Tag Archives: ben davis



Way before spending twenty quid at the Japan Centre on 200-page publication dedicated to dungarees was the done thing, I was obsessed with workwear for different reasons (mainly this picture). My first forays into the brands I saw Apache, Mobb Deep and the other Havoc and Prodeje wearing came through Camden Market and — bound to a small town as I was — the Duke American Workwear’s mail order service. Ashley Heath’s workwear article in The Face around 1992 was a real eye-opener too. Seeing as we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web and I’ve done Shoe Trends to death already, the Duke’s site was one of the first things I ever saved as a favourite back in 1999 when I got the Internet at home. There was no e-commerce on it and the method of buying was roughly the same as it was in the Transworld and HHC ads years before — send a cheque. With a ridiculous amount of Ben Davis (for whom The Duke was UK distributor), an array of boxy Carhartt shades of duck, Big Bill, Walls, Pointer Brand and Dickies, the catalogues (complete with a ton of stickers) were an education in themsleves. Bill who ran The Duke (no relation to Bill “You know you done fucked up, right?” Duke to the best of my knowledge) based the business in Manchester but worked on oil rigs for a living (where workwear can be a life or death matter rather than something to profile and pose in. There was Peterman-eque prose on the site about the mail order service’s origins,

“The threads of this website were originally sown, in the South China Sea, twenty-two miles off the coast of Kowloon. Whilst I was sat with my size 12 steel-toe rigger boots, dangling over the side of The Julius Offshore Drilling Platform, which I was working on. Where could I get myself some hard-wearing, well made workwear similar to those worn by the American toolpushers who were also working onboard? The journey has at times been a rocky, twisting, badly eroded mountain trail and on other occasions a fast-moving, well-tarmac-ed interstate highway. Never being one to shirk from the necessary graft, the search was on, to track down some suitable American workwear brands.”

The Duke ended up primarily being a Ben Davis retailer by 2002 and I never saw any more updates after that, but his work deserves respect. That monkey on the chest pocket has been a big influence on me (check the logo above and shouts to Sofarok) and after all, workwear was the only gear you saw on MTV Raps that you could afford to acquire without breaking too much of a sweat. Happy birthday to the WWW and salutes to the Duke.



Hey, ironist whitey — don’t front, you know you’ve pretended to throw up a gang sign, Crip walk or done up the top button on a Pendleton and scowled at the mirror. Bet you’d shit yourself if you were in gang territory though — your blogwear wouldn’t stop from being treated like Marky Mark by locals. Still, our preoccupation with Los Angeles gang culture isn’t any more inexplicable than the mafia fascination that pervades popular culture (gotta love ‘Bangin’ in Little Rock’ with one of my favourite moments at 17:06), and any organisation operating outside society’s rules with its own rules and uniforms is going to fire imaginations. Ah yes, the uniforms.

Let’s be clear here, who’s selling the aforementioned Pendleton, Chucks, Carhartt, Dickies, Ben Davis, khakis and white tees to you — some lookbook clown with a side parting who you could put in a chokehold, or some real OGs? That pride in the quality basics is a striking aesthetic that’s had more impact on the current wave of simple, quality looks than is credited.

If we’re going to explore how a blog post like this comes about, it was entirely fuelled by the photo of Crip founder member Greg “Batman” Davis (check his website here) in swagger mode — I don’t understand enough to either condone or condemn Greg’s earlier lifestyle, but with his Charles Manson friendship plus dalliances with the Symbionese Liberation Army and Jim Jones he’s a fascinating figure — that I spotted at the MOCA ‘Art in the Streets’ show. The way a whole gang phenomenon was summarised in a couple of sentences as part of the exhibit was curious, but that high rolling image is a strong piece of criminal imagery, with Davis seemingly looking to document a moment of perceived invincibility fired my imagination.


What happened to Nemo Librizzi’s Bloods and Crips documentary ‘Lay Down Old Man’ from 2005 that got a single screening at Blacktronica and some film festivals before vanishing? It had plenty of footage of Davis reflecting over his past, but whereas ‘Bastards of the Party’ and Stacy Peralta’s ‘Crips & Bloods: Made in America’ are readily available, ‘Lay Down Old Man’ has never reached DVD.

