The problem with writing about subcultures is that if you weren’t there, you don’t know the full story. And even if you participated, everyone’s account has a tendency to differ. In the case of Duffer, you’ve got four founders, and everyone has their own story to tell. Contradictions are inevitable. Barrie Sharpe was one of the minds behind Duffer of St George and he’s also the rare groove originator alongside Lascelle Gordon. Seeing as everyone seems to be telling their tale right now, Barrie penned his memoirs. Entitled This Was Not Part Of The Masterplan, this self-published book is pretty raw and entertaining. Broken down into a series of anecdotes, it’s punctuated by italicised accounts from friends and former foes. From time spent around villains in 1960s East London as a latchkey kid to an infatuation with black music and dressing up, it’s pretty confrontational stuff. Given the sheer amount of recollections regarding dust ups and fall outs, it’s clear that the author has made his share of foes during the crossover of his musical and clothing-based careers, but if you want a solid piece of London clubbing history and a good amount of information on Duffer’s earliest days and eventual change in direction (resulting in the genesis of the Sharpeye brand), this really delivers. He was there, after all. It’s a well-written book and the type and layout gives it a classic look that seems to fit with the sounds and styles Barrie has championed. This book is available right here and I recommend picking it up. Julia Beverly’s colossal labour of love, Sweet Jones: Pimp C’s Trill Life Story, which goes far beyond the detail of any hip-hop bio to date, is also well worth disappearing into for a couple of weeks.
Given the pandemonium around the latest Supreme season’s offerings, it seems like a good time to look at some lesser-discussed pieces on the brand. The trouble with the internet is that most of the folks who were first seem to have vanished, taken down their sites or simply left behind by their early 2000s lack of search engine savvy. Sadly, it seems that Nikolai’s Rift Trooper site (one of the key inspirations for this blog) has gone after he stopped updating at the close of 2009, but thanks to the wonders of web.archive.org, you can read his very short interview with James Jebbia from July 2002 back when btinternet.com hosted sites were a thing, and conducted between the own-brand Downlow shoe and the original SB project. Here’s the preserved version of the page. The other links on the page are down, but searchable too — shouts to Simon and his Concept Shop site, with its early history of the Supreme backpack. The article it references is a good one too — talented designer Kevin Lyons’ brief piece on the legalities and morals of borrowing imagery in streetwear, Cease and Desist: Issues of Cultural Reappropriation in Urban Street Design, featuring Russ from SSUR, Joseph from Union, James from Supreme (and Union) and Eric Haze’s in discussion on the topic. Taken from the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design’s January 1996 issue, it’s actually more illuminating than most lengthier examinations of the same subject from recent years. Seeing as Lyons had worked for SSUR on some classic designs for Supreme, he certainly had some insider knowledge. It was reproduced in AIGA‘s now out of print Design Culture compilation from 1997.
I’m disappointed that I never spotted this online before. Six years ago, Paul Lukas from the superb Uni Watch site upped a 1961 Champion Athletic Knitwear catalogue on his Flickr account (among other sporting catalogues from past and present). This is a standout spot of insight into a time when sportswear wasn’t a statement of fashion. Real performance gear of the time, plus letters, numerals and emblems. The dreaded “This photo is no longer available” has eaten up a few great images from this account, but these photos remain largely intact. Reverse Weave hoodies, nylon fleece hoodies as part of a warm-up suit, cheaper hooded pieces for the sidelines, a double thickness version and even a half-zip Rayon variation were on offer. Pure purpose and plenty of commercial illustration makes this more beautiful than any contemporary mode of marketing, even if you can see the slow creep of synthetics moving into the range and becoming the new choice for team wear. Go check his Flickr and browse the whole thing.
Paul Gorman knows a lot about British subcultures. If you’ve looked for anything particularly niche online that pertains to London’s forgotten boutiques or obscure publications, you probably stumbled onto Gorman’s blog. For instance, his site houses the only details I’ve seen on Rivington Street store Modern Classics. He’s a good match for Nick Knight’s SHOWStudio, and he just opened his enviable magazine archives as part of the Print project on the site. Alongside articles on important publications like Cheap Date, it’s set to up features on Scott King and his Sleazenation work, plus an analysis of Peter Saville’s work on 1989’s New Order Untitled book — a tour programme that Saville barely finished in time for the tour’s conclusion. For many of us, youth culture and memorable magazines tend to fall into the same list — 1970s and early 1980s NMEs, Rolling Stone at its peak, Blitz, Interview, i-D and The Face. Gorman sidesteps the obvious to talk Lou Stoppard through some barely discussed gems — West One, Rags, Street Life, 19 and Ritz being just a few. Who would have thought that a jazz mag like Club International started with such strong artistic inclinations? The accompanying discussion gives some important insight regarding the role of the magazine as leader, then follower when it came to youth movements. Take 54 minutes out to watch this video, then check out all the features on the Print pages of the SHOW site. Afterwards, I recommend hitting up eBay to discover just how obscure and tough to track down some of Gorman’s gems are. A real education — just in case you thought you knew it all.
News clip library channels on YouTube are as good place to waste some time as any. I occasionally spend an unholy amount of time trawling places like Getty or Corbis to see the good stuff in static form, but after browsing the AP Archive channel, I found some more recent, subtitle-free footage based around vintage denim and old shoes in London and Japan (where Bing Crosby’s denim tux by Levi’s was part of an auction). I hadn’t seen the footage of ageing writers like Zephyr and LA ROC (with some commentary from Henry Chalfont) before either, even though it’s only a couple of years old. Provided that there’s working Wi-Fi, I can’t fathom how anyone can get bored in 2015.
