It’s going to take a lot of nostalgia offsetting to make up for this one, but a video of a decent BFI Q&A from James Lavelle’s Meltdown to coincide with their screening of 1988’s Bombin’ is online, with filmmaker Dick Fontaine (who also directed 1984’s Beat This! — a huge influence on a generation who are currently tutting at the culture like their parents tutted at them when they sat down in front of the TV back in the mid 1980s to watch it for the umpteenth time), Lavelle and Goldie in conversation. Obviously the usual Bambaataa/Flash chatter is there but Goldie makes some good points about obtaining objects of clothing that are a Google search away now and the almost otherworldly power they carried, after the quest to hunt them down. It’s worth watching and Bombin’ is always worth watching — having only ever watched it on copies of copies, I never want to see a remastered version. It would take me out my comfort zone, like watching Seinfeld in HD (I revisited Under Siege 2 in HD recently and could see the dust on Eric Bogosian’s PC monitor.) I find the fuzz comforting. These days, we 30-somethings have split into factions — the ones so desperate to remain relevant that they’re feverishly trying to be on any trap slur mix tape thing first, even if it’s no good whatsoever, or the ones stuck in the 1987-1994 loop. I believe that there’s a middle ground. Shouts to archivist, photographer and Goldie’s former manager, Martin Jones for uploading the first hip-hop thing I ever remember seeing on TV — the Supreme Rockers from Birmingham and B-Boys from Wolverhampton (the Midlands seemed like a British Bronx to me back then) on the otherwise terrible Saturday Starship one Saturday morning in late 1984 (so I can thank Bonnie Langford and Tommy Boyd for my love of hip-hop somehow.) If you’re under the age of 30, apologies for the old man talk I’m dropping on you here — I don’t expect you to care.
I was happy to help out on some stuff for Will Robson-Scott’s The Best of adidas tribute to the adidas Equipment range. The end result is an 18-minute documentary (you can see part one here) that features a few folk I respect that you don’t see on video too often — Peter Moore (who, between the adidas performance logo, Air Force, Jumpman and McEnroe logos defined the look of sportswear from the 1980s to the 1990s, even if he’d concede that he’s not much of shoe designer) is a hero of mine for his branding and marketing skills, and seeing behind the scenes at mita in Tokyo is pretty cool too. It all goes out next week to coincide with the reissue of the fan favourite EQT Guidance (the 1993 version, not the 1991 edition.) I’m super impressed with Will’s work. I genuinely hate a lot of modes of marketing footwear these days. I understand that attention spans are precious and that long-form copy isn’t the solutions, but a lot of comms folk would do well to understand why their brand is excellent, rather than some corny crap in the name of engagement or because a budget needs to be blown. You don’t need to be regressive to stay true to your strengths. I like this video because it feels adidas to me — it isn’t the same fucking faces pretending they ever cared about the shoe in question and I think there should be a documentation of the EQT project’s essence, because most bloggers and advertorial magazine dudes aren’t going to tell it. Speaking of pure adidas attitude, this Oi Polloi piece where Nigel breaks down his favourite adidas trainers is excellent — Hans Bitzer’s Viennas are probably the best bit.
Twitter is swarming with links to Robin Williams tributes, and with good reason — the handful of people I know who met him found him to be a class act and it’s a testament to his versatility that while I never found his standup particularly side-splitting, he was one of the ultimate actors when the script was right, as was the case with Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King and Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad. Williams was a man with an inclination toward some of the brands and cultures discussed here — FTC (his local spot), Slam City and Supreme were all apparently regular haunts and the BAPE and Viotech combo has become a message board staple.
Some ill-informed characters would jeer at that gaudy combo a few years back and discuss it as if it was the death knell for those brands, but the fact is, Williams was most likely on it before it hit the radar of a new breed of cynics. Williams was even up on Acronym, picking up pieces from San Fran’s Darkside Initiative store. He was up on Raf Simons shoes back in 2009 too. Now, if a semi celebrity wears some easy-to-find Jordan IIIs, the internet starts quaking — back in the mid 2000s, this was unique. Between that , the video game obsession and Questlove’s tale of an encounter that indicates that he might have been a hip-hop fanatic too. There’s too many layers and degrees of separation to even begin to dissect here, but his loss is a tragedy.
In these situations, I clocked a few of the social media voices of unreason complaining that we mourn celebrities more than we do victims en masse in a war zone — that’s because it’s tough to fully grieve when there’s no face to put to the deceased and, given his admirable work ethic, Williams’ mug was a familiar sight. The sad reality for the complainers is that some poor kid thousands of miles away that strayed onto a landmine wasn’t in Fast & Furious 6 or Jumanji. It’s human nature. Are the going to start picketing our uncles’ funerals next because we’re not getting angry enough about Syria? Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt We’ve been given the emotional depth to be upset about both things.
But anyway, forget all the sentiment — the image above from 1990 (jacked from Getty and the LIFE archives), around the Cadillac Man era in Williams’ career, wearing the GORE-TEX North Face TransAntarctica coat indicates that, long before he got himself an Acronym, he understood the power of great outerwear. Robin Williams was unique on every level and he was doing the brands long before the blogs too.
If you never got a copy of the Nike Genealogy of Innovation book from the project I worked on and your browser is too weedy to look at the website, here’s a video that the good people of Golden Wolf put together that animates 200 Nike shoes from 1972 to 2014 in chronological order. Crazy that the lists I was writing in iPhone Notes during a train journey ended up looking like this — it looks like the inside of my mind.
What do you know about tech penny loafers? Borne from a decision to launch a casual line of men’s footwear, the Nike Vagabond is a weird shoe — pure dad wear, this loafer was released in 1982. Part of a collection (shown here) that seemed to be a response to Freizeit styles from the Germans and was, according to lore, a decision made over targeting the aerobics explosion. Cambrelle lining, the Octo-Waffle spin on Bowerman’s traction patterning and, best of all, a full-length Nike-Air unit in the sole, this design and the Bedouin didn’t sell well. In fact, the Vagabond’s existence seems to have been forgotten completely. That’s a shame, because this model is so ugly that it’s actually memorable. I doubt that there will ever be a reissue of this obscurity. After Nike acquired Cole Haan in 1988 they flirted with some similar cushioning concepts — in fact, they put Tensile Air in their shoes — which included slip-ons — from 1990 (dropping the technology in 1992 to shift from rear and forefoot units to a full length version in 1993), half a decade before Tensile Air appeared in Nike products. Tensile Air would be renamed Zoom Air by 1996, making those earlier formal CH designs pretty pioneering. I always assumed that the delay in launching Zoom Air as an athletic technology was down to a focus on visible, bombastic forms of cushioning back in the early 1990s.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.