That Crip talk made me think of the Glen E’ Friedman photo session from South Central Cartel’s 1994 LP ‘N Gatz We Truss’. It’s not the guns which grabbed my attention (seriously, what was the odds of ANOTHER group having a Havoc and Prodeje in?), it was the customised Ben Davis work shirts, including the Def Jam West variation that blew me away. I’ve even put it in mood boards, blissfully ignorant of the heavy metal in the foreground. What can I say? I’m stupid like that. That in turn had me pondering the mighty Ben Davis. Seeing as the blog logo (courtesy of Sofarok) is a Ben Davis tribute, I’ve never done the brand justice on this site.

All you really need is O.D. Wolfson’s 1995 interview with Benjamin Franklin Davis and Frank Davis from ‘Grand Royal’ #2 — that offers some excellent background on the brand and how it started. I’ve upped a scan of the page here, but there’s a few other interesting morsels that make for an interesting supplement to the answers Mr. Davis provides.

Beyond the handful of store photos, painted ads and newspaper promotions from the late 1940s and 1950s, it’s interesting that Davis mentions that while the shirt is a Ben Davis creation, their pants were based on a design that was an acquisition (the Ben Davis brand started in 1935) from the then defunct Neustradter Bros. and their ‘Boss of the Road’ line — the gorilla was a reaction to mascots like the ‘Boss of the Road’ bulldog. I found some of their old advertising (dating back to 1901), and it’s notable that the ‘Boss of the Road’ brand was bought and resurrected by Lee in the late 1930s with added Lee branding, but that familiar jowly pooch is still present.

Continuing Ben Davis’s link to other denim powerhouses, Ben’s grandfather Jacob W. Davis’s patent for his invention – the copper pocket rivet for jeans — filed on August 9, 1872 is available too. That started with duck pants before the transfer to denim. That patent was half-owned by a certain Levi Strauss, and it’s a hugely significant moment in denim evolution — Jacob worked with Levi by developing the manufacture of the resulting pants and he sold his interest in the patent to Levi Strauss in 1907, just before he passed away.

Ben Davis passed away on February 19, 2009 — a pioneer and inadvertent father of streetwear in many ways. But that’s a whole different story…

UK/Euro heads should tap up the good folks of www.theoriginalstore.co.uk for your Ben Davis needs.

Ben Davis store photos taken from this page right here.


I’m packing for Paris, so this is being written in between haplessly trying to fill a Supreme rucksack with everything I need. There’s a few slight changes to the site because the old theme was too limiting. This serif font is a bit too folksy for me and belongs with those who read “journals” instead of magazines and “curate” rather than steal. Once I figure out Typekit, those serifs are out of here. My good friend Charlie Morgan made the Ben Davis Moomin after a Twitter conversation about my love of Moomins and Ben Davis goods. So I pilfered it and made it a logo. That is, until Tove Jansson’s goons come and get me in a headlock.

All I can offer the interwebs is an assortment of things I’ve just done. I just finished transcribing this conversation with Eddie Cruz from UNDFTD and Adam Leaventon aka. Air Rev — one of the trinity of sports footwear Jedis alongside EMZ and Chris Hall. Those guys represent the good side of sneaker obsession, but the conversation was interesting — how do you sell a classic sneaker with history to a 15-25 year old audience who couldn’t give much less of a shit about your cast-iron heritage and ‘80s subcultural props? Nostalgia is just for weirdos like me, and it’s not particularly profitable.

That’s day job talk though.

I’ve seen the fruits of a few freelance gigs appear online and on shelves lately. My hobby is copywriting. Some people run, some make model planes and others maintain a drug addiction while their colleagues and friends remain oblivious to their activities. My hobby is writing stuff and engaging in the process of altering it to the point where a client’s happy. For about five minutes I thought about it as a full-time occupation, but I had visions of having to write excitable promo tomes for Jack Wills and Superdry in order to make a living, so I prefer to work with people and product that I actually like. Insincerity is tiring – probably more tiring than a gym addiction, and I haven’t got the energy for it.

I remember leaving higher education with wild, idiotic dreams of being a scribe for the numerous cooler-than-thou publications stacked high enough to make the floorboards creak. That was back when I assumed that you got paid to write for anyone cool. Instead you get the school-leaver reply to money talk; “It doesn’t pay, but it’ll look good in your portfolio.” People are still using that one too on the assumption that more than fifty people in the whole world read magazines any more. Fair play to the industry for tricking itself into thinking it’s still important though. I don’t keep some portfolio either — I just have some bags of magazines in a garage sealed up by hand in a hapless attempt to shield them from rain and insect infestations.

