Tag Archives: london

CLICK BAIT

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For years, some of the brands I associate with a pivotal era of black British streetwear have been the ones that get away in terms of information and insight. Viking shoes? Informational dead-end. Click? Still something of a mystery. The Click suit was a dancehall staple during a time of ragga and hip-hop’s early 1990s crossover and an ostentatious, loose fitted uniform at events like Sting. In my hometown, it used to be used as a general term to describe contrast panelled, oversized patch cord or denim trousers and shirt-style jackets. Some of that stuff was even extreme stone wash with mock bullet holes. For years I never knew whether it was a brand, a custom line or an expression, and the V&A’s collection seems to use the name generally in its outfit that uses the Exhaust Jeans line. However, Steve Bryden, whose knowledge I trust unreservedly, said this beneath the image above on Instagram, “Click was a brand, I still have suit somewhere. Click made suits and jackets A big thing in the raggamuffin era.” I’d like to see a more comprehensive history of those 1989-1995 brands, given the colossal stylistic contribution that Kingston via London look gave us.

HISTORY OF R.A.P

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Thanks to an insatiable appetite for content online (and a lot of curious writers) there’s a lot of deep histories on some brands that had been barely mentioned online in recent years. Slowly — and whether a more image and video inclined audience have any interest in reading it — the lesser-discussed foundations of an industry are being given the treatment they deserve. I wondered what exactly happened to the R.A.P brand — which made plenty of appearances in British style magazines before it folded in 1996 — that was founded by Moroccan-born London resident Hassan Hajjaj and began as a shop on Neal Street in Covent Garden in 1983 before spawning its own apparel line. Continue reading HISTORY OF R.A.P

REEBOKS & HAIR GEL

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The current fetishisation of “roadman” aesthetics frequently seems to miss the strange nuances in functional bits like side bags and double tracksuit bottoms and the solemn-faced eccentricity in a UK goon dress code. Broad strokes end up labelling every part of a working class youth’s wardrobe or modern black British style with a roadman tag, and it’s wide off the mark. It’s about far more than kids with posh names banging on about bunnin.’ Continue reading REEBOKS & HAIR GEL

THE SPIRIT OF AN ERA

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To typify London’s the stock of Sign of the Times store as rave gear would be a gross oversimplification. Having opened up as a stall in Camden in 1986, before moving to Kensington Market, Fiona Cartledge’s business/passion project was the summary of a young life spent participating in multiple scenes. The moment it signposted was the dawn of dance music as big business, with house’s DIY boom, the early signs of riot grrrl, dressed the discerning side of British indie music when Creation popped off, while heralding the high-end meeting with club and street gear that spawned spots like Pineal Eye and Kokon To Zai and the ensuing world that allowed creative powerhouses like Kim Jones and Nicola Formichetti to help alter popular culture. Continue reading THE SPIRIT OF AN ERA

CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE

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Anybody who sat up too late watching ITV in the mid to late 1990s will have encountered Club Nation. Sweaty clubbers, artist profiles and a segment on something loosely connected to dance music made up each episode’s contents. You may have woken up with a start to some hard trance after dropping off waiting for sleazy Davina McCall/Claudia Winkleman-fronted dating show God’s Gift (which managed to have not one, but two, celebrity sex cases on voiceover duties, when Stuart Hall was superseded by Jimmy Savile). I can vividly recall tuning in while in a state of some inebriation to randomly see my older brother on the dance floor at Bagley’s and I can also remember being smacked out my stupor by the coverage of 1997’s Contents Under Pressure exhibition at the Tramshed in London. This Stash, Futura and Lee show was something I wished I could attend, but being located in Nottingham with sporadic internet access, I was well and truly out of the loop. I grabbed the Mo’ Wax Arts exhibition booklet from Selectadisc though. While some of the pieces on display weren’t necessarily the artists’ finest work, Contents Under Pressure was something that seemed to set a precedent for elevating graffiti at the time (Haze’s Iconograffiti show a couple of years earlier from the same crew was another important moment too). There isn’t too much imagery of the exhibition online, but this episode of Club Nation includes four minutes on location at the Tramshed (skip ahead to 3:58, unless you really like the sight of hair gel and gurning), which makes it a nice bit of subcultural London history.



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PIRACY

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If you’re in London with an hour to spare between now and July 19th, you need to go and check out the Shout Out! UK Pirate Radio in the 1980s exhibition at the ICA. It’s a compact collection of artifacts, documents and imagery that charts the pre-legal days of Kiss in its five years as a pirate station, as well as several other seminal DIY broadcasters that never went straight. This was the second London exhibition with a snapshot of Groove Records in just over a month (the great little gathering of London record shop history that popped up on the rapidly perishing Berwick Street was the other one), and from a style perspective there’s nuggets there in the browsable (as in aper format and not some iPad simulation) fanzines with their 1989 ads for the seminal Soul II Soul store in Camden. This is isn’t just a showcase of radio culture — given the connection between music and the streets, its was an important chapter in helping define what wear too. Don’t let my abysmal iPhone photos put you off paying it a visit.

