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URBAN VS. STREET

March 1, 2015

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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.

GARMENT DISTRICT

February 25, 2015

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You can launch a magazine, but if it’s just full of web-level content and articles that can be read in less than an average toilet break, what’s the point? That’s just putting WordPress content on paper and nobody wants to open a magazine and read blog content on the bog. If I pay more than a tenner for something and conquer it in a 40-minute train journey, I’m usually filled with an emptiness that gives way to thoughts of the book, burger or coffee beans I could have spent that money on. Yet I put myself through it again and again in some misguided bid to support as much print as possible. I liked the fact Nepenthes’ own magazine doesn’t seem to want to be found, much like the excellent Garmento ‘zine (whose editor is, coincidentally profiled in this issue), but I grabbed the The Garment District Journal from the store a couple of weeks back. In a post-Monocle world, everything’s a fucking journal or bulletin and a MacBook on the lap in front of Britain’s Got Talent is a bureau, but this is a very good publication.

The Engineered Garments empire has a tendency to overachieve, and their output is the sum total of so much that I like that they’ll always hover nonchalantly above any menswear booms, streetwear renaissances or heritage booms. In the kingdom of try hards, the genuinely well-dressed are a rarity. It ain’t cheap at $20 and with 56 pages, many of which are immaculately visual, it isn’t going to take up much time, but the amount of work that went in is evident — from the labeled cover with the binder rings that remind me of a tropical fish magazine I used to hoard as a kid (I have no idea why — I only ever owned goldfish but the colours on the cover were great), to the paper stock. The piece on wearable clubland artefacts by Steve Terry, the 3 PM shoot by JIMA, the education on Level Plane Records and Malick Sidibé’s photography all stand out. A glimpse of Kim Jones’ bookshelf reminded me that a book of photographs of people’s crammed bookshelves in a Selby style would be excellent (that is, if it doesn’t already exist).

That the editorial seems relevant to the Nepenthes universe but doesn’t resort to brand talk in its most obvious form is a testament to the depth of the store’s deeper notion of style. The Garment District Journal is available from Nepenthes in NYC, but I’m damned if I can see it on sale anywhere else.

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Watership Down and Plague Dogs wrecked my childhood, but they’re still masterpieces. I’ve tried to watch both in recent years, and they were both still devastating. Another trauma without the candy-coated deception of animal animation was another book adaptation — Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. The disorientating approach to cutting is key to the movie’s unease, and editor Graeme Clifford is the man behind it. Criterion’s YouTube channel is absolutely essential, and two recent uploads are the always articulate Guillermo del Toro talking about Watership Down’s effect on him, plus Clifford talking about his editing process on Roeg’s horror classic.

DOGS & THEIR OWNERS

February 18, 2015

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I’m late with the updates because I’ve exiled myself to NYC for a week as penance for running an online store into the ground. Actually, I’m here on a holiday. That means I’m not keeping my eyes open for product or any releases, but a few things caught my eye. Will Robson-Scott is one of my favourite photographers and filmmakers — he’s technically great, but he’s curious when it comes to exploring the harder side of life too — I think that fearlessness when it comes to his personal projects sets him apart from the rest. The In Dogs We Trust series was created in partnership with Ollie Grove and explores human relationships with our canine buddies (which is beautifully depicted in Will’s John and George), the age-old belief that they look like their owners. Shot across several cities — from London to LA – it’s being published by Victory Editions this March as an edition of 500. I’m hoping it’ll be kicking off with a gallery show of pooches and their human buddies. This is everything I want in a book and there’s more information here.

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The most amusing stories around signature shoes like the Air Jordan don’t come via the people who wore them and want to remind us, in tiresome fashion, how they saved/begged/skated a pair…whatever. Who cares? Every thirtysomething has a Jordan shoe story of one kind of another, even if they hated them. No. the best stuff comes from the behind-the-scenes hustles, and Sonny Vaccaro (who was meant to be played by James Gandolfini in an HBO film that never got produced) was at the heart of getting kids signed by any means necessary. The sports marketeer who pioneered a new breed of shoe promotions that made the canvas and rubber wheeler-dealing of old seem ultra-archaic is getting an ESPN 30 for 30 that’s full-length, but broken into online only chapters for a digital debut. Sole Man premieres on April 6th via Grantland and the Jordan Effect episode about the 1984 Nike deal promises, “…a Hollywood story that features secret phone calls, a six-figure check, a mansion in Oregon, and a plate of ribs at a Tony Roma’s restaurant in Santa Monica.”