So for me, writing is merely a hobby to stop me from becoming agitated outside of the workplace. Seeing as I don’t keep much of a record outside of Linkedin (and can recruitment consultants stop getting in touch about “retail opportunities”? I’m shit at retail), I figured I would celebrate some good things that I’ve been fortunate enough to write about.

GYAKUSOU for Nike Sportswear S/S 2011 was one thing I worked on for Nike— I just spotted the lookbook on Hypebeast. I salute Jun’s work for this stuff. It’s mostly too smedium for me, but it’s defiantly progressive. As a merger of what Mr. Takahashi does at high-end with something a little more accessible, it’s pretty much unbeatable. Anything that includes skeletal, barely-existent jackets with moisture-wicking pods is cool with me. I recommend the long-sleeve tees: the ones from the first season are some of the best I’ve ever owned. I can’t remember writing a blurb, but it looks like one of mine, so I’m assuming it is. The branding on that stuff is bang-on. After concerning myself that I may be getting typecast as “shoe wanker,” it’s been fun, albeit odd, to suddenly be writing about incredibly technical apparel. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write about anything ordinary.

The new issue of ‘Arena Homme+’ under a new editorial team is pretty good. Mr. Rory McCartney’s Art Direction is excellent, and thanks to Sharma and Rory it was pleasantly odd to see myself listed as a Contributing Editor even though I only contributed one thing to it – in stark contrast to futuristic footwear and jackets that look like androids, it was a piece on the fine work of London-based Antenne Books — a distributor of fanzines, magazines and books who put in sterling work. Shouts to Marius and Sherman. Max Pearmain and Ashley Heath have given the magazine a new personality, and while their editorial shakeups meant we get the S/S 2011 edition a little later, it was worth the wait. I also recommend the new ‘DAZED’ too. How many other style magazines would have a four-page feature on Frank Henenlotter? If you want to survive in print, there’s far worse examples to follow in the magazine department than these two.

On the t-shirt front, now that T-Shirt party is done, where else could I go? Andrew Bunney’s British Remains is a fun press materials project. Only Andrew would create a brand that has a handkerchief and t-shirt set. Mr. Bunney knows more about everything than pretty much anyone else I know. He’s an amusing person to exchange feedback with too and with BR moving into brothel creeper inspired footwear soon and set for sale on Honeyee, Andrew seems to be pushing he and Daryl’s project forward in a way that only he can. As an anti-monarchist I have to concede that I approached this one under the belief that the wedding was April 2012. My shirt is very much upside down.

Finally, Arc’teryx Veilance’s Spring/Summer offerings are out, and they’re typically amazing. Everything’s significantly lighter for the warmer months, and the lookbook coming in its own GORE-TEX envelope (like the trade show press invites last year) is a great way to see some writing displayed. I like this project a lot and writing about it is a fascinating exerience — Conroy at Arc’teryx is a genius in his field. If that sounds like dickriding, I suggest you go check out the product in person. I’m smitten with my putty-coloured Field Jacket LT. As GORE-TEX dirt magnets go, it’s a thing-of-beauty.

That’s my self-promotion quota filled for the year.


“Leave ya lookin like the Michael Jackson jackets wit’ all them zippers” 50 Cent ‘Patiently Waiting’

I just realised how much I love ‘Kush’ by Dr. Dre. It’s got that futurist piano plod, but it’s that cocaine sheen that makes it bang extra hard. It took me a couple of years to accept the bulk of ‘2001’ but this is a tight record, sans the Akon crooning—he’s the poor man’s Nate. They should have given Yelawolf a call. But that jacket in the video? Not so good. Is it some kind of CGI effect that Joseph Kahn added post-production? Was the Doctor wearing a plain black tee until they applied a skintight leather to him? I’ll refrain from claiming it’s pauseworthy (I actually only just noticed the “All my niggas that say pause after they say some fucked up shit…rock on” line on the outro from Jay-Z’s ‘Can I Live II’ in 1996), but it’s not a strong look. Smedium and rap are not good bedfellows—isn’t it a little rich that Snoop singles out Will-I-Am’s jeans as a metaphor for lyrical tightness, when his mentor is suffocating himself in a futuristic cowskin creation?

