Category Archives: Apparel

RAEKWON HAS FOLDING SKILLS

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Streetwear loves Wu-Tang. Over the last decade there have been tributes of varying quality that rarely come close to what Oli “Power” Grant and the crew did do help redefine rap merch with Wu Wear—complete with no less than four physical stores—as much as they did the hip-hop record deal. Wu Wear was pretty much played by the time it hit Virgin Megastores to coincide with Wu-Tang Forever, but that I hold it in similar status to a slew of pioneering black-owned brands of the era rather than mere tie-in is a testament to the Wu brand’s clout. These are hyper referential times and every cultish nook and cranny of rap culture has been cleared out and beamed into a broader spectrum. C.R.E.A.M. branded dairy products or a Liquid Swords washing up liquid complete with the ‘W’ logo wouldn’t surprise me right now, and that 1992 snowboarding pullover that Rae rocked is being rinsed. It’s the reappropriation of memories of one of the greatest reappropriated style moments ever. It might be considered quite meta in one way or another. It’s well documented—and I’ve probably upped at least 10 Wu-centric posts here before—that, in their day, the Wu-Tang were style kings who rolled en masse before the dissent kicked in. They were innately fly. In a world where collaborations are an increasingly tiresome currency and many rappers dress in various levels of shitty (awkward in leather, Karmaloop gift voucher, or 1998 called—it wants its denim back), it’s something of a lost art.

King collector DJ Greg Street is a man who seems to own everything, and a week or so ago, he made the video above where he showed Raekwon an array of merchandise from over the years. It’s entertaining stuff, but two things stand out—Rae seems completely unaware that most of this gear ever existed, and the man can fold a tee like a pro. Does he have a retail background*, an obsessive compulsive approach to his gear, or is this a habit borne of constant touring? The man could be working in Supreme with this commitment to keeping a shirt in order.



*Big up Ross Turner for noting that it’s a packing fold rather than a retail fold.

WORDS ARE VERY UNNECESSARY

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I’m guessing that I’m not alone in buying stacks of Japanese language publications. They’re rarely cheap (unless you actually visit Japan, postage or the markup in UK stores can be brutal) and can, unless you stick to your favourite titles and their myriad spinoffs and specials, be a let down once they arrive. But generally, with a mood of all-pervading geekery and a single niche taking up the first chunk of pages, these men’s clothing bibles are a triumph of obsession, covering territory that few western editors would ever dare tread, unless they were looking to bruise their already sensitive circulation. Fortunately, the language of unfiltered nerdery is global and singular. I wait for my Amazon Japan delivery in the knowledge that I’m not going to be able to sit and absorb every word. In fact, I’m probably not going to find a single sentence in there that I can decipher. But I’ll get flawless photography, detail shots, a sense of history—because origin years of a garment will be included— and, as a bonus, there’ll be some excitable captions in English.

If you’re really into the same kind of things as many Japanese consumers—good coats, vintage clobber and things you didn’t know you needed, but are so aesthetically pleasing that they’re necessary—then you’ll always be happy with Lightning, 2nd (Lightning’s younger brother, geared at a younger crowd), Free & Easy, and the tens of other titles that appear each month. ibought magazine takes consumerism to its compelling conclusion with page after page of stuff people bought recently, while GO OUT is the place to see unexpectedly awesome things like big branded GORE-TEX New Eras and costly rucksacks. Sometimes, a cartel of magazine editors unite to create a Whole Earth Catalog style paean to expendable income book stuff called, appropriately, Stuff, with sequels like Stuff Returns. The notion of being able to wander to a 7-11 style store near your house and find a 200 plus page tribute to Americana that examines the minutiae of denim rivets seems otherworldly, yet in many Japanese cities, it’s a norm. Minimal advertising, vast distribution and king-like levels of content means that, to quote Dave Gahan, words are very unnecessary. Every now and again you get stung for 15 quid by buying something completely uninspiring, but you would have blown that on something grass-fed in a bun that didn’t deliver anyway.

The Japanese approach to over analysing and cataloguing sports footwear appeals to me, because it’s a lane of its own that isn’t a youthful preoccupation with six or so silhouettes, nor old man griping over the shape/price/materials/availability, or whatever this month’s moan is. Boon Extra editions from the mid to late 1990s are still my favourite books on the topic, even if the copy could be calling me a bellend for all I know. Japan’s age-old fanaticism for shoes is something that resonates with me. They were up into the high 990s and four digit masterpieces from New Balance before the inevitable slow crawl of hype made the alternative to the bullshit—shoes that are still masterpieces—into another item caught in the bot and queue crossfire. I still feel that some shoes, like the reissue of 1996’s 999 that you only ever seemed to see in Asia, and the MT580, should never have had a release in the western world. We’re not built to appreciate them like we should. We should be observing from afar and making the pilgrimage to bring them back for ourselves and friends with flattened boxes and a not-guilty walk when it comes to NOTHING TO DECLARE.

