Tag Archives: shirt kings

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.

KINGS FROM QUEENS

Big up Kyle Lilly for uploading a little slice of locally broadcast hip-hop fashion history. Video Explosion was a Yo! MTV Raps style show that, as I understand, was screened regionally from Queens. There’s a lot of great footage from the program out there, but this clip features DJ Finesse getting his Fab 5 Freddy on and visiting the Shirt Kings store in Jamaica Queens’ Coliseum Mall to interview Kasheme and Nike (this seems to be a post-Phade iteration of the business) from the crew with a giant microphone. If you haven’t already picked up the book from a couple of years back, do it before it becomes extortionately priced in specialist stores or on Amazon Marketplace — it’s an essential document of an important moment in streetwear history. An expansion into London is mentioned here and it’s something I wish I’d seen happen. You don’t see a lot of footage of the Shirt Kings store in action, even if it’s a later version, so this is very rare indeed.

CATCH THE PHADE

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I’m looking forward to seeing CNN and Mass Appeal’s Fresh Dressed when it hits Vimeo at the end of the month (and I go through the inevitable exasperating process of finding a proxy that isn’t part of some baby-eating botnet in order to rent it). The clip below has some good Dapper Dan and Shirt Kings talk with Phade and Nas, and I’ll admit to being oblivious that there really is a man called Willie Esco (who the gentleman behind the Coogi reboot) — I thought that the was named after some Nas alter-ego from when he put out two albums in one year and I wasn’t paying attention properly. Is Sir Benni Miles a real guy too? I would merrily Kickstarter the hell out of a 30 For 30 series of two-hour explorations of late 1990s rap gear. The Damani Dada episode could feature Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber (in fact, Webber talking his way through how he managed to go from Nike Air CWs to chromed-out Dada shoes in seven years would be a fascinating standalone). Phade seems to have a documentary called Never Phaded coming soon too that was put together after the recent Supreme and Stüssy collaborations.





With it being the 20th anniversary of Kids, Larry Clark’s classic butterscotch-smelling, heavy-flowing morality tale, the internet has been heavy with the trivia we already knew. I hadn’t spotted this brief Javier Nunez interview that was filmed in Tokyo and upped a year or so ago, or — if you can deal with the hosts cackling like they did Whip-Its, this Cutting Room Movie Podcast chat with Leo Fitzpatrick. Nunez being genuinely out for the count for Kids’ ending, and the story of how Fitzpatrick nearly lost a limb are just a couple of the jewels that emerge from these conversations.

OLD MUSIC

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Forget a pop-up store or concept “space.” In 1986, they were shifting Air Jordan 1s from DIY stores. Lightbulbs, a grass trimmer and some cut-price metallic swoosh AJ1s were all available in one Sunday afternoon shop. No queuing needed.

After What We Do Is Secret and The Runaways turned out to be quite good despite my skepticism, I should be optimistic about CBGB. Crap poster aside, Malin Ackerman looks the part for Debbie Harry and there’s a slew of regular-looking folk playing some iconic degenerates, but I bet it’s not close to being as good as Times Square was or that scene in the otherwise abysmal The Beat where The Cro-Mags play at the Ritz. Not looking forward to the Evening Standard putting a model in a Television tee, studs and Chucks around the time of its release though.

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I’m hyped for this mysterious Soulland and Goodhood collaboration project, right now — definitely keen to find out what it is. I’m also hyped for any footwear that uses retroreflective sheeting in excess at the moment. Scotchlite can improve most footwear just like GORE-TEX does. A flash test can make middling shoes excellent — a case in point being these Cris Carter Nike Free Trainer 5.0. Break out the flash and the speckled 3M weave is an atomic blast that the Vikings colourway completely conceals. Sports shops should unleash random flashlights to reveal this kind of thing.