Perhaps the black biker number would have been a little looser if Dre hadn’t been getting hench in a Timbaland style these last few years. Rappers and leathers have never quite merged properly—Slum Village members always had some boho-looking brown coats, but the XXXL Avirex was the main culprit in a poorly fitting plague that filled screens, magazine shoots and CD sleeves. The usually impeccably dressed Grand Puba even wore a black leather that was too loose. But looking like he robbed Fonzarelli isn’t working for Andre. I haven’t seen him looking so questionable since those sequin shots that Eric Wright used to gleefully wield. Even in the Dr Pepper ad he opts for a leather number, but nothing like the ‘Kush’ effort. He needs to fire his stylist.

Or maybe he got caught in the smedium trap. Who hasn’t paid through the nose at some emporium—filled with stone-faced staff—for some Japanese product in a Large and got the simpleton sleeve and belly top look when they tried it on at home? Buying sweats and tees is one thing—it can give someone manorexia. Even in the best case scenario, that’s going to be unwearable after a single wash, no matter how cold the setting. When you find an XL is problematic, it’s doubly depressing. Many garments should be re-labelled on entering the country by law. Biker jackets are meant to fit slim, but the Visvim Strabler, Junya Watanabe take in that design and the Uniform Experiment effort are outerwear Russian roulette without a try-on. Beware before you get your proxy purchase on…unless you’re mad frail.

Back to the Doc…obviously no one should be dressing as if they were still in their twenties at the age of 45, but Dre used to get it very right. Black Ben Davis, Dickies, Shelltoes and a White Sox hat? Ageless. The Funkadelic ‘Maggot Brain’ (“Hell yeah”) tee in the ‘Fuck Wit’ Dre Day’ video is a classic too. What happened to the wardrobe of crispy Ben Davis shirts in the wardrobe at the opening of ‘Let Me Ride’s extended promo? That was an iconic uniform…I can only presume it was engineered to slim him down alongside his skinny sidekick. Now those concerns have evidently been allayed, he’s proudly gone the smedium route.

If you’re strapped for Christmas ideas, I recommend the ‘Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure’ boxset. It isn’t cheap, but it’s an region-free Blu-ray. If you liked the film on DVD, this is next level. It’s curious that we’ve been denied the ‘Hearts of Darkness’ disc in the UK, but this includes it in this set as well as plenty of extras previously included in the tin box set of DVDs. Still, the quality here is amazing. You can turn up the volume to convince neighbours that all hell has broken loose, and some brand-new add-ons like Francis in conversation with John Milius are fantastic.


Ladies De Aztlan, Santa Cruz

America’s multicultural brew gave us some of the most stylish looks – when it gets too white, you’ve got imbeciles prancing around in pastel and bow ties pretending they’re dandies in higher learning. Fuck that. It’s a shame that at present time, core American brands are in, but they’ve been pushed back to American consumers by Japanese and European interests – crazy to see so many Red Wings in New York, but it’s odder to discover that the current boom trickled from Europe and the far east. Acting a follower on your own goods? Strange. Sometimes you can’t see the trees for the lumberjack felled quasi-woodsman style. I expected to see the next shit. Instead,  I just saw dudes dressed like their dads.

Since the days of ‘Dance Energy’ I’ve seen Cholo-styled shoots capturing the stance and pride in Chicano culture. It beats the beard and buffalo-check look, but boy; has their culture been jacked. Chucks, Dickies and a white tee? Untouchable. On you? Not quite so good. Just wearing the outfit ain’t cutting it. Take a look through Estevan Oriol and Robert Yager’s (showcased here on the Selvedge Yard) work for starters and see how much deeper it goes. It’s been a minute since I saw a latino figure in a lowrider during a video, and that subculture’s their creation. People love to pick from the barrio aesthetic, but few want to put anything back again.

If we’re going to dwell on the aesthetics, the west coast’s proudest taught me how to deify the basics – there’s no excuse to not look fresh when your dresscode is built on making something out of nothing – pressed khakis and tees, Ben Davis shirts and Converses make for a sturdy collection of reappropriated staples, treated with reverence. Pinning back pants to avoid ruination by the lack of “back” on a pair of Cortez? It’s all about the little details.

Outsiders peering into any subculture will pick, choose and romanticize as they see fit. That applies to the previous paragraph, and it applies to photographers looking to shock, intimidate or defy stereotyping with their depictions too. An insider’s perspective certainly won’t lack an agenda, but for authenticity within a realm that’s been alternately demonized, robbed, recycled, parodied to the point of racism and frequently misunderstood, you need an inside man or woman. That’s where Reynaldo Berrios enters the picture.