2nd’s New Balance Book is the third solid NB mook I’ve seen over the years, and while the text is Japanese again, there’s enough imagery of grey suede and nubuck running shoes, factory imagery and history (the 1995 M585 and original M580 from 1992 are useful to see) to make it a worthy pickup. Many will find something new in there and the know-it-all will pick it up anyway because they’re too far gone with this collector thing, and bask in the knowledge that they have the knowledge when it comes to this sprawling, occasionally illogical secret society of numbers on tongues. You’ll probably pay some extra loot to get it, but this is comprehensive enough, despite not trawling some of the rarer releases or delving deep beyond running — like all the other good Japanese publications, it’s best used in tandem with other far eastern records of archive excavation. You could use Google, but it’s so awash with crappy content for content’s sake, and depressingly devoid of all those great little Geocities fan pages, that pricey paper is still your best bet.

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THUNDERS

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In a world where the younger generations are coming through with the kind of things that seasoned TV talking heads would find themselves stuttering themselves into a seizure in a bid to pigeonhole there’s still a place for the veterans to make their mark. London has long been a hub where ideas and attitude have been exported to become movements of their own in new territories — the city’s relationship with Tokyo being a good example — or at least the spot where its own imports, like punk after its NYC birth, were given a packable, sellable shape. There’s an entire roll call of folks who built up that reputation (and Alex Turnbull’s impending Rise of the Streets film project should make some things a little clearer) including Michael Kopelman, who has been extremely gracious in providing opportunities for young creatives throughout the years too (he even also made a cameo in episode #1 of Gamesmaster back in 1992) and Barnzley. A northerner who relocated to London, Barnzley seems to be connected to every zeitgeist — he worked with Worlds End, BOY, i-D and Stüssy, helped build a market for bootleg designer logos on tees, pushed deadstock shoes through Acupuncture, popularised the smiley face on tees in the acid house era, sold enviable amounts of Seditionaries gear to Hiroshi and Jun, has the rag trade knowledge and an excellent record collection, and was key to the superb House Industries House33 line and store in Soho, the Terrorist brand and A Child of the Jago. For all punk’s celebration of chaos, he gets shit done, is big in Japan and doesn’t rest on his history.

Having exited the Jago, Barnzley’s latest project is Thunders, a store located on Commercial Street in east London, that stocks his own Crossed Swords line which has been a couple of years in the making. Part Seditionaries, part Engineered Garments, part unclassifiable, much of it’s made up north like the man himself, and it’s punk without the silly safety pins or unnecessary postcard rebel embellishments. Coats are made from natural fabrics, with the occasional vaguely kinky synthetic lining, a red corduroy pair of bondage pants are stripped down but softcore, with RIRI hardware at the crotch, while mohair makes an appearance as the knitwear fabric of choice and neons aren’t overbearing. The tees are good too — Tank Girl artist Rufus Dayglo has created a reinterpretation of the Jim French cowboys image from the oft-reproduced 1975 SEX tee with a well endowed Booga, Tokyo new wave and hip-hop legend Toshio Nakanishi aka. Tycoon To$h has supplied some artwork for shirts, and there’s Let It Rock style Chuck Berry designs too. It’s a lot of things, but at its core, it’s streetwear rooted in the original London streetwear lines, with Crossed Swords’ House Industries designed logo echoing the swashbuckling new romanticism of Worlds End’s branding.

Thunders’ lack of webstore (they’ll walk you through on Skype though and there’s a private Instagram account @T_h_u_n_d_e_r_s, so it’s not because of technophobia) is down to a weariness with excessive promotion that erodes any sense of encountering something underground and distills all mystique, but the Tokyo co-signs are already drifting across social media and Thunders looks to be expanding into music and much more in coming seasons. There’s two distinct tribes whenever I get into conversations regarding future plans — the ones constantly talking about what they’re thinking about doing and the ones who know that there ain’t nothing to it but to do it. Big up Barnzley.

