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SHARP

August 7, 2014

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I didn’t know a great deal about Australia’s sharpie scene other than it involved short on top, long at the back hair and that “Chopper” Read was a member. I picked up Tadhg Taylor’s Top Fellas at the Ditto Press space — a reprint of a book published a decade ago — and it’s a fascinating read. A history of this mod and skin affiliated cult and its boom times and renaissances, it follows the narrative and first-hand tear up tales combination that seems to have served terrace storytelling well for the last few years. Sharp outfits, with their focus on fancy cardigans, aren’t particularly appealing compared to the attire that the history books at least, have attached to other subcultures, but it’s all curious enough to give their world a real character and something that just seems quintessentially Aussie. Even as the thing of theirs faded in the early 1980s, the vast nature of the country made it possible that sharpies could keep existing in small towns, ready to pounce on the unwary and oblivious to their extinction elsewhere — it’s in those strains that the kind of culture mutations that don’t get a book emerge. With their folk devil status in the local press, I wonder if any of the tribal kickings luridly described informed a big export like Mad Max — it definitely made its way into Bert Deling’s cult favourite, Pure Shit, as mentioned in Taylor’s book. Australia has given us a lot of great cinema and that rapid-pace junkie drama (which I’ve seen on YouTube and torrent because the recent triple DVD special edition is hard to find) deserves much more attention — Drugstore Cowboy and Gridlock’d at least feel like they took notes from that obscurity. I urge you to watch Pure Shit if you can and if you’re even vaguely interested in the sharpie movement, pick up Top Fellas soon, because these kinds of things tend to become unavailable pretty swiftly.


The Malcolm McLaren Let It Rock exhibition that ended yesterday as part of the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair looked interesting. Paul Gorman worked with McLaren’s estate to curate it and made a good case to GQ regarding how he and Vivienne Westwood helped forge fashion as we perceive it — his influence on street wear is colossal, but that extends to retail spaces too. This magpie approach to design is echoed in today’s referential t-shirts, hats and sweats. Opinions of McLaren’s business practices are mixed to say the least, but his ability to get a notion manifested into something interesting is undeniable. Paul’s piece on a Little Richard tee design is interesting and seems relevant to the Let It Rock stall back in 1972 at Wembley Stadium. W Magazine‘s coverage takes a look at some key pieces in the exhibition with Malcolm’s partner Young Kim. I still need to see the 1993 Vive Le Punk documentary where the clip above is taken from in its entirety.

The World is Yours is a documentary on the internet’s relationship with redefining hip-hop’s marketing and distribution in recent years. The new kind of self-made artist and their distance from the old system has created something that’s worth exploring — this one’s being funded through Kickstarter and contains some familiar faces and case studies that led us into a realm of struggle A&R acting punch drunk enough to give anyone with a million views a million dollar deal. Still, I’m fascinated by this stuff. Shit, I’d watch a three-hour documentary on the whole Charles Hamilton saga given half the chance.


I think I need Tony Rettman’s oral history of a scene, NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 in our lives. That’s a colossal undertaking and one that invites bitching from anyone who wasn’t included — and it’s a scene with its own share of beefs — but in 450 pages it should deliver an onslaught of hard-living, tough-life, old NYC anecdotes. There’s been other publications on a similar topic, but hopefully this one’s going to be definitive — Rettman’s book on the Detroit scene from a few years back was great and Bazillion Points Books never half step. This arrives close to Christmas.

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CHAMP

August 3, 2014

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After over a decade of Champion as a licensed brand putting its name to some total crap in the UK, a trip to Jacket Required revealed that the brand was coming back in a big way. Whether this deads the brand as a cult object of desire or elevates the power of the C across the board remains to be seen (without Supreme’s co-sign at a collaborative level I’m guessing that this probably wouldn’t actually be happening — I recall meeting dead ends helping a friend try to release a similar collection over here before the Supreme store opened in London), but the (non American-made) product is good — Reverse Weave sweats with the chest and sleeve branding in the orange I always wanted, plus some bold colours that tap into the casual/Paninaro nostalgia as well as the usual skate and hip-hop cues, script sweats with the stripes on the cuffs and waist, plus, controversially, a crew with a vast C that reminded me of the medium-sized tees I was ogling in the nanamica store in Tokyo a couple of months back. My good friend Nick Schonberger hates the latter (which is dropping in five colours) — I’m into it at the moment, but I wish it dropped in Modell’s rather than the spots that might be stocking it alongside generic struggle streetwear on these shores. Looking at the IG debate when size? announced their Champion offerings, it looks like there’s still some damage control needed to give the brand the status it once had and sell sweats around the 80 quid mark. At least this product (which I believe is being distributed by the same company that’s putting the Canadian-made Todd Snyder pieces into top-tier stores) ticks a few boxes on a few wish lists in terms of details. Not bad.

