: Heroes

MADE BY MADOFF

The mighty Sofarok put me onto the Madoff Productions (not that Madoff — it’s an NYC-based film and production company for several luxury brands) YouTube channel. In addition to pieces like this 1997 Polo Sport TV commercial with Tyson Beckford, they’ve upped some lesser-spotted edits like the stirring 90-second video that preceded Ralph Lauren receiving his American Academy Lifetime Achievement Award and — proving that they’re not loyal to a single American designer — a really strange promo piece from the mid 1990s with a giant jean wearing Dave Chappelle shoe shopping with Tommy Hilfiger. Thank you internet and thank you Charlie for the heads-up.

EARLY COLLABORATION

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One collaboration I’ve not mentioned here before in all the proto industry model talk is 1990’s Stüssy i-D magazine tees. Created to commemorate the magazine’s tenth birthday alongside pieces from the likes of Simon Foxton, the shirts were sold for 15 quid via mail order. The Stüssy design was pitched to readers as a Shawn Stussy for i-D project rather than a straight-up brand collaboration and offered in white or grey. Given that the brand would take a slightly different, pared-down look, release some tribe-centric videos and host an event in Tokyo (that’s still considered a pivotal moment) the following year, it was inevitable that this project would make a splash far beyond London.

It wasn’t just the pioneering streetwear line that had a significant 1991 making grander Japanese inroads — i-D’s first Japanese incarnation was launched in September that year, lasting 16 issues. As a result, I’ve seen different versions of the shirt, which originally read “Enjoy yourself stupid amounts” on the front in that familiar hand style and included a dense list of predominantly female names on the back that includes the Queen, Sade, Lisa Stansfield, Sarah Stockbridge, Grace Jones and Wendy James. Continue reading EARLY COLLABORATION

MORE BOUNCE TO THE OUNCE

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In the era of the preview and early look, it was extra surprising to hear that a new edition of 12ozProphet is fully formed and primed for release. Coinciding with the relaunch of the website and forums (while the idea of a forum for streetwear is out — as the impending end of Hypebeast’s boards attests — in favour of the Reddit and private FB group chatter, graffiti still seems to work well in that format), plus a new store that debuts this week, we get Volume 2.5 in The Official Bootleg Series (contained again in “flavor-saver” packaging). Continue reading MORE BOUNCE TO THE OUNCE

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.

FAREWELL, KING

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Many wars and feuds did Conan fight. Honour and fear were heaped upon his name and, in time, he became a king by his own hand..
Narrator, Conan the Barbarian

Farewell Prodigy. The Mobb changed my life, and I definitely wasn’t alone in this sentiment, from those introductions in seeing the strangely named duo advertising their debut album on 4th and B’way, mentioned in the same breath as accomplished young acts like Illegal and Da Youngstas around that time (despite being comparatively senior at 16/17), to that Black Moon cameo to the Loud-assisted coming of age when that Nudder Brudders sampler hit in late 1994. While many of their equally acclaimed industry friends and foes flamed out post-millennium, the self-contained nature of the crew (having Havoc and Alchemist in the fold meant that the production side never faltered, (a key contributor to the demise of so many other acts) and P’s prolific approach to guest appearances and solo EPs and LPs paralleled the work ethic of one-time nemesis 2Pac. Incidentally, size jibes are irrelevant when you’re that willing to go to work with absolutely all-comers — something that’s even more admirable in the era of the subliminal. Instead of pursuing the A-list or becoming an enigma, despite extolling the no-new-friends mentality long before Drake, Prodigy’s man of the people accessibility was apparent by the glut of beaming fan photos showcasing those tattooed knuckles (and who else was that inked in the rap realm before he got covered around Hell On Earth?) lighting up social media during the last 24 hours. He was a poet who never papered over that pain and the world is significantly worse in his absence. How many other two-man acts have managed to create their own universe, dress, sound and aesthetic like them? They even went full Droog and had their own language (dun beats nadsat). We lost him as a standalone artist and we lost Mobb Deep — condolences to his family and friends. Even at 42, I don’t think he ever reached the physical age of the mind state he hinted at in his late teens. Fortunately, we’ve been left the ultimate soundtrack for shut in the room gloom.

Given that he brought the quotables from 1992 to 2017 and factoring in that take-no-prisoners approach when it came to letting off those opinions, it’s impossible to single out one highlight. I know exactly which portrait was best though. Around summer 1999, The Source ran ads for the much-anticipated H.N.I.C. portrait with a jewel swoosh mid and grey marl clad Prodigy on an ice throne. In his essential autobiography, My Infamous Life, he mentions the campaign,

Steve Rifkind was serious about promoting my album and Loud started running magazine ads for H.N.I.C. six months in advance. Since my album was called Head Ni**a in Charge, I was sitting on a throne in the ads. The idea came from the end of the movie Conan the Barbarian, when Conan sat on a throne like the king of the world.

50 YEARS OF RALPH

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Seeing as Ralph Lauren’s empire is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, we’re promised at least four books about the brand (including Ralph’s autobiography in 2018) on the horizon. Rizzoli has got a couple planned, including the Ralph Lauren: 50 Years of Fashion retrospective in association with WWD and a third version of the 2007 monograph, which will be expanded with more imagery and coverage of the last ten years. It’s always vaguely disheartening to see slackers getting the opportunity to get the book in a better form as penance to us keen types for buying the book earlier (the slightly bolstered paperback reprint of the Osti book gave me similarly glum feelings), but it makes sense that another big birthday justifies the remix. Now I want to see the clothing step up to bring some statement greatness that supersedes that slew of streetwear homages of those glory days, plus a decent length documentary on the company’s growth over those five decades. Expect these around September/October (when an interesting looking Fiorruci retrospective is set to drop too).

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SUPPORT

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Rest in power to Freddy Mack. I can’t profess to have known the man well and I don’t want to come off disingenuous, but from brief encounters, both digitally and in the real world, I know that he was a real one. From his WHAT YOU WRITE labour of love to everything else, he embodied the hardcore Parisian mentality that few other nations can match. Speaking to him in the early hours at the Supreme store opening party about some niche topics dear to my heart was like chatting with the Tasmanian Devil (when I speak to someone more excitable about strange shoes than me, it tends to linger in the memory) and he was extremely supportive of this blog. Freddy’s passing leaves a gap within several subcultures, but through sheer passion in those waking years it leaves a permanent presence too. I’ll be lacing up some co.jp Terra Humara in his honour. In honour of his contributions to the worlds he represented, Freddy’s friends have rallied together to launch a Go Fund Me that will help his family with funeral expenses.