Northerners stay winning. As I sit here in the Lake District, 5 hours from London, I’m aware that I’m in a place where justifying some GORE-TEX expense makes a little more sense. Clobber-loving print publications from that side of the UK impress me time and time again to the point where I’m starting to repeat myself every time I receive new copies. Far more than just being about a jacket and a certain swagger, the Oi Polloi empire has spread south of late, but their always-excellent Pica~Post is an antidote to the influx of digital look books showcasing hollow-cheeked dudes looking uncomfortable in Sports Direct style gear on the periphery of a housing estate (just far enough away to avoid any potential wallet inspectors). Issue #9 (which retails for the comedy price of just 2p) contains an interview with perennial screen weasel David Patrick Kelly, who stole the show in classics like The Warriors. Commando, Dreamscape and Last Man Standing, before being one of the best characters in last year’s action masterpiece, John Wick. The team also got orthotic and put together a decent Mephisto feature that sheds some light on the billion dollar business built on uncompromised comfort, and how Arnie (star of the aforementioned 1985 fleck-suited, neck breaking, synth and kettle drum soundtracked favourite) and Pavarotti were fanatical about the brand’s offerings, complete with a shot of the rotund tenor wearing a pair — no shot of a rapper in freebie shoes without the super-soft walking experience can match that swagger. Proper’s new issue is a belter too, and they’ve gone Hollywood on us too — the illustrated guide to outfits in films is way better than another know-nada Steve McQueen fetish feature, singling out a few lesser-discussed sartorial screen moments, while Russ from TSPTR’s vintage sweatshirt collection will make you jealous.
Long before A$AP and adidas crossed paths, the connection between Rocky and the three-stripes helped pave the way for hip-hop history. After Nike endorsed Stallone in 1982’s Rocky III, adidas had made friends with the Italian Stallion in subsequent years , leading up to the fourth chapter. Before the strange bit where it claims that he discovered Run-D.M.C. breakdancing in the mid 1980s (probably not true — b-boying was never their forte and they’d put out an album by 1984), Barbara Smit’s Pitch Invasion is a great source of information on “Mr. adidas” himself Angelo Anastasio. the entertainment promotion man behind that pioneering footwear deal. Anastasio went from a mid 70s pro with New York Cosmos to the Ferrari-driver schmoozing around Hollywood. From Paulie’s robot (after Paulie went from violent woman beating drunk to loveable oaf in line with the franchise’s increased shine) to Vince DiCola’s War — a composition capable of getting a pacifist pumped enough to put their fists through a kebab shop window —it’s understandable that this heavy-handed red menace tale is a fan favourite (I’m a Clubber Lang man myself). I can’t help but think that the only thing more 1980s than Rocky IV, is the thought of Anastasio making power moves around 1985 on the streets of Los Angeles? The world needs a documentary on that pre-Yeezy heyday of entertainment marketing.
Nothing much to report here right now because I’m fed up of the MacBook screen after transcribing two and a half hours of conversation. But here’s a couple of things I wrote for some friends who sell stuff — a short piece on the Stüssy Tribe for MR PORTER (that 1990 CUTiE spread above stays gold) and a bit on the Converse One Star (one of my favourite shoes ever — there’s something a bit longer written for another outlet on the same subject too) for size? Two subjects dear to my heart that crossed over with each other too (as evidenced in the UK newspaper supplement that showcased a couple of pairs on Shawn’s fireplace back in 1993).
Tumblr might be rife with anachronistic blends of 1990s and 1980s thrift store and eBay overspend styling, but there’s a few little spots where you can see some shots of those who were there with all the gear and some serious shoplifting skills. Having said that, is getting that throwback outfit historically correct even a thing any more? The internet has created its own timeless gang bang of reference points and music that makes historical correctness redundant. For a new generation, 1996’s iconography is as prevalent as what’s happening now. Factor in the sheer amount of homages to expensive technical outer wear and the reappropriation of rich guy garms of the 1990s and then has become fused with now like never before. Characters like Rack-Lo represent the old guard, and I never get tired of looking at the pictures from their past, as well as the different array of themed outfits you need to be up on if you rock the horse. His self-published The Lo Life Adventures of Rack-Lo book is online here and worth a browse.
There’s plenty of little moments scattered across publications that altered the course my career would take in one way or another. Back in mid 1998, The Face ran a ‘Fashion Hype’ (and hype would become a word attached to these objects like a particularly excitable Siamese twin in the decade that followed) piece on the newly opened Hit and Run store (which would be renamed The Hideout for presumed legal reasons by 2000). This two page spread was a rundown of things I’d never seen in the UK and sure enough never seen them with a pound price next to them. I immediately rushed out and asked a couple of Nottingham skate stores if they’d be getting any Ape, Supreme, GoodEnough or Let It Ride gear in, only to be met with a blank stare. lesson learnt: Kopelman had the hookups that the other stores didn’t. This Upper James Street spot was selling APC jeans for 48 quid, while Supreme tees were only a fiver less than they are now. The 1998 season when Supreme put out their AJ1, Casio, Champion tee, Goodfellas script design and Patagonia-parody jacket was particularly appealing, and it was showcased here, while SSUR keyrings, BAPE camo luggage and soft furnishings were a hint of things to come. I guarantee that once you made it to the store, a lot of the stuff that you assumed you could grab with ease would be gone — an early life lesson that hype just isn’t fair.