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If you pretend that nothing New Order-related has happened since early 2005 and ignore the beefs, the DJ gigs, the new lineups and the kind of person who won’t stop telling you how ace they were live at the The Haçienda or wherever they changed their life, they’re still a great, great band with an incredible visual identity. The 2010 Rizzoli Joy Division book that compiled Kevin Cummins’ images of the band was pretty good and next year they’re releasing New Order, a book of Cummins’ New Order photographs. The last book had Jay McInerney on intro duties and this time they’ve drafted in Douglas Coupland to pen the introduction. Nice cover.

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NAUGHTY

July 31, 2014

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(Image by Ernie Paniccioli from Free Stylin’)

Watching Onyx carry on during The Breakfast Club as if the last 21 years never happened, with Envy’s important question about them firing blanks during their Source Award appearance cut off by some haggard mad facing reminded me of how much I wanted an Onyx hockey shirt or black denim jacket back then— I never saw the official Slammin’ Gear versions of the quilted vest in the UK. While April Walker’s contribution to the industry is well-documented, I feel that it should always be reiterated whenever possible — we all know about Walker Wear (whose hoodies seemed more minimal than anything else on the hip-hop brand side of things) which was on the back of any thug rapper of influence, back when a giant mustard waistcoat with fireman jacket fastenings was a thing. The Walker Wear logo was incredibly effective on chests and heads and her connections got it everywhere, but April Walker’s styling work was incredible too — she was key to putting Starter and Nike on in Another Bad Creation, R Kelly and LL Cool J album covers and videos, but her decision to put Jodeci in Hi-Tec Magnum boots (possibly the only legit moment in Hi-Tec’s history) was pioneering in bringing rugged looks to R&B. She also designed Onyx’s mad face logo — this piece from last year is still essential.

Naughty By Nature always seemed to have the best rap merchandise pre Wu-Wear (bar Public Enemy, NWA, Run-DMC or those Sleeping Bag jackets that cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars that were advertised in the EPMD sleeve) and for reasons unknown, I was preoccupied with getting some Naughty Gear denim in 1994. Treach, Vinnie and Kay Gee set the brand off in 1993 and opened a store in Newark, New Jersey the following year. Building on the “Down with O.P.P” tee and Naughty by Nature underwear, plus a knack for merchandising since the New Style era (the connection to master merchandisers Tommy Boy probably didn’t hurt either), given Treach’s patronage of Walker Wear, I’m certain April Walker played a role. This piece from Yo! MTV Raps back in 1995 (recorded in bad quality but essential nonetheless) showcases the store as well as a trip to a hardware store to get chains, plus a Timberland mission too. In that video, Vinnie reveals that Naughty Gear jeans were made by Ruff Era, a frequent advertiser in The Source, who sold stiff, voluminous jeans. Savvy choices of collaborator and Vinnie’s decision to build the brand beyond just local screen printing paid off, but when the band started beefing in the late 1990s when urban wear really started popping, their licensing deals to make Naughty Gear, Inc. more profitable suffered. I’m not saying Naughty Gear was classic, but Naughty By Nature’s visual identity very smart indeed. Now Naughty Gear looks a little more basic.

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South Beach colours on a Wildwood should be the worst thing ever, but these impending versions are decent. Still the greatest all-round All Conditions Gear shoe of all-time — the mystery of why this Pegasus remix existed around the time that the Pegasus ACG and Pegasus A/T were sold remains, but this always seemed closer to Escape spirit.

LAW

July 27, 2014

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During a recent chat regarding the documentation of youth culture, a few issues came up: sure, we have Tumblr, IG and the rest — a constant feed of DIY documentation — but the self-taken shot can often lose spontaneity. Will the selfie hold up as a document of subcultures? Is anyone taking shots of real life? Are we still not seeing the woods for the trees? Are we assuming that a few square miles of London represent reality for a majority? Are normal human beings still out of the picture, despite a sense of social-media assisted democracy these days? How does street style photography of the denizens of an action sports and street wear even work? Are destined to always overlook the characters, nuances and eccentricities that define British culture because of some ill-fated assumption that youth culture as a whole as become a homogenous blob that unites hip-hop and art while wearing black, slim-fitting drop-crotch tracksuit bottoms from Zara?

