Tag Archives: LIFE Magazine

DENIM

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To commemorate 140 years of the Levi’s 501 jean, there was a visit to London from archivist Lynn Downey. But nobody invited me to see her talk about the history of the 501, so I’m not going to write about the video and other assorted PR stuff here. That doesn’t stop me loving the 501 though. Back before forums came up with wild theories on how to maintain denim to get the fabled fades, LIFE ran a feature on denim’s style status as of November 1972, accompanied by some amusing images — retired cattle rancher Ben Cambron’s custom Levi’s denim car seats are the ultimate in mobile denim bleed proto swag and there’s plenty of talk of a Gallic love for denim and the de Nîmes connection – images of Johnny Hallyday in double denim, cool kids in Paris and a flea market stand shifting jeans. Paris’ first real Levi’s fashion show was apparently at the Crazy Horse Saloon and there’s pictures here to prove it. Peter Haas, Levi Strauss — HNIC for several years and an employee of the company from 1945-2005 — makes an appearance in front of a San Francisco factory workforce too. The piece also talks about a Russian denim line called Super Rifle, which sounds like the kind of brand that’s still lurking in the denim hall at a Euro trade show. Happy 140th to a shape shifting design classic and kudos to LVC and Levi’s for creating lookbooks and video content that’s actually worth a few minutes of your time.

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The Hermès’ Festival des Métiers is also worth the energy you need to commute against a swathe of old money haired people in colourful corduroys as you brave Sloane Square to visit the Saatchi Gallery. I couldn’t give too much of a shit about factory tour videos (in fact, sometimes, that plexiglass aura of transparency makes me like a brand less), but I’m interested in the Hermès’ brand’s legacy of craftsmanship and it’s one of the few brands that emerged unsullied from Dana Thomas’ Deluxe. To watch someone set precious stones, make a neck tie, create a leather bag or put a watch together from close range is absorbing and goes some length to justifying at least some of the costs. I took (along with everyone else who was in the vicinity) the opportunity to take some obtrusive iPhone pictures to prove I visited. It’s curious to know very little about a brand’s workings and then see it in this context, so I recommend visiting before it leaves London early next week. The Hermès’ showcase’s gallery proximity to an exhibition that showcases Boris Mikhailoiv’s explicit depictions of Ukranian poverty was probably a coincidence, but it created a disorienting microcosm of a colossal gulf between rich and poor.

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Finally, a cover for the Slam Kicks book has appeared. With Scoop Jackson on board, I’m hoping for something akin to Sole Provider, but there’s few details out there (the book isn’t published until early 2014) right now. I guarantee that none of the 2013 Jordans will age like a pair of 1985 AJ1s.

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HOODLUMS

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24 hours late on the blog updates and still not much to say. The leather jacketed or vested ne’er-do-wells of old always fired my imagination in movies and magazines, but I can’t help but think that gangs were making more of an effort to dress back in the day. Juvenile delinquency looked particularly fucking cool in the 1950s and 1960s, back when the dawn of the teenager had “squares” bricking themselves at grease-slicked haircuts and tribal uniforms. These pictures from a 1957 LIFE feature on Upper Westside and Bronx gangs called Teen-Age Burst of Brutality make alleged thugs look like rock stars. An Egyptian Kings member looks cool calm and collected on the way to be quizzed for a murder, complete with fans peering in the window, and the crew shot of the Laughing Jesters in Manhattan makes them look like the best gang ever. People generally seemed to look more excellent 50+ years ago.

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While the gang jackets in this anti-hoodlum film from the 1950s are the worst thing ever, the gangs in the 1961 San Francisco based documentary Ask Me, Don’t Tell Me which has some kind of religious redemption overtones (and did the blog rounds back in 2009 when it seemed to go into public domain) has crews of dudes who are deeply stylish, until they start doing decorating and digging holes and being productive members of society because society asks them to be — it completely does the opposite of discouraging anyone from not wanting to stand on a street corner playing elbow tit (as depicted in The Wanderers). Even in the 1970s, the gang jackets on the cover of New York Magazine‘s March 27, 1972 cover story on east Bronx gangs (which can be read here) would almost certainly have a kid reaching for the marker pens to decorate a garment so he and his friends could rumble with neighbourhood rivals.