Finding out the inside story of how LeBron ended up at Nike over adidas (beyond the monetary one-upmanship) should be interesting too. This talk at Duke from a few years back is a good Vaccaro primer before Sole Man screens.

BIG WILLI STYLE

February 12, 2015


Streetwear is big business right now, and the dearth of African-American designers putting their designs on the catwalk is still a topic of discussion. Willi Smith didn’t just create a path for black designers — he created a route for streetwear to connect runways with the concrete. The Philly-born designer (not to be mistaken with the city’s other Will Smith) cut his time at Parsons in NYC short (Patrick Kelly, another pioneering connector of 1980s defining accessible clothes and high-end gear that never liived to see his forties also attended Parsons) and built the WilliWear brand. His own brand of “street couture” (a term that has been thrashed to death in the decades that followed) was something very new, creating a brash, evolving aesthetic since the brand’s birth in 1976, WilliWear came of age with hip-hop culture, managing to keep some edge while happily crossing over. Willi creating Mary Jane’s wedding gown for Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, the same year that he outfitted the ultra-confrontational Spike Lee musical School Daze was a testament to his versatility and a collective of artists and creatives around executed projects separately that are still reverberating in popular culture, from haircuts to patterning. Willi Smith passed away in April, 1987, with the then successful WilliWear business floundering by the early 1990s and, but the 2000s, becoming a TJ Maxx in-house brand. Douglas Says upped some pretty good VHS footage from the brand’s heyday a few years back. It’s worth watching. Whether Smith’s work strayed too far from hip-hop to be included in the forthcoming Fresh Dressed documentary remains to be seen (I’m looking forward to that film), but the original street couture mastermind’s mindset is present in the industry’s new wave of creatives getting their Raf Simons on and playing with abstraction rather than taking the baton from Akademiks and State Property’s vast fits.

MAKE IT RAIN: THE ADIDAS WATERPROOF

February 9, 2015

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My fascination with GORE-TEX additions to clothing is pretty well documented, but I have a particular interest in the adidas Waterproof. This blog was originally thrown together to cover things other than sports footwear, but because one outlet has closed, you might see a bit more shoe talk on here for the time being. You practically need to earn a suede and rubber PhD to navigate the nuances of the adidas archives. Navy running shoes are all over the 1983-1985 catalogues, but some made a bigger impact than others.

1984’s Waterproof is a truly cult creation on a number of levels — it was barely seen in its day beyond those in the know (especially on UK soil), it was incredibly expensive, and crucially, it had a GORE-TEX lining. Stylistically, the Waterproof looks a lot like the 1983’s New York training shoe (the Dellinger web version and not the alternate version) and its specialist, winterised look and feel made it a contemporary of the SRS (ostensibly, an LA Trainer on steroids) and the towering Jogging All-Round. But whereas those shoes looked like old favourites locked in a garage with the A-Team, the Waterproof was a more subdued looking creation.

Taking it back to 1984, a GORE-TEX coat seemed state-of-the-art, but on a shoe it seemed downright exotic. The GORE-TEX booty that brought the membrane material to shoes was honed by outdoor design pioneers like Willie Sacre and officially launched in 1982. The new breed of trainer-hikers took advantage of the technology (Nike’s 1982 Approach boot was an early creation using the insert), but I can’t ascertain who debuted it in a runner, though I suspect that the Waterproof was the first (and adidas marketing materials of the time say it was). It was the perfect accompaniment to an Allzweckanzug Athen GORE-TEX tracksuit too.

If it looked the same as a New York, down to the ADISORB insole, why was this winter runner so expensive? Membrane lasting is more complex than just Strobel or board lasting, so it costs. Water repellent leather costs. GORE-TEX membrane costs. The standards the GORE-TEX brand demands cost. Seam sealing costs. Untypical lasting methods cost. The gusset tongue (a lot of contemporary shoes at trend level forget this part in their quest for GORE-TEX branding) added more material, which, once again, costs a little bit more.

Those paying attention at the time single out the Waterproof and the Zelda (a ghilly-laced, Reebok Classic looking creation that can almost certainly never be reissued under its original name) for their near mythical status at the time. The Waterproof certainly seemed to get more of a push. Post 1985 (and images, as seen below, of a pair from an Austrian catalogue, include lettering down the stripes), the Waterproof was gone. 1985’s GORE-TEX lined Tokio seemed to replace it, with its more technical look and option of an All-Round style high variation. But in 2006, adidas Originals dropped a Waterproof reissue, with the addition of a small metal GORE-TEX badge on the upper (not present on the original, but cooler looking and presumably part of the licensing deal). After selling out, that retro started commanding some eBay prices akin to some hype fodder of the time with significantly less substance.