Thankfully, there’s a few outlets that present reality beautifully and the biannual LAW (Lives and Works) is one of the best. They even seem to be branching into clothing, but issue five of the magazine — which is usually well worth the twelve quid or so it costs — is free at a selection of stores and galleries around the country. Even the propaganda-style ads displayed in a classic lost pet style are beautiful. The promo video for the new issue explores the life of the bookie at Peterborough dog track — not your average spot to use for promoting a publication and pleasantly devoid of the 1994-era Blur romanticism of working class pursuits. LAW taps into something that a lot of other media outlets seem to ignore.

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While I’ve never managed to grab a copy of Neville Brody and Kez Glozier’s The New British magazine (is there actually an issue in existence beyond issue #0?) despite waiting almost three years to get my hands on it, they’ve been busy in the interim and produced a 25-minute film called RELEASE that’s directed by Glozier and dedicated to the UK shuffling phenomenon that seemed to divide club goers over the last couple of years. The film explores the connection between this and old world jazz dancing (which connects to the British jazz dance scene of the 1980s), with screenings in early August. Here’s a (non-embeddable) trailer.

RESELLERS

July 20, 2014

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The world of footwear reselling is nothing new. People act like it was invented last week and while the Dunk played a heavy role in resell as we know it, it actually pre-empts the SB. Between 1996 and 1998, local newspapers in the USA were scattered with tales of the goldmine sitting in Americans’ attics, as Japanese kids were willing to spend big on their old shoes. In the mid 1990s, Japan had the shoe boom that never seemed to hit the western world until around half a decade later. The Nike Air Max 95’s role in this was substantial (the Jordan XI played a role too) with the shoe selling out and becoming one of the first shoes beyond the Jordan I or made in France Superstars I ever heard silly resell prices quoted for (though X-Large and Acupuncture were selling all things old school for a fair amount — and the hiked price on obscurities was an age-old phenomenon). In fact, a spate of Japanese AM95 (and, as I recall, AM97) robberies in Osaka even got column inches.

Post AM95 there seemed to be a surge in interest in AJ1s, Terminators, Pythons and mid 1980s basketball, but around 1997/98, the Dunk was the most sought after. That led to the sumo ads (sorry, no Force, Flight, Pegasus, Nike Air, Triax or Zoom — an indicator as to what was hot in Tokyo that year) that did the rounds urging small-town Americans to have a dig and make some money. Above, you can see another example of those ads, via the Grand Rapids-based Small Earth company. I’ve thrown a scattering of the column inches of the time, including a Michigan-based newspaper’s account of the far eastern popularity of their university’s colours on the Dunk.

The documentation of this phenomenon was a little warning (including accounts of unwary owners digging out old Daybreaks, Legends and French-made Concords to make a quick buck, plus Japanese collectors’ ability to spot the difference between 1985 Jordan Is and 1994 ones) about the hype to come, but it’s little surprise that some shelves and lofts were probably dry on the deadstock side of things once America realised it wanted to stock up on colourways too. Stop acting like this is a contemporary phenomenon.

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(Image of the Small Earth owners from the Cincinatti Enquirer)

WHEN FREELOADING GOES BAD

July 16, 2014

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There’s a lot of freeloaders out there. I’ve seen people skirmish and bruised friendships over the Gollum-like effects of shoe envy. Tell grown men of almost any financial background that there’s free footwear out there and they’ll start scheming to make sure that they get their size, a size down, a size up, their girl’s size or something just to avoid feeling left out. It has that kind of power. Back in May 1989, Lincoln, Nebraska’s police force created a fake shoe store setup with the worst hand drawn signage of all time to dupe several alleged crooks with outstanding arrest warrants into thinking they were going to get some free adidas or Avia shoes. And, like Homer Simpson turning up for a sting to get his free boat, they turned up at the ‘Grabar Athletic Footwear Inc’ — a play on the old prison nickname ‘greybar hotel‘ and a proto popup store of sorts — to get their tennis shoes and even filled out an athletic needs questionnaire that was actually their arrest paperwork in disguise. There’s some good footage of the sparse and suspect looking store space and gullible victims in this HLN YouTube upload. I thought this kind of thing only ever happened in comedies, but it’s all very real. In 2014, I’m inclined to think that Air Jordan giveaways in a reopened Grabar could still pull in a few fugitives. One day, somebody should turn this into an Argo style movie adaptation.

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