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Ralph Bakshi has drawn some great hoodlums in flicks like American Pop and Coonskin and given his escalating inability to work within the system, an initiative like Kickstarter is the perfect way for him to raise capital. He’s currently working on a series called Last Days of Coney Island with pledged voice work from folks like Matthew Modine and there’s some amazing incentives to pledge some dough here ($35+ for a Bakshi character doodle?). And I’ve talked about Ralph’s work here a lot of times, because Wizards, Fritz the Cat and Lord of the Rings, plus shows like his Mighty Mouse redux had such a big impact on me — if you don’t know who he is, educate yourself immediately by picking up a copy of Unfiltered and reading this interview with him from a year ago. The sketches and imagery from Last Days of Coney Island look pretty good so far.

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Does anyone else recall Champion’s Japanese licensee putting Champion on some extremely underwhelming hiking boots in 1995 to capitalise on a boom in hiking heritage? I thought I dreamt it until I pulled out this old ad again. They really did a number on the iconic ‘C’ right there.

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BLACK & WHITE

I’m sat in a Portland hotel room watching CNBC documentaries on Whole Foods, Costco (kings of the white t-shirt) and awaiting the J Crew documentary on personal hero, Mickey “Helloooo” Drexler — one of the greatest micro managing CEOs ever, before heading out to order a burger from an eatery staffed by people in thick framed glasses, bearing knuckle tattoos. In the time zone confusion, I forgot to update this blog with things. Other than watching retail-based TV, there’s a few other things I’m into at the moment. The gents at the increasingly bootlegged Palace brand are making power moves of late and their whole Fall lookbook has a VHS fuzz that’s appealing — I was amused to see the Palace Surf “sub brand” within the range, complete with the all important colour fade in the script and stonewash cotton fleece to evoke an appropriately surf-centric look. I think the crew are amusing themselves with memories of the lurid gear we used to break out back in the day — surfwear birthed street and skate wear as we know it anyway. That Tri logo is slowly taking over and I’m looking forward to seeing the less lurid shirts and trousers too when they eventually materialise.

On the subject of Londoners making power moves, Kyle and Jo at Goodhood’s ‘Unloveable’ lookbook is a winner too (as is their ‘How Soon is Now?’ women’s collection shoot). There’s no men in OBEY sauntering round a local park here — good food and beverage accessories, crisp photography, black and white and apparel picks worn right. I’ve mentioned it a lot here, but the R Newbold and Goodhood gear is some of the best collaborative clothing on the market. This season’s college football shirt gets a look right — something that can get a little too Superdry in the wrong hands. Crucially, this imagery makes me want to go and buy shit from them (which is kind of the point of the project) rather than feeling like some obligatory action to get a couple of thousand apathetic blog impressions and significantly less click-throughs. This is the kind of thing you get when designers are in charge rather than copyists. Cassavetes’ letting his team roam free might feel a million miles from Drexler’s tightly run retail empire, but both visions are quintessentially American in their own unique, driven ways. There’s lessons to be learnt from both characters.

Now Cassavetes, Gazzara and Falk are all improvising together in the afterlife, it’s always worth taking another look at a ‘Life’ magazine issue’s shots of the production of ‘Husbands.’ I’m a Cassavetes fan, but I’m not a huge fan of this film, yet I love the documentation —1970’s ‘Omnibus’ on the movie and this May 1969 collection of photos capture John’s emphasis on creativity and personal expression. Now when an actor juggles mainstream movies and their own indie flicks, it usually signals kooky self-exploration and tedious soul-searching, but Cassavetes did it with an unsurpassed integrity. What a guy. From suits to sweatpants, the mid-life crisis addled trio look cool between the yelling and drinking.