In an early conversation with Gary Aspden about the SPEZIAL line (which, I believe, had a different project name at the time), my first question to him was, “Will there be a Waterproof?” The answer is yes — a Waterproof SPZL in an appropriately moody grey and white modelled on the second volume of the SPEZIAL book is part of the second collection (with a water resistant leather toe rather than the suede of the original). I admire the nods to leisure designs and minimal, narrow-fitting rarities in the original SPEZIAL line, but I’m just not northern enough to appreciate them (having a Scottish mum doesn’t count). This one, limited to 1,000 pairs, is my kind of shoe. The £185 price tag is no joke though, so I fired some questions at Gary before he goes on the campaign trail once again, to talk 3-stripes with the media.

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Q&A WITH GARY ASPDEN

GARY 1: Gary, what’s the impetus for including the Waterproof in the SPEZIAL line?

GARY 2: It’s a favourite of mine. They epitomise everything that is great about adidas footwear both in their design and function. They were at the forefront of footwear innovation when they were originally released. There is nothing in their design that doesn’t have good reason to be there.

Did you ever see the shoe on sale back in the mid 1980s or know anybody who had it?

I didn’t…I asked Gary Watson who I work with on the graphics for SPEZIAL the same question. I was hoping he would know something as he went abroad a number of times on trips to get adidas when I was still at school and is a bit older than me but he didn’t know anyone. I asked Paul Fox who has worked for JD Sports since the mid 80s and is a dedicated Birmingham supporter – he said there was only one person he knew who owned a pair back then was Dave Makin from JD (Dave also owned a pair of adidas Zelda). I have had a couple of older lads from Merseyside pop up on Twitter since we announced the SPEZIAL Waterproof reissue who said that they had owned them in 1984 and I am inclined to believe them as they are not messers. There were a few older scousers who showed up at the Manchester SPEZIAL who were specifically asking after Zelda and Waterproof. They were the best shoes in the market at that time — and that was reflected in the price point which in turn limited the amount of them that ended up on the shelves.

Do you think some of the shoe’s core appeal in this country was down to our bad weather as much as it was the rarity?

The adidas Waterproof became the stuff of legend, I guess because of its rarity, look and price. It’s like the yellow soled Forest Hills — speaking to people who worked for adidas in the UK in the late 1970s there was only one place in England they were available and that was Liverpool and they only ever had 400 pairs. No doubt a handful of people picked them up in the continent but it was the 1982 version with the white sole that I used to see around. I remember people talking about a mythical yellow soled Forest Hills but I never physically saw a pair until the reissue in 1999.

What’s the appeal of GORE-TEX to you? It sounds very exotic and always seems to represent a premium price.

It does imply value but it also suggests practicality. I grew up in an area where it rains a lot and spent much of my childhood getting soaked in Gloverall duffel coats and Polar Gear jackets. When the local Camping shop in Blackburn began stocking GORE-TEX anoraks they must have known immediately that they were onto a winner. It attracted a whole new audience to their store. The shop owners soon realised that they needed to improve their security after those appeared on the racks. Whilst I am a fan of it my love of waterproof fabrics isn’t limited to GORE-TEX — the organic ETA we have used in the Haslingden jacket is Swiss made and its water repellent qualities are mind blowing.

This time you never made any modifications to it, whereas every other shoe in the line seems to get a subtle change. Why was that?

All the components were available and the upper specifications of the previous 2006 reissue were true to the original shoe. Sometimes I choose to go for hybrids because of limitations on what tooling for the soles is in existence (creating new moulds for sole units that don’t currently exist is VERY costly). Sometimes this creates a scenario where we improve on the original shoe. I own a pair of vintage adidas Sevilla leisure shoes that were the inspiration for the Albrecht SPZL and the sole they used on those vintage shoes just isn’t right for 2015 although that upper with a few tweaks to the specs is still relevant so I wanted to give them a reappraisal. I am very happy that people are also excited about that shoe.

Did you try to alter the Waterproof at any point? Like put the upper on another sole unit like the other versions of the New York or the Boston?

No — it’s a great shoe and the moulds for the sole unit existed so the only thing I wanted to play with was the colour way.

That price tag is heavy — why is that?

