Tag Archives: troop

URBAN VS. STREET

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I never understood the streetwear and urban wear differentiation — if it isn’t sportswear and it isn’t surf or skate wear (and there’s plenty of grey area there), what is it? Why ghettoise apparel? Urban wear has been treated strangely, especially now the new FUBU is Raf-alikes by folks who wish that they were weird. Let’s not sweep the brands that burnt brightly in their heyday — the black-owned lines that paved the way, and the cash-ins too— beneath the carpet by pretending that we never wore them. Especially because folks who learnt their trade in the class of 1990s and early 2000s urban wear are the ones calling some senior shots at Nike Sportswear, Jordan Brand and adidas Originals. Karl Kani was streetwear, Cross Colours was streetwear, Maurice Malone was streetwear…any brand that gets kept out of the conversation with a hip-hop centric POV is streetwear. The perception that every rapper is dressed like General Zod or Rusty after he steps out the Rome boutique in National Lampoon’s European Vacation is erroneous — Bobby Shmurda’s G-Stars and Fetty Wap’s bejewelled True Religions are a testament to that. I’m happy to see that April Walker’s Walker Wear is back and collaborating with another of my teenage brands of choice, Starter — Walker’s boyfriend is former Giants linebacker Carl Banks, who has a substantial stake in the Starter company. I spent a lot of time trying to hunt down that WW logo before I ever had access to the WWW, but my grail was always the plate hoody by Karl Kani and it’s interesting to see that the current 1990s nostalgia boom has led to a reissue of this gold-plated design (incidentally, I was thrown when I spotted a Karl Kani store in Harajuku recently) that recently appeared on Kani’s Instagram (though the fit looks a little slimmer than it did in late 1994). It’s unlikely that I’d ever wear one again, but I’m glad that a pioneer could make some coin from it rather than an unofficial homage. Soon, Skepta’s current ascent is going to bring back the spirit of Dee Cee Clothes N Garms, with an Akademiks and Lake Elsinore New Era revival, so you should get familiar anyway.

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Troop was, famously, not black-owned. That’s why false allegations of racism damaged the brand like they did back in the late 1980s. With its athletic-inspired luxury looks, over the top use of pattern and insane detailing (outsoles based on a map of the Bronx being a personal favourite), it’s a company that was key to me taking an interest in the things I have a tendency to discuss here. That Fila-esque T, the sponsorships, the insane price tags and the strange world of Troop licensing (the feature on the UK wing of Troop from a 2006 Sneaker Freaker is essential reading) and the speed in which the brand ceased to be makes it ripe for revisiting. Enough time has passed that the brand is worthy of a revisit whether you hated it in 1988 or not (the fact they sponsored LL Cool J and hooked up Stetsasonic made them instantly cool to me as a youngster, and cash-in or not, an early brand rooted purely in hip-hop) — that the minds behind the brand had the balls to launch it in the first place and turn it into a brief phenomenon is an amazing feat. SPX will always be trash to me though. I’m unlikely to ever wear a pair, or bust out a Hi-Deal graphic shell suit but I always though that this was another brand that deserved to be revisited properly. It made a brief comeback that bricked in 2003 and Nelly tried to relaunch it in 2008 — now the line seems to be returning via the same squad that resurrected Ewing Athletics, which means that the abundance of extra details, like hangtags banging on about madcap, placebo-effect cushioning innovations will be back too. As with the Ewing site, the newly launched World of Troop site has some great archive imagery on it (see above and below) that’s worth checking out, and if you’ve been waiting decades to finally own a pair of Ice Lambs (did the 2008 reissue even happen in the end?) and a leather jacket with flock lettering, you just lucked out.

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While we’re talking unfounded racism rumours, I never thought I’d find myself gripped by footage of people flexing their Tommy Hilfiger Team Lotus thrift store come ups until I found myself watching hours of thrift store “unbagging” videos on YouTube. Try it, and tall me that you don’t end up disappearing into a 45 minute session, with at least two finds that have you cursing the lack of similar spots near you. Videos based in stores are doomed to end up having that Discovery Channel scripted drama applied, but the folks who run Round Two, a second-hand shoe and clothing spot in Richmond Virginia, have a popular Vimeo documentary series that’s genuinely likeable. Going on the North Face and Polo gear they wear each episode, Richmond is a good thrift spot, and in episode #2, when one of the store’s owners rushes in to announce that he found a Hilfiger Lotus five-panel for the princely sum of 22 cents I won’t pretend that I wasn’t faintly exhilarated at the prospect that bargains like that still occur in the eBay age. I’ll take that drama over some scripted beef.