LEGENDS

Sunday is a good time to just bang out a blog full of stuff other people have put me onto. Mr. Errolson Hugh put me onto this incredible piece from Outside Online about GORE-TEX’s monopoly and the rise of NeoShell that’s some real reporting from Mike Kessler. On the subject of technology, I’m currently enjoying the Nike+ FuelBand, even though I’m as non-athletic as it gets. With devices, there’s scope for misuse — mine has already been on a dog’s collar, amassing 211 FuelPoints through some stair and hall-based hype. Minus the canine, it gathered 113 during AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ at a wedding reception on friday. It’s like being rewarded for energetic stupidity — I’m already a fan. I have to salute Tom Scott for highlighting D-WHY’s ‘Macchiato Music‘ — forget trap rap, because this is NATO strap rap. I don’t know what to make of it, but I believe the moment when Kid said to Kamron of the Young Black Teenagers “Do me a favour — talk white” in ‘House Party 2’ he unleashed this kind of thing. More’s the Pitti. Dude can rap though, but if you’re going to do the Italian thing you need to be name checking Gianni Agnelli — as every menswear blog and book is keen to reiterate when they’re not telling you how to wear a suit and pocket square. Don’t listen to them for instructions — just look at some Gianni images, but if you’re looking to imitate, remember that the great man’s whole style was born of risky tweaks to formalwear, so to carbon copy kind of defeats the point. ‘Life’s ‘Everybody Works For Gianni’ piece from a November 1967 issue has some good Agnelli images — no over the cuff timepieces, but study closely and you can see the little quirks.

Farewell Moebius. The internet’s got us dropping ‘RIP’s all over the place — usually for the kinds of people under appreciated during their living years (chill, I’m not going to link to any Mike & the Mechanics). If we aren’t rest in peace-ing, we’re Tweeting death anniversaries. If we aren’t doing that, it’s about commemorating dead people’s birthdays. Nothing wrong with any of that, but it shouldn’t water down the resonance of true legends passing. Moebius’s relationship with Jodorowsky, work for ‘Heavy Metal’ and more was an evident inspiration for personal favourites like Geof Darrow (who collaborated with him), but his concept art for ‘Alien,’ ‘Tron’ (I had no idea that he contributed to ‘Space Jam’ and ‘Masters of the Universe’), that never-filmed ‘Dune’ adaptation and the late 1980’s Epic compilations of his work, with volume 4’s ‘The Long Tomorrow & Other Science Fiction Stories’ having a huge influence on me, setting heights so lofty that they’d rarely be matched by anything elsewhere, which fueled my cynicism by the time I reached my teens. Ridley Scott was inspired to make ‘Blade Runner’ because of ‘The Long Tomorrow’ — I was just compelled to hunt similar levels of detail and emotion on the printed page. 2007’s ‘In Search of Moebius’ BBC Four documentary is worth a watch, but regardless of the lack of English dialect (I watched a dubbed version on TV around 1987 though), 1982’s ‘Les maîtres du temps’/’Time Masters’ is a beautiful-looking movie from the director of the occasionally sampled ‘Fantastic Planet.’ The ending’s great, after the great man’s death, it’s kind of appropriate here.





It’s not like Clarks are strangers to making sporting versions of the Wallabee — there was a Wallabee Sports in the 1970’s and Nike famously made a collection of leisure shoes (that were actually pretty good) the following decade that flopped. Sports-casual, as Alan Partridge demonstrated, isn’t easy. Mr. Agnelli’s mix of tailoring and luxury hikers is it done correct, but many flopped. Still, with the visvim Polke and Nike HTM Macropus homaging Clarks’ classic, as well as many weaker moc-toe mockeries (I think I’ve used that obvious wordplay here before, so apologies for that), I was always surprised that they never brought the Sport back. What we did get was the Clarks Originals Cobra a few years back that never made much noise, but branding and contrast stitch aside, was a smart little tribute. It even included some crepe on the outsole. In burgundy it was good but in black it was bland and cheap-looking. The new wave of Clarks models that got a Footpatrol launch last week pays tribute to the Desert Boot and the Wallabee Boot and I like the Tawyer Mid a fair bit, with the update looking strong in both colours. The ballistic nylon and leather mix is good (the Cobra played with a similar combo) and the EVA sole isn’t too tricksy, which is where the Cobra stumbled. Still, I’ve seen the Cobra looking good with shorts and the burgundy Tawyer has similar potential, as well as scope for “Wha’ dem?” queries from men in the street. It’s all in the unobstructed curve from tongue to toepiece. Pretty good. Respectful updates and the beauty of those Wasabi Oi Polloi makeups makes it a good time to be championing Wallys.