On the 3M topic (in so far as it has a mention of a shoe with a Scotchlite tongue), catching the 3rd Bass reunion show made me feel deeply old and reminded me to be careful what I wish for. Rappers who made it look effortless in 1990 need to make more effort 23 years on, but these guys look like they’ve been chanted up during an office Christmas party. Daddy Rich still seems to deliver, but I wish this had happened around 1999 when Ichabod’s Cranium was on the cards. Shit, I think I liked it when it was all patchy 1992/93 solo albums and threats. Is there any footage of them performing at Andy Hilfiger’s birthday party anywhere online so I can pretend that was the last live performance from them? I choose to remember them like this: a Jordan V clad Serch presenting Keenen Ivory Wayans with a Shirt Kings likeness of himself on a white sweat and Pete lurking around that stage in a tan suit while Jim Carrey looks on. Where’s rap’s Bruce Springsteens who can just deliver a better show with age? That downtime can make you into rap karaoke. Still, I bet I’d be beating my chest like that NWA dude when the 21st century 3rd Bass performed Brooklyn Queens. If you’re gonna be older and revisit past glory, you need to come correct like this.

1990:

2013 (via Grandgood):

HEROES IN PRINT

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James Hyman is the guy who resisted the voices telling him to get rid of his magazine collection. I’ve been weak and thrown away my favourites and, contrary to tech prophets, never seen the content that’s slowly fading from my memory, like a paperback on the windowsill, anywhere online. As a testament to Hyman’s hoarder mentality, his archive contains 450 crates and 52,004 issues of 2,448 unique publications. There’s titles in there that the internet doesn’t even mention once. I could spend a long, long, long time just browsing old Sources and Faces to bring some colour back to those eroded psychological snapshots. Check out the Hyman Archive right here (and I’m not just saying that because I’m quoted at the start of the video.

Kelefah Sanneh’s profile of Daniel ‘Dapper Dan’ Day in this week’s New Yorker (complete with a Louis Vuitton ad on the back cover) is tremendous. It places what Dan created in a greater context, discussing the (il)legalities of his work, talking to Tyson, breaking down the infamous ‘Alpo Coat’ with the gun pocket, the connection between the audacious hustler outfits and Africa, the previously undocumented part of his career where he bootlegged Timberland and Guess, Fat Joe’s status as a longtime customer and how Floyd Mayweather Jr. still works with him. It’s the reason magazines are important and it’s tremendous that they gave it 8 pages — a story that needed to be told given the position it deserved. The Man Who Dressed Hip-Hop is up there with some of the great articles on the subject. Go buy it if you’re trapped outside their paywall (Calvin Tomkins’ When Punk Becomes Art piece is good too). It’s a shame that the blogsphere lacks the attention span or reverence to put out something this comprehensive that celebrates a figure whose contribution to the streetwear and high-end collision that causes queues today. Hyman’s horde is proof that print still has an aura and depth, and this is proof that print is still extremely relevant.

While we’re on the subject of entrepreneurial New Yorkers who inadvertently spawned strains of hip-hop fashion that built empires, it’s worth (air)brushing up on Phade of Shirt Kings (who’s putting out a book next month) and his work via this 6 minute documentary. Dues are being paid and it’s better late than never.


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Fast-forwarding to hip-hop style in 2013, Gunplay’s Allhiphop weed-addled post-house arrest video shows him wearing a Supreme-style tee that’s Tumblr fake in its brazen knockoff status. I don’t now who Specials are, but I know that’s not a Terry Hall or Jerry Dammers collab right there. Even that bellend from Made in Essex buys his own stuff from the store. The expression on Gunplay’s face indicates that he probably doesn’t know what it says anyway. Homages of homages are weak— like when Bobby Davro used to parody Smashy and Nicey on Rock With Laughter (I’m glad he smashed his face open for that one). Does anyone else remember the glut of fake Supreme tees in TK Maxx circa 2003 with the box logos on the back? Smedium Exploited shirts next to the Full Circle garms, plus knockoff Bounty Hunter and Recon. I’ve always wanted to know where they came from.