TASK FORCE

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I think I’ve got a grip on the origins of pretty much every brand that had an impact on me during my childhood, but after they imploded, a lot of hip-hop cash-in companies didn’t leave much of a trail. While it’s easy to chuckle at the fly-by-night imprints that put out pricey outerwear then vanished and dismiss them as tat, what’s the difference between a Troop jacket and whatever godawful brand is hopping on floral prints right now? Nothing. Task Force remains a curiosity — just as Troop was booming, pre-KKK rumours (which I’ve always assumed were spread by a rival brand), their Jewish and Korean brand partnership seemed to spawn a ton of similar business models. I’ll concede that I thought Task Force was a sibling of Troop because I though it had a man with the surname Kim as an owner, like Troop’s William Kim. Then I found out just how common the Kim name is in Korea. Task Force put out jackets and shoes like Down Troop Sport’s output that were on sale in spots like London’s 4 Star General (which automatically, unquestionably made them seem credible to me), but looking back at them (it was the eBay-induced flashback of the Jekel stadium jacket where the below label is from that had me in nostalgia mode), the gear was pretty crap.

What I do know about Task Force is that it was a trademark of Eddy Sports Wear Inc. who were based in Brooklyn. Jekel was an Eddy brand who operated circa 1987-1989 who put out ski jackets, Task Force and the Extra Goose line (I’m assuming that the Eddy and Extra Goose thing wasn’t an Eddie Bauer rip). The names Jung Kuen Lee and Paul Siegert come up as folks involved in the company at a senior level, and it’s worth noting that New York’s garment district was awash with feather-filled lines around 1987 – Double Goose (I started assembling a Double Goose article that never got used and Thomas who obtained the DG licence told me, “Regarding the brand, we found out about the original owner by asking in Orchard street’s leather stores! He was an American-Korean living in NY”), Triple F.A.T. Goose and Goose Country were all doing their thing then too, which explains the strange trinity of Jekel, Task Force and Extra Goose on some badges on Task Force pieces. I’m sure Task Force made an appearance at the V&A’s Black British Style exhibition back in 2004, but I’ve seen little since. Their trademark expired in 1989 after being registered in 1988, which coincides with Troop’s collapse.

Normally I approach these blog entries with a certain confidence, but I know very little about this topic (this is just built on scraps), so if anybody knows more or has any Task Force shoe imagery, I’d love to see them. It might have been exploitative, badly designed and overpriced, but it’s not like brands are still pulling similar moves to channel a current zeitgeist and Task Force deserves a little spotlight if we’re trying to complete the bigger picture when it comes to UK street fashion throughout the years.

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THE SECOND COMING

I’ve moaned about Fila on here and the impending resurrection of Ewing has made me a little thirsty for the gear that got away. Fortunately David Goldberg and his team bringing Ewing back have done things the right way, but maintaining the packaging and the extras that made those shoes so desirable. Goldberg and the crew also seem to be aficionados of that shoe too. A couple of years prior to Ewing debuting, gaudy sportswear from rebel brands seemed to be sprouting up everywhere, but unlike Patrick’s indie endeavour, the product hasn’t aged particularly gracefully. There was a point when I would have gladly pressed a button to kill someone somewhere in the world to lay my hands on a pair of Troop Cobras and the fame I would have obtained for one school term in 1988, but the shoe with the ‘Cooling System’ hasn’t held up particularly well and the Ghostface-endorsed early 2000s retros bricked. Travel Fox’s mooted comeback never happened, British Knights was always terrible and SPX was always sub-Troop to me (endorsing Lennox always seemed like a bland move too) – something that the reissues with the terrible boombox packaging reiterated. The late 1980s sportswear boom is something that’s probably better left as a hazy overpriced memory I remember with a certain fondness, rather than anything I’d actually wish to revisit at a product level. This piece from February 1989’s issue of ‘The Face’ about the “second coming” of sportswear has some gems in it — it plugs fake Troop, import Filas, Junior Gaultier and talks of a time when Slam City Skates sold Converse Cons and LA Gear apparel. AXO BMX trousers, Aquaboy and God sportswear don’t seem to have opted for a resurrection. The guy in the Stussy sweat and Haring hat got lucky.

The new ‘Proper’ is out and it’s another departure for the magazine in terms of looks after its recent perfect-bound redux. A new logo, extra sheen, Eoin MacManus on art direction and plenty of ‘Hikerdelia’ themed content makes it one of the few proper (sorry, that was actually unintentional) magazines worth tracking down. ‘Proper’ has a voice (plus a fuckload of good puns) and it’s a very rare thing these days. Plus, it’s a little-known fact that only northerners can write about parkas and rucksacks properly. Interviews with Fabio Cavina from The 12th Man on the subject of Paninaro fashions and best of all, a piece by Bruce Johnson, the man behind the History of Gear site. If you don’t live near any fancy shops, you can buy ‘Proper’ #12 here.