REAPERS

I know we should encourage print publications in ailing times (especially when an online appetite for anything that constitutes content means that a lot of digital features and editorials are at least 40% longer than the average attention span, scattered with “one” in lieu of “you” in a bid at intelligence), but there’s a lot on the shelves that just seems to exist, bogged down with the predictable PR pushes of the moment and lacking any paper pulp identity. I had no idea that ‘TAR’ was still going either. ‘The Hunger’ magazine caught me off guard. I caught a glimpse of it and dismissed it as another vacuous publication that was presumably the pet project of some oligarch’s wife.

Then I found out that ‘The Hunger’ is Rankin’s baby, meaning the level of photography is predictably excellent, but it’s notable that advertisements seem to have been smartly folded into the actual content rather than the bookends of 40+ ad pages we’re used to. If we’re talking in idiot’s terms here — and during a recession it’s always worth reverting to a dopey notion where size and weight determines value — 500 pages for £4 is pretty good.

What really shines is Rankin’s conversations with some of ‘LIFE’s greatest contributors, including Burk Urkel, Guillermo “Bill” Eppiridge and John Shearer in the Documentary section. If you’re UK or Europe based, you can catch Rankin’s pretty good ‘America in Pictures: The Story of Life Magazine‘ right here on BBC iPlayer (if you can’t access it, consider it revenge for the times those MTV links you’ve embedded have denied me) — his passion shines through and he fanboys out with childish enthusiasm on meeting the pioneers of the photographic essay. Next time you’re admiring your Instagram efforts, I recommend trawling through the ‘LIFE’ archives on Google Books to puncture that misguided sense of what’s awesome. I love John Shearer’s ‘The ‘Prez’ of the Reapers’ photo essay (with text from Reginald Bragonier) that ran in the 25th August, 1972 issue. You can read it in its entirety here.

‘LIFE’ ran several excellent gang-related pieces before, but this reflected a new wave of crew violence, depicting the Bronx climate that spawned the Black Spades and inspired Walter Hill’s vision of Sol Yurick’s ‘the Warriors.’ Pride, violence, grief and a face beyond the bravado is present in Shearer’s work and while the article ends of a downbeat note, his blog indicates that Eddie Cuevas — the star of the article — left the gang life after beating the murder case to become a set-painter.

‘The Hunger’s website is strong, offering a plethora of video content and I recommend trawling through the BBC4 ‘All American’ collection to watch a 1981 ‘Arena’ episode on the Chelsea Hotel, four episodes of Alexis Korner’s ‘The Devil’s Music’ from 1979 and the more recent ‘America on a Plate[‘ documentary on the cultural relevance of the diner. You can lose a lot of time constructively while it lasts.

While ‘LIFE’ was a sappy, re-released shadow of its former self long before I was born, Henry Chalfont and Tony Silver (R.I.P.) 1983’s ‘Style Wars’ was a life-changer that offered another Bronx tale. Even catching it long after that fabled Channel 4 screening, those quotes from SKEME’s mum, CAP, Kase 2 (R.I.P.) and Min One have entered the everyday conversational lexicon of me my equally nerdish associates and I as much as ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Seinfeld’ ever did. It’s bigger than hip-hop.

The frequently great ConspiracyUK radio show (from 27 minutes in), which seems to get some long interviews (with Menace sometimes sounding like Morell from ‘A Room For Romeo Brass’ with a rap fixation) with tough to track down subjects, recently chatted with Henry Chalfant for half an hour on the fundraising project to restore the 30 hours of outtakes left decaying. After the Save Style Wars campaign launched with a questionably fancy looking site that looked like it would flee the country with your credit card details, the new Style Wars site used KickStarter to raise the $28,000 to save them. Last week it hit the funding goal and the extra money will be used to restore the documentary itself. There’s some good incentives to contribute and at time-of-writing, 56 hours left to donate.

KickStarter is also being used to fund the release of Michael Miller‘s ‘West Coast Hip Hop: A History in Pictures’ which has doubled its goal. Compiled, Miller’s west coast rap photography (including the ‘Cypress Hill’ cover shot) could be well worth your time.