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My friends at 032c have moved into creating their own garments. If you grew up reading i-D and The Face, you’ll remember the occasional apparel offerings towards the back of the magazine. The ever-thorough 032c’s clothing brand starts with a short-sleeve sweatshirt (a challenging format that reminds me of the Jordan VII-era thick-tees that gave you heat stroke) with a long, slim unisex cut. Joerg and the squad aren’t basic enough to set things off with a print tee, and the Portuguese-made Stealth Varsity Logo Sweatshirt’s flock tonal lettering and anti-pill polyfibre and cotton construction is some wilfully contradictory summer wear. It’s in their online store right now and they’re promising further projects over the coming months.

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THE BRITISH SPORTS SHOP

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Because I like trainers, and it’s relatively well-documented, it’s assumed that I’ll be keen on anything that’s trainer-related that isn’t actually a pair of shoes. During a boom time, most stuff that isn’t from the actual brands is just cash-in tat, and I’ve had a few emails from people scheming some ill-fated sounding documentaries. Your documentary will run thusly: footage of queues (with a few interviews with excitable individuals ranting about resellers), at least one dude standing in front of a wall with a legal piece on it, dull footage from some kind of convention, some bloke in a sparsely shelved boutique, interviews with the same bunch of “influencer” dudes who are pretty much omnipresent anyway, a footballer who bought a load of shoes at a mark up (plus a couple of fakes) during the last 24 months, a depressingly token female collector, a rapper collared at some kind of store event talking about Jordans with excess background sound, and a quick collage of some guys with rooms full of Nike boxes from the last three years, complete with a Drake instrumental in the background. Feel free to prove me wrong, and if I am, I’ll almost certainly write something excitable about it for you somewhere. My guess is that it’ll be a shitty Just For Kicks knockoff. Why not just single out a solitary subject and run with it? I want to see a film dedicated to the dwindling state of mom and pop stores, about the Adi/Rudi rivalry, or on the golden age of the British sporting chains.

On the latter topic, it’s crazy how the shops that reached every provincial town, where most of us saw our first Air Max, ZX or Air Jordan haven’t just shut their doors or been assimilated into a bigger chain they’ve vanished from the digital landscape too. Their boom times were back in a time when only boffins had the internet, so there’s only slivers of information online.

Brits in their late twenties and above might recall a time before the scattering of trend-led spots with exactly the same sets of upper-tier shoes. Back in the 1990s, there was Olympus Sport, First Sport, Allsports, Champion Sports, Cobra Sports and its spinoff Cobra Frontier, Intersport, Sports Division (which, as I recall, took over Olympus shops in the mid 1990s before JJB bought them). But to Google them, bar LinkedIns pages of sport industry veterans and snippets of business and marketing archives, it’s as if they never existed. Olympus — a store I spent hours in, staring at shoes and asking for leaflets and catalogues — has just vanished, despite its colossal contribution to the trainer obsession that became a monster. Some of them were still standing until the mid 2000s. It’s understandable that they faltered and fell, due to bad business decisions, stiff competition, rapid expansion and takeover bids, plus the internet’s ascent as the shopping method of choice, but it’s unusual that they barely left a note for us to remember them by. Perhaps it’s better that they vanished completely, than become a sickly imitation of themselves like Regent Street’s Lilywhites, which went from selling Italian sportswear and the kind of specialist gym equipment that oligarchs would buy to Donnay shoes and Dunlop luggage in a couple of decades. Going there is like visiting your formerly high-flying friend, only to find out that he’s been sacked, disinherited and is living off Nurishment and the occasional Pork Farm product.

For a while, I found myself assuming that Cobra Frontier was just something I dreamt up. I could at least find a picture of a flagship Olympus Sports (nothing else though). I know my more learned friends will be able to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m sure Frontier started as an instore section of Cobra that traded in Timberlands, adidas Adventure, Merrell and Nike ACG, before it became a set of shops (that I’m sure, outlasted or took over standard Cobra Sports doors). Then I found this gloriously basic short film online that looks like it’s from early 1998. Looking like a college project and full of music and the occasional slo-mo blur that defines the era, beyond the skate park footage and obligatory graf, there’s a whole section filmed in a Cobra Frontier branch, with a wall full of Air Max and Terra gems, from a time when B-list celebs wandering out the Met Bar in a yayo daze made trail shoes seem like they’d supersede runners. Sarah Atkins, I salute you for making a trainer documentary that’s almost certainly better than any more ambitious production for those few minutes alone.

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