If you’ve ever mourned the demise of even a fraction of your magazine stacks, or just missed out on a full fanzine run, decisions to compile in book form can only be something to celebrate. The recent ‘Boy’s Own’ compilation was a perfect example, and the ‘Sniffin Glue’ collection was strong too. Similar ones for ‘The End,’ ‘Dirt’… even annual ‘The Source’ compilations up to 1993 would be welcome. The possibilities are endless.

2007’s ‘Cholo Style’ book compiled the strongest articles from ‘Mi Vida Loca’ magazine, edited and mostly written by Rey Berrios, and frequently illustrated by Victor A. Spider, whose detailed but occasionally crude illustrations gave it a unique appearance. For the hood, by the hood and sold in the hood, it didn’t travel too much outside its target spots, but for a decade it documented Raza life in detail, with the editor risking his life to get a story written, seemingly for the love of it rather than any Pulitzer opportunities. Now that’s what’s real.

If you pick it up expecting a guide on how to wear a Pendleton properly, go elsewhere – there’s a trove of imagery from the inside present, but the uncompromising stance of the reportage and points raised might alienate some. Conscious of the whitewashing of his community’s legacy, Berrios talks about the cowardice of drive-bys, prescribing punishment for those engaging in the activity, makes trips to other areas interviewing the younger occupants about their hopes and fears, talks Che and Aztlan history race relations, cars; including an Oakland police lowrider, community organization, prisons and self- empowerment. ‘Cholo Style’ makes no effort to provide you with a learning curve, context or spoonfeed you a way of life, but it proves totally absorbing from the preface to the hand-drawn “a message from our sponsors” ads at the back for barbershops, boutiques and corner stores that stocked ‘Mi Vida Loca.’

Naturally, themes of machismo arise, but one of the best collections of images accompanies the feature ‘A Focus on the Homegirls,’ with submitted female crew photos capturing some strong looks and stances for the camera – true hometown pride. This is the stuff that stylists can’t emulate. What became of the showcased Ladies De Aztlan Redwood, San Mateo, South City, East Palo, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and South Hayward is never documented, but it’s a great moment-in-time captured. Importantly, Berrios caught the essence and diversity of his subjects – it’s not just about sending the photo editor the gun-toting shots of the most loco exhibitionists – this is the side of a lifestyle and culture rarely seen.

Feral House’s hit and miss approach to publishing the obscure, taboo, or rarely documented is always something to salute. For every couple of conspiracy-laden titles, there’s a ‘Lords Of Chaos, ‘American Hardcore,’ ‘Prisoner Of X’ (Allen MacDonell’s account of his time working for Larry Flynt at ‘Hustler’) and ‘Cholo Style’ – if the first two can get films made, the latter definitely warrants a documentary. Self-publishing against some heavyweight levels of adversity.



Ladies De Aztlan, South City

Ladies De Aztlan, Redwood City

Ladies De Aztlan, San Mateo

Ladies De Aztlan, San Jose

Ladies De Aztlan, South Hayward


It’s apparent that Camber don’t do funny business. There’s an enduring mystery to this sports/workwear brand that’s nicely at odds with every other brand letting the blogsphere see every inch of their inner workings down to the guts – they make great product, so hard wearing that it nearly falls into the current workwear boom that’s got your local hipster hotspot looking like dress rehearsals for ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ with added GORE-TEX. This has been the year of the heritage range. Marketing guy spots local urchins in denim and workboots, discovers the hype blogs and realises that all they need is their old logo on a patch, Vibram on the sole and voila! They’re in the running.

In the tumble to show just how goddamn old and authentic they are, old brands are acting less like the bemused Farnklin Davis who expressed concern for Ben Davis fan Snoop Dogg around the time he was aquitted of murder charges,I heard something about that Snoop Dogg guy getting in trouble…or a crotchety old man chasing a young man in cropped chinos wielding a DMC-GF1 off his factory property. Nope. Now it’s all blogger tours and storytelling.

Continue reading CAMBER: NO NONSENSE


Fig. 1 – When workwear goes wrong.

Blog Post from February 2009.

Lord knows what Ben Davis was thinking when they licensed out their heritage to some chancers to create apparel like the crapola above, chasing the ill-timed streetwear dollar just when the tides were completely turning. It was scary when they briefly lost their union-made status – that tee beggars belief.

Continue reading CHORE COATS