‘Rocky V’ is a crappy film, but watching it last night, as well as being a little more moved by the conclusion than before after Sage Stallone’s passing, I was reminded that it has some of the greatest graffiti of any big Hollywood production. I put that down to Stallone handing directorial reigns back to the man behind the first film. This is when nepotism goes very right. Not only does JA have a cameo in the film, but he’s turned loose for the set of the final conflict. Did he get to bring Sane and Smith on board or did he pay tribute to them by himself? I’ve never known. Sane’s untimely passing would have been several months after the film’s production would have ended.

CAMEO HAIRCUTS

Socialising, taxes and other matters have hindered my blogging aptitude this week, so all I can do today is recycle other things and call myself a “content creator” or “curator” or whatever. First things first, I finally saw this Supreme shoot by Tyrone Lebon in the new ‘Arena Homme+’ (which has an interesting take on the Osti archive in it) that I wrote some accompanying text for. It was fun to mention 2 Chainz in a writeup for ‘Arena’ but my scanning skills are weak so I lost the left side of the pages, so if you want to read what I wrote (and it’ll teach you veterans absolutely nothing new about the brand), you’ll have to buy it or go and treat WH Smiths like a library. Shouts to Rory for listing me as a “contributing editor” though — that’s fake importance at its best.

For reasons unknown, I’ve been pondering the mystery of Task Force jackets and the lesser-seen Task Force shoes today. That warrants the wholesale theft of pieces from the ‘Spin’ magazine b-boy special of 1988 that included Doctor Dre (as in the Original Flavor/MTV Raps Dre) breaking down some slang, Flav in Troop and some MCM and Dapper Dan talk, Big Daddy Kane on Cameo haircuts, ‘DMC’s Culinary Guide to Queens’ taking you around some of the boroughs’ finest junk food spots and a meeting-of-minds with Fab 5 Freddy and the legendary Max Roach. It’s naive with the benefit of retrospect, but there’s a lot of fun content here from a deeply significant year — the inclusion of DMC and the next wave who’d take the baton and take their shine makes it doubly interesting.

I have to take some time out to salute my friend Sharmadean Reid for putting out ‘The WAH Nails Book of Nail Art.’ I’m unlikely to get a Nike Safari print on my thumbnail anytime soon, but the book’s a smart distillation of the whole WAH worldview into a hardback book with plenty of cues from the ‘WAH’ fanzines in there too. Now everybody’s on that hop into print wave, but Sharma was putting out her own magazine (complete with Ecko sponsorship) before she hit 20. The spirit of ‘Sassy’ is peppered throughout all things ‘WAH’ (salutes to the Monster Children crew for finding away around the deletion of ‘Sassy’ spinoff ‘Dirt’s lost issue #8) but crucially, it offers a whole lifestyle angle that’s oddly aspirational. Let’s note forget hat most of this blog is a flagrant bite of the WAH blog circa 2006. Shar’s more of a role model than most of the males I’ve dealt with in this industry, many of a whom are backstabbing, two-faced bunch of burnt out chancers. But that’s a rant for another day. Salutes to Sharmadean and the WAH team.

THE UK RAP AESTHETIC

When it comes to the UK hip-hop look and sound, someone’s changed their tune in a major way. I wrote the following in 2008-

“It’s one thing being harassed by charity muggers on the hunt for your sort code on a busy shopping street or having a long distance phonecard thrust upon you at every turn, but the enterprising characters trying to get their Percee on and shift a CD-R because you look like a likely hip-hop consumer (at the age of 30, a massive insult) are the new menace. It’s not even a mixtape. It’s just some UK bloke in beat shoes with hotrock burnt tracky bottoms on with tired bars, recycling Heatmakerz instrumentals. The British rap scene absorbed itself, slowly dissolving, eroded by its own weak attitude while grime kids grafted, battled and shamelessly self-promoted.

Feeling liberated by the joy of feeling absolutely nothing when someone dressed like Barry George demands that we support “the homegrown” — stripped of eccentricity, humour, originality and a deeply dull preoccupation that rhyming off the noggin is the be all and end all (see also, Skillz and Supernatural) it simply devolved. The sense of obligation, that “putting in work” meant pressing up complete shit, sulking, sitting in a bedsit, sick with the bitterness of decades spent practising tags, backspinning and writing rhymes with deliberate references to Pat Butcher and Blair to assert UK status is over. As far as rap goes, keep on outsourcing.

To the angry local lyricists—speed up those rhymes, study Hijack, mention more sorcery and exorcism and fuck off to Germany. Your Britcore sound might earn you a Euro and floor to sleep on. Meanwhile, across the pond, those effortless Parisians can merge rap and graf with no trace of corniness. Extra points for the double time flows and nice jackets.”