Finally, shouts to Jian from Four Pins for the shout in this interview right here. I like how haunted menswear blogging is by the realisation that it’s just an ordered cluster of natural shouldered jackets, denim, leather accessories, technical runners, NATO straps and factory tours. It tries to skip from menswear to fashion but then it’s all lost like Marcus Brody at the fair in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s like getting upset because other people like wearing trousers. As long as men wear stuff, then menswear will probably be quite a popular thing.

I find that if I look too far into how facile my lifestyle is, I find myself staring into the abyss and realize that every aspect of my existence is an irrelevance. So to all the worriers — just keep posting lookbooks and don’t think about it too much. I read about some guy going crazy from studying quantum mechanics because it rendered all he knew irrelevant and I heard talk of post-menswear can do that too. Just wear your gear and accept that the post-apocalypse world will not require stylists, writers or curators.

Jian, Jon Moy and the Four Pins squad do an excellent job of writing in a learned snarky manner that I respect, making it one of the rare sites on its chosen subjects that I return to (I tell everyone else that I do, but I don’t). I hope it spawns a new wave of blogging on shoes, clothes and related matters, because most people are still covering stuff as if they’re describing it to their grandparents. In an age of unauthoritative authorities, Four Pins is one of the few voices that’s on point. /enddickriding

HOLY SHIT, THERE’S A SHIRT KINGS BOOK

Schemed a blog entry on the train then found out another better blog had done it already. I was going to blog about the Nike & Stüssy project but there’s about 3,000 things about it on the internet already — needless to say, I’m extremely grateful that Adam and Jorge (a phenomenal designer) let me write some stuff and Eric Elms was kind enough to put me in touch with those guys. I missed out on the opportunity to work in a period of advertising I worship and they retroed an aesthetic beautifully in #the #hashtag #era. But you can Google that and see better coverage. As I wait for a Rizzoli Dapper Dan retrospective to sit alongside the Hussein Chalayan book, I’ve been looking back at a couple of gems that capture the naivety of Euro teen hip-hop obsession as well as a time when you weren’t so jaded that you didn’t look at your new shoe/track top/cap/t-shirt last thing before the lights went off at night. Now we’re all scheming the next purchase before the email confirmation of commerce even arrives. That’s why I loved Dokument Press’s ‘Cause We Got Style!’ last year, laden with plenty of pasty faces pulling off b-boy poses in gear that almost certainly required some fraternal hookups and pen friend behaviour as well as complicated – and perilous — modes of payment by mail. European hip-hop posing in 2012 doesn’t seem as fun.

‘Cause We Got Style’ was a fine supplement to the Cold War East Germany hip-hop scene documentary, ‘Here We Come’ — further proof that Europeans rival our friends in Japan on the obsession front and manage to make good use of scant resources like some sub-cultural survivalists. Dokument are dropping something equally exciting in April 2013 with the release of ‘Shirt Kings — Pioneers of Hip-Hop Fashion’ by Edwin “PHADE” Sacasa and Ket. PHADE and his NYC crew’s contribution to the print t-shirt, hip-hop style and as a result, street style as a whole is substantial and 144 pages of Shirt Kings is a serious prospect, given how popular a mere scattering of images from blogs and PHADE’s MySpace of happy Shirt Kings’ customers proved. I’ve always wondered how many of the shoes in those shots came from the legendary Mitch’s shoe spot near the Shirt Kings set up and Eddie Plein’s OG gold grill location. This is a promising publication — salutes to Dokument for putting out this kind of thing.

That was an anaemic Wednesday entry — I promise I’ll make it up to you.

In the meantime, go read the new issue of Oi Polloi’s Pica~Post here. On the subject of re appropriation and style, there’s a good interview with Olmes Carretti the man behind Best Company in there — a brand worn by some top boys as well as Russ Abbott in the ‘Atmosphere’ video. Carretti’s own website is a treasure trove of Euro ads for his brands, including a ton from ten years of Best Company. Is that coke or snow on that guy’s nose?