Listening to Elton John’s underrated ‘Rock of the Westies’ (GTA players know that ‘Street Kids’ is on point), all I can say is, thank god for that white. Elton’s prodigal yayo habit in 1975 caused him to create bangers with a completely new band. But beyond the sounds, that outfit on the album cover is some unkempt flamboyance. Check the near-beard, deerstalker, polo shirt, dog tag, bugged-out sunglasses and flossy rings, including a keyboard looking piece. Inspirational. This shot captures Sir Elton somewhere between broken and awesome. Rock stars don’t dress with this kind of lunacy any more.

The big aggressively shapeshifting elephant in the room at the moment is ‘The Thing’ prequel. I wanted to like it and some of the effects were strong, but it lacked the absolute dread and sense of isolation that made the 1982 version so necessary. It wasn’t a complete waste of human cells though and no spoilers intended (it has its own self-contained plot), but the segway between movies is smart. The hood might lack fur this time around, but the helicopter markings, doomy thud of the original score and Albertus MT typeface let the film conclude on a high note.

After the backpack talk the other week on Boylston Trading Company, Mr. Frank Rivera gave me the opportunity to write ‘Expendable Income’ — a love letter to the adidas Forum Hi which is one of my favourite shoes. I still don’t know why the story of the shoe hasn’t been told at length before (and there’s still a lot of facts to check and tales to be included), nor why the Hi seemed to be so hard to find post 2002. It’s good to talk Dellinger, crack money and stupid price tags. Click the image or check it out here.

Look around you. 2007 just got retroed. The onslaught of camouflage gear, queues for shoes and the rise of the print. That protectively waxed conservatism had to disintegrate at some point. All over patterned hoodies again? Ralph Lauren himself seems to favour these wintery traditional patterns above the majority of what his empire pumps out, and this Spruce Heather fleece has an air of 1989 about it too. It sure isn’t cheap, but it’s something different for the fanboys. No Polo player on the chest – this opts for a waistband patch logo instead. I like the texture too.

I just found out that Lewis Rapkin’s ‘Live From Tokyo’ documentary about the city’s music culture is finally available to rent on some new-fangled YouTube rental system. It’s worth £1.99 of your money (with a disaster relief charity donation in there too). I love Tokyo.

KUBRICK'S FIRST FILM

“Perhaps when everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful.”
Stanley Kubrick, 1968

I’m a terrible interviewer. I wish I could wade in ready for war and ask the questions that need to be answering, but I just don’t — I’m more keen to engage in a genial conversation and keep the subject happy. That frequently leads to sycophantic laugh-alongs. Having said that, in my sector, generally there’s no call for anything particularly probing — bear in mind that I operate in a realm where saying that something is good but not a classic is deemed insightful and scathingly critical. Introspect forsook the realm in which I dwell. Imagine if Alex Haley had laughed along with George Lincoln Rockwell’s baseless racist theories to keep him happy, and Rockwell was staring down the barrel of a gun laying sideways between interrogator and subject. Transcribing myself is equally excruciating, as it reveals that not only am I a sycophantic, chuckling goon, but I also have the nasal voice of a simpleton who punctuates points with an irksome “like” at least twenty times in forty minutes.

Mr. Pardeep Sall is my favourite source of book recommendations, and he put me onto each volume of ‘The Playboy Interviews’ — a useful collection of compendiums, shorn of distracting masturbation fodder and filtered for the very best conversations. As you might have noticed, I’ve never had any formal journalistic training but Mr. Sall was correct when he recommended these, explaining that they’re “Better than any course” of you’re looking for a masterclass in professional but probing technique. ‘The Directors’ and ‘Movers and Shakers’ are particularly outstanding. Lawrence Grobel’s 1985 chat with John Huston and Eric Norden’s 1968 conversation with Stanley Kubrick are currently fresh in my mind, but I have to pass on a second-hand recommendation with regards to these tomes. Especially if, like me, your interview game needs stepping up beyond, “Why are you so great?