Call me shallow, but beyond some tinny sonics and a small-minded worldview that hindered the sound of hip-hop, the look alienated me too. Raised as I was on rappers posing outside the Gee Street offices in head-to-toe Troop and Reebok (back when Reebok was aspirational), or Hip Hop Connection shots of UK crews in Chipie, Air Max Lights, Africa pendants and pinrolls, things just seemed to get squalid. Local rap just became an embarrassment, split into two factions – the night where grime was slightly slowed to a half-arsed mulch of screwfaces and attitude, and the dogs-on-strings, balding with a beer belly beneath a faded Stones Throw fun-free student-friendly headnod, no hint of populism evenings. I never felt either scenes. To truly conquer, I wanted to hear kids on the street listening to UK rap, and for cohesive long-players that weren’t just bought out of sympathy for the scene’s bedraggled patrons. When I saw the atrocious artwork for Blade’s ‘Guerilla Tactics’ I just walked away. I didn’t look back.

Years prior, London MCs looked aspirational. They might have been skint, but they didn’t have the spliff-yellowed forefingers or stretch-necked tees. Unless you’re really good, I don’t want to see a rapping tramp. Album covers were lurid but not lurid good. I don’t hold US rap up as a hotbed of superior design, but there’s weak, and there’s a friend from the call-centre day job’s desktop publishing software. Bar the fine work of Big Dada, and superior mixtape artworkers with international clients like Deftone, great UK rap covers were a ’90s thing. ‘Horns of Jericho’s over-literal underground with punk rock cut and paste, ‘Gangster Chronicle’s newspaper and (the overlooked) ‘Elementalz’s Dave McKean art. An extra mention for Bite It! records’ Little Pauly Ryan sleeve.

It could’ve been amazing. MC Duke’s semi-famous stately home ‘Organised Rhyme’ photoshoot, draped in tweed and gold was some Andre 3000 antics long before ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’…even on that debut ‘Dre was a Jordan man. Of course, the Krown Rulers ‘Paper Chase’ album sleeve in chainmail with a castle behind them  was marginally more gentrified, but to a young ‘un, a presumably underpaid (from rap anyway) Duke seemed as flossy as Big Daddy Kane. He also turned up a few years later in a full Burberry suit. A few decades later? Shabbiness reigned supreme. Then UK rap went pop with the appalling N-Dubz, Tinchy and Pro Green, Plan B got wacker. In 2010, the F64 era brought the faith back. All blacked-out in their attire, at least Strapzy, Giggs, Skanx bring a certain swagger where desperation once ruled the scene. I even like SAS’s work more, shorn of that Dipset affiliation. My expectations for the Trident-baiting Giggs’ new album (and XL debut) ‘Let Em Ave It’ are high, but I’m undecided on that artwork. A garish blend of 2000AD, naivety, and akin to a cautionary government-funded pamphlet handed out in an upper school, at least he tried. Any unexpectedly odd touch like that warrants a celebration. Long may this momentum continue.

However, my Gallic preoccupation still remains. Despo Rutti is that dude. This is hard too –

"DON'T FAKE THE FUNK ON A NASTY DUNK"

Fig. 1 – A fake Jordan release.

Sorry. Couldn’t find one piece of info for a blog on Soho books and literary influence. So I trawled the harddrive in the meantime and found this rambling nonsense. Apologies that it’s based around athletic footwear, and apologies that it makes sweeping generalisations, assumptions and swoops across entire histories incoherently. It was scrapped for that very reason. In fact, reading back through it, I hate this piece.  It does however, fill my OCD for semi-regular blog updates and allows me to sleep tonight.

Even if you’re a blog scribe, hardened by the occasional bone thrown by brands to keep your tail wagging and your site as sycophantic as possible, there’s a sense of righteousness that makes itself known when fakes get discussed. Mainly because regardless of how many decades spent poring over Far Eastern catalogue magazines, store shelves and Runner’s Worlds, the majority, whether they care to admit it, have had their fingers burnt by unscrupulous imitators. It’s a climate of fear.

Continue reading "DON'T FAKE THE FUNK ON A NASTY DUNK"

TRAVEL FOX & THE ART OF 'CASUALETICS'

Blog post from May 2009.

Every decade seems to get an excessive epilogue. The ’60s had team Manson on the loose. The ’70s saw Spielberg set the hit or miss megabudget tone when ‘1941’ flopped. The ’80s had Travel Fox. Something of a mystery to me at the time, the late ’80s were a breeding ground of new shoe brands. Whether indeed they actually served an athletic purpose was superfluous.

Continue reading TRAVEL FOX & THE ART OF 'CASUALETICS'