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OPEN

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Every time I’m looking for good quality imagery of golden era (2001-2005) grime style, it becomes clear that Ewen Spencer and RWD’s Simon Wheatly were some of the few photographers who took the scene seriously enough to document it. I reckon the majority were scared that they’d get taxed for their camera and Nokia 7600. That, plus a sense that early 2000s sportswear and oversized streetwear would never be something to get nostalgic about — especially with the “chav” tag being hurled around, and a tabloid-fuelled folk panic when it came to hooded sweatshirts at a point where people were in fear of getting slapped in public and recorded on a grainy phone video, with their ordeal shared on playgrounds across the country. It seems like yesterday, which is why I’ve always been perplexed that there isn’t an abundance of imagery online. Grime’s boom time preempts online’s total reign over print and it exploded and dipped before the iPhone era. Now grime is a big deal again (So Solid deserve a lot of retrospective respect for paving a way — last year, a North Face store I visited a few times in Tokyo seemed to be ahead of the curve, with Asher D, Romeo and company inexplicably on full blast), with those who never fully shook off their roots ready to make some coin. Fortunately, those who took the shots are getting their due alongside the cast of characters who called the shots. Ewen Spencer’s Open Mic is a great book and it’s 10 years old this year, so he printed 500 copies of a follow-up to celebrate that anniversary. Expanding interviews (the insight from Lord of the Mics’ Ratty is always welcome) from last year’s Channel 4 documentary in association with Dazed, there’s some bonus photos in there too. Go get Open Mic Vol.2 from right here and swot up so you can say you were into it from day when Kanye drops that inevitable BBK connected track.

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Regardless of whether you have the slightest interest in genre moviemaking, you’ve ever worked on a project and seen it go to hell on so many levels that you just want to wander off into the wilderness to sulk, you’ll be able to identify with director Richard Stanley (I’m guessing that you might have seen Hardware and/or Dust Devil if you found yourself here — if not, they’re well worth watching). Full disclosure — I’m a huge fan of John Frankenheimer’s work and I like the 1996 adaptation of the Island of Dr. Moreau a lot. I may be the only person to ever say that, but the sense of threat, the claustrophobia in that jungle set, the makeup and the brutal nature of it make it a gem as far as I’m concerned — David Thlewis is great in his lead role and Marlon Brando is particularly peculiar in this one (though it’s not quite Missouri Breaks levels of eccentricity). I watched it having read shitty reviews because of a colossal crush on Fairuza Balk that had me watching her flicks unconditionally, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Despite being the film’s one fan, I know that there was a better version planned under Stanley’s direction and tales abound over the decades regarding the chaos around the shoot — tropical storms, plus the perfect storm of double-trouble egos in casting both Brando and Val Kilmer.

In the troubled production documentary stakes, David Gregory’s Lost Soul: the Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau is up there with the superb Overnight, the uncut Wreckage and Rage: the Making of Alien3 and Heart of Darkness: a Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (in one colossal coincidence, it transpires that Stanley’s grandfather is Sir Henry Morton Stanley — an explorer believed to be the inspiration for Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, as reinterpreted by Brando in Apocalypse Now). Lost Souls also joins Jodorowsky’s Dune (as with …Dr. Moreau I love the resulting Lynch film, regardless of flop status) in the compelling explorations of the greatest films that never were. Worth watching for Graham Humphrey’s concept art alone, this film is sad, compelling viewing and an education on the way a studio like New Line was operating in the mid 1990s. It’s a shame that Thlewis’ name isn’t even mentioned (he wrote his own 60-page account of filming that I’ve been trying to hunt down for the last 8 years), there’s no Val Kilmer interview, and Frankenheimer passed away 13 years ago (had he been willing to talk about the experience, it would almost certainly have been quotable after quotable). Lost Soul is screening sporadically at the moment and it’s also available via VOD on Vimeo if you’re residing Stateside (or know how to make your browser think you are). Highly recommended.

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Mr. Tom Scott put me onto this tremendous chat with William Gibson about clothes on Rawr Denim, wherein Gibson demonstrates an enviable knowledge of vintage and contemporary apparel, and reveals just how much of an ACRONYM fanboy he is. I liked the mention of “gray man” dressing to stay unseen — a survival and security term that represents the anti-flash polar opposite of peacocking for a mode of everyday camouflage. To be deliberately nondescript apparently requires a fair amount of thought, and isn’t just about chucking on a Superdry jacket and a top from Next.

I like this Bored of Southsea Stone Island-inspired graphic. I’ve heard a fair amount of gripes from associates regarding the love that Osti’s output is getting after the Supreme project, but hasn’t the brand always been aspirational? Do people shell out on expensive tech outerwear to wear it ironically? Still, most of the stuff I saw as a kid was very fake, and I was never an Armani Jeans kind of guy. Some skaters came up idolising Stoney, but I get the impression that a fair amount also experienced a fair amount of hassle from the kind of guys who donned the compass. Given Bored’s proximity to Pompey’s ground, it’s safe to say that the team have seen their fair share over the years.

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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.

GARMENT DISTRICT

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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.



BIG WILLI STYLE



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.