The price tag appears heavy if you don’t know what has gone into building the shoe. adidas Waterproof were had an RRP of 155DM in the German catalogue in 1984. 155DM in 1984 = £63, however, you have to bear in mind the fact that adidas shoes in Germany at that time were significantly cheaper than in the UK, hence why so many entrepreneurs in the north west were going over there and buying up van loads to resell here. Considering that in Germany at that time adidas Dublin and adidas Hamburg were going for around 21DM, it puts it into perspective.

When we decided to go with the Waterproof SPZL we were faced with a choice — do we compromise the original construction (seam sealed GORE-TEX membrane/waterproof leather/gusset tongue/etc) to get the price down or do we keep the construction authentic and charge a much higher price than the rest of the shoes in the collection (as it was the first time around)? We opted for the latter and I stand by that. The adidas Waterproof was a super expensive shoe in 1984 and for good reason. I remember a running shoe by another company called Odyssey were £60 in 1984, they were the most expensive shoe on the wall of Gibsons Sports in Blackburn and they didn’t have anything like the technology that went into the hard to find adidas Waterproof. The distribution is very tight on the adidas Originals x SPEZIAL range as it is and with the price point on this particular shoe the retailers have been reasonably cautious so we haven’t ended producing many pairs at all. It’s a shoe for dedicated adidas connoisseurs — the Waterproof always has been I guess.

Images of the aforementioned Zelda are below, because if you made it this far, you’re probably a fan:

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GELLED

February 9, 2015

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I’ve got some other things ready to go up here, but there was a slight delay in obtaining the relevant imagery. So in the meantime, I’ll plug some other things — a couple of months ago I put together a rough ASICS history for size? (hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to refine and expand it a little soon) that you can see here, here and here. While I’m bored as hell with the slew of occasionally unremarkable collaborations dropping every hour, I’m obsessed with that brand’s 1985-1995 archive (some of the best pure sports performance design I’ve ever seen), I got the opportunity to visit their headquarters in Kobe last year and a quick spot of research revealed some superior apparel creations and logo design from the late 1980s. Currently, there’s a lot of interest in the brand’s early 1990s output and an emphasis on the same couple of silhouettes, but there’s a lot more to talk about. Last week I got the second opportunity to talk to Shigeyuki Mitsui, designer of the ASICS Gel-Lyte III (and co-designer on the Gel-Lyte and Gel-Lyte II). You can read the brief interview here on Complex UK (can you see that if you’re in the USA? I’m not sure). Apologies for the basic nature of the questions — Mitsui-san speaks perfectly proficient English, but a background of obvious hip-hop records booming meant that discussing anything that didn’t involved loud, short queries and pointing would be impossible to transcribe. The man’s skills and humility deserve respect.

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LOCKED

February 5, 2015


Whoa. I wasn’t expecting that CT obituary to spread like it did, but I’m glad people are taking an interest in that company’s history. It deserves to be in the spotlight for its contribution to the culture. In the meantime, I’ve been amusing myself by watching archaic Foot Locker ads, like the 1981 one where the mighty John Goodman wanders into the store pre-fame and asks for every single brand possible (this was two years his role as working class Joe eating Egg McMuffin in a 1983 McDonalds ad) and the bizarre brand loyalty spot above from 1983 in all its white-toothed cinematic glory. Then there’s the 1987 depiction of a colourful, dystopian future where some kind of zero-gravity robot-lobster claw game is the #1 spectator sport shown during a Superbowl XX1 ad break. Because of YouTube, the baritone part of 1988’s Come to the Stripes still gets sung by me during any prolonged conversation about FL’s current contents. This 1989 Australian effort merges American style pop rock with an Aussie voiceover talking about bargain aerobic tights, plus a locker full of Nike rarities like the Air Pressure, as well as some classic trainers. In the early 1990s, it gets a little too stylised and Paula Abdul on us — thankfully, no matter how slick your ads get, you can’t stop the back room buffoonery and fotojack72 was on hand to upload videos of him and his buddies acting a fool while working at his local Foot Locker in 1991, complete with this Harmony Korine-esque footage of a man dancing to Check the Technique by Gang Starr while clutching a red shoe.

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Huck is a great magazine. That it seems to sell well enough to stay in print is a miracle — after all, most conversations about British magazines dwelling on radical culture, photography and creativity are rooted in past tense, because they have a tendency to disappear one day. The Church of London’s work is always superb and after the What I Love About Movies book via Little White Lies, Huck are dropping some artistic motivation in Paddle Against the Flow — a well priced compilation of quotes to memorise and quote as your own until you get called out for it. If you can’t trust advice from Spike Jonze, Kim Gordon and Dave Eggers, who can you trust? Paddle Against the Flow drops next month.

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