The Kubrick piece also reminded me about his earliest moving picture, a bombastic 1951 short, entitled ‘Day of the Fight’ documenting middleweight fighter Walter Cartier’s pre-fight build-up, with an excitable Douglas Edwards voice over. At 16 minutes long, it’s strange to see that there was even a poster for this film (seen below courtesy of www.postermountain.com). I wonder as to how Kubrick fared in a documentation environment where his meticulous nature was tethered by real-world movements, but while subtlety and deliberate pacing are a no-go here, the lighting’s on point and there’s some tracking too. ‘Day of the Fight’ is a follow-up to Kubrick’s 1949 ‘Prizefighter’ photo-essay for ‘Look’ which you can read right here in its entirety. I’m obsessed with the aesthetic of old world boxing, from Nat Fleischer’s work to these kinds of moving and static pictures.







‘Look’ was a ‘Life’ imitator in many respects, and ‘Life’ briefly covered Walter Cartier too in ‘Fight Trainer’ — a photo-essay by the excellent Eliot Elisofon focusing on the work of Polish-born, Brooklyn-raised trainer Charley Goldman. While the focus is on a Rocky Marciano — a significantly more successful fighter trained by Goldman, there’s some shots of Cartier in training mode under the great man’s tutelage. The ‘Life’ piece is dated February 12th, 1951 — just under a year after the 1950 bout that Kubrick documented. Cartier’s prizefighter career never soared and he fared better as an occasional actor, but Kubrick’s decision to use him as a study afforded him a certain immortality. Four years later, his breakthrough of sorts, ‘Killer’s Kiss’ would use gyms and boxing rings as a setting with the same shadowy intensity, and as with ‘Day of the Fight’ it was imbued with a punch drunk sense of melodrama that wasn’t indicative of the director’s more cerebral vision. Still, Kubrick at his worst was, like Cartier, not a bad prospect at all.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

It’s a speed blogging day. Before commencing, it’s nice to see that Fuck Yeah site doing satire so deftly. Whoever’s behind it is a genius—satirising menswear blogging is like shooting fish in a barrel with dumdums, but this person’s picking them off with precision. I particularly like the fact that the targets are laughing along too. I was also hyped to hear of the recent discovery of some form of sneezing monkey that comes in an endangered limited edition of 260 or so. That got me as hyped as the vast Guatemalan sinkhole did a few months back.

Brand new monkeys and holes that swallow buildings are more exciting than trail parkas. Like the colourways that crop up on NikeTalk as mere product codes, that mystery monkey is strictly PhotoShop status at time-of-writing.

Continuing the Criterion manner of doing everything so well that I can’t help but dickride (I’m sure there’s potential for a tagline there), kudos to whoever decided to hire Daniel Clowes to illustrate the covers of Sam Fuller’s pulpy, queasy and unforgettable,’The Naked Kiss’ and ‘Shock Corridor’. It’s a tough vision to capture, but Clowes has done an admirable job.

Sam’s controversial 1982 ‘White Dog’ – a one time Sky Movies mainstay and a film utterly misunderstood by cretins—is a necessary watch too. The director does a superb job with Romain Gary’s excellent source material, creating one of cinema’s finest explorations of racism and one too steeped in metaphor for reactionists to ever kick back and fully understand. If you’ve never investigated Fuller’s work, get involved and marvel at how one of cinema’s key integrationists ended up being accused of being a racist.

I’ve been taking the lazy route and browsing LIFE for some photo-essays (the archive on Google Books is outstanding) that might slap me out of my current apathy with nearly everything (bar ground collapsing and rare animals) and having taken an interest in how Gordon Parks directed ‘Shaft’ and his son directed ‘Superfly’, offering some blueprints for a wave of b-cinema and covering both a conventional hero and a “villain” as central figures between them, I’ve been looking at Parks photographic work. ‘Harlem Gang Leader’ from LIFE’s November 1st 1948 issue is a pinnacle piece, covering four weeks in the life of Red Jackson.

‘Harlem Gang Leader’ sets a blueprint for today’s knives-at-the-camera exploitative gang pieces (depressingly frequent in British papers these days) that journos and snappers pump out in the quest for awards, but this was a more sensitive, powerful affair with some stark imagery and matter-of-fact prose. Gordon was a master of his craft and while the opening cigarette shoe remains iconic, it was good to see it in context and to unveil a little more history behind those frequently referenced Harlem streets. And by exposing the brutal day-to-day existence of Red and the Midtowners, whose life seemed to be limited to specific street boundaries, Gordon broke barriers and made history.