It’s good to be busy this early in the year, but it’s also a problem when it comes to giving this blog an update with any weight to it. I’m distracted by Oscar screeners too. Still, there’s a few things worth calling out here — Kickstarter has a couple of interesting book projects coming to a close, and the Jay Adams book could be good. That’s because it’s a expanded version of a fairly sought-after, decent publication I’ve thumbed through, but never owned, created in association with Osiris a year or so after Dogtown and Z-Boys was released. Whatever your opinion of Mr. Adams’ antics during his earlier life (and if you’re inclined to dismiss the darker points of your other anti-heroes, it’s best to pipe down), Adams is an undeniable legend whose influence on several subcultures was substantial (try saying that after a meth binge) and few skaters deserve a substantial documentation to the extent that he does, and this promises to be definitive, so it’s worth getting involved in this campaign to get it published. David Hackett and the team’s tribute to the patron saint of all things gnarly is definitely something to look forward to this year.
The painstaking creation of Robert Alva and Robert Reiling’s (aka WISK and RELAX) The History of Los Angeles Graffiti Art Volume 1, 1983-1988, which came with accompanying DVDs, was something to admire. That book was released almost a decade ago, and now part two is being put together — The History of Los Angeles Graffiti Art Volume 2, 1989-1994 brings the history lesson to nearly 1,000 pages. This edition is a 458-page follow-up with a more sober, stylish looking cover. With so much emphasis on the east coast’s writers, it’s good to see this kind of labour-of-love taking making an appearance. Freeway pieces and blockbusters truly take shape around this time, and with the first book fetching some big Amazon Marketplace money, $45 could prove to be a good deal.
Just in case that book gives you a hankering to get up, take heed of this 1970s anti-graffiti video uploaded a couple of years back by ProperGanderSaul. Pledges of love sprayed in broad daylight, block capital slurs, daring climbs onto signs, anti-principal marker pen insults and some throwback gang name…it’s all here.
Watching Onyx carry on during The Breakfast Clubas 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 Angela Hunte-Wisner’s styling work from the same era 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. April Walker 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.
Despite lasting for over 104 episodes before it was canned, The Word was treated like televisual Super Noodles by critics and establishment figures alike for half a decade. We, the target audience, appreciated it though, and 19 years after its final episode screened in March 1995 (watching Strike’s performance of You Sure Do from that broadcast this evening had me emotional), there seems to be a worthy amount of nostalgia for those 808 State soundtracked opening credits and the lawlessness that followed. As those reviews preempted online coverage, their toxicity has deteriorated, so we’ve forgotten the disorganised outside broadcasts and hopefuls munching on plates of dead skin, emptied colostomy bags and filtered the best bits into those memory banks. What was good was great — like live performances by artists who, in a concerted bid to show no respect to the live format, made classic TV, or George, Zippy and Shaun Ryder getting acquainted — but there was a lot of rubbish in the mix. It was sometimes like the contents of an issue of The Face being bellowed from the stage during a nightclub PA, but that was part of its appeal — sincerity shuffled self-consciously alongside humiliation and irony. We watched that thing religiously as its excesses elbowed it from a tea time slot to the post-pub position. It was there that a generation planning to go harder the following night would exit the pubs, get home, skin up with terrible hash, crack open more beers and watch it alone or in a heavily populated front room. The Word was great group TV every Friday around 11pm.
The two segments that stayed with me weren’t the usual suspects either. One was a late 1993 segment where Mark Lamarr investigated Desert Eagles and chatted to the Franklin Avenue Posse and Steele from Smif-n-Wessun about it, before a return to the studio where Terry quizzed forgotten rapper K7 (of Come Baby Come fame) on the subject of firearms. The second was a February 1994 piece from the same episode where Rod Hull attacked Snoop Dogg (mentioned here a few years back) on Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight’s son Travis back when he rapped as Chilly Tee (he now heads up LAIKA). Where else were you going to see stuff like this? Beyond these clips, it’s worth noting that The Word Appreciationaccount on Dailymotion has at least 17 full episodes uploaded — there’s all kinds of misses in there, but the gems remain and it’s best streamed late in the day and under the influence. Just like it always was.
I remember being super-impressed in 1998 when Polo Sport seemed so powerful that it could spawn a sub-label like RLX. Then Polo Sport vanished, bar a blue bottle of fragrance (developed by the same nose that would launch Power by 50 Cent 15 years later). I’ve never known the reasoning behind that switch — if ever a brand was of its time, the metallic fabrics and big branding on Polo Sport was it, embodying the late 1990s. But post-millennium the cold weather RLX line would take over like a young upstart at the office elbowing out its predecessor in 2005 in favour of skiwear and golf gear with the three-quarter sleeves. Still, it’s better than U.S. Polo Association gear (I only just found out that there was once a U.S. Polo Association bear on their cheap luggage) Having said that, I’ve never noticed anyone wearing RLX (beyond Diddy), but I’m guessing that it must make some money and the last half a decade of Polo Sport seemed pretty unmemorable and maybe the SoHo store opening in 1999 that promised to be a more accessible experience killed it. Now, in a world where 1996/97 Hilfiger and Polo Sport colour blocking, arm lettering and mesh pockets and panels is being homaged heavily, it’s ripe for a resurrection, but it’s probably for the best that it stays on the other side and is left to the vintage and thrift store gods for rediscovery. The old ads with the Bruce Weber photography stay classic and while that Polo Sport tie is not top of my wishlist, the J Peterman style copywriting is no joke.
Earlier this evening I wrote something for this blog then found out it was on another site with a better writeup. After that Armin Tamzarian Billy and the Cloneasaurus moment I had to resort to something else quickly. However, don’t mistake that for integrity, because my plan-b was to up some more magazine scans and upping somebody else’s work in such a wholesale fashion is pretty much the opposite of integrity. Once this self-inflicted (what can I say? I’m a yes man, which ends up turning me into a no man when it comes to favours for a few months) freelance workload is over maybe I can start living in the now rather than the glut of nostalgia I’ve been unloading on these pages lately. There’s too many shoe-related (a lazy day job overspill) pieces on here and too much magazine scanning in lieu of writing anything over 500 words. Normal service will resume at some point in early summer.
One of The Source‘s greatest moments in shoe coverage was the August 1994 issue with The Fat Fifteen selection that has the Jordan 10, Fila Spoiler Mid, the underrated adidas Intruder (as worn by John Starks), Womens’ Allegra, Air Flare and the Jordan III reissue. I can remember seeing this and immediately scrawling down the names of over a quarter of the showcased shoes and scheming how I could raise the funds for them. Then there’s the Just Kickin It piece where rappers talk about their favourite shoes. Andre 3000 likes an adidas Forum and Big Boi shouts out the EQT range, while Phife and Da Brat co-sign the Nike Air Darwin. Shyhiem and Kurious show an affinity for the Barkley CB2. A few months ahead of the staff walkout, The Source still ruled my life as a reference point and stuff like this gave me all the information I needed to head to a sports shop armed with questions.
When this blog was marginally more interesting, I pondered as to who draw the US poster for The Beastmaster that King Kase2 and the crew acted a fool over at the train station in Style Wars. Recently I discovered that it was C. Winston Taylor (aka. C.W. Taylor) was responsible for it. That’s one mystery solved, but I want to know who was responsible for the Champion Cheeba parody tee that was sold in Union circa 1993. Was it a SSUR creation?
Since I got some blog shine I’ve had some emails asking if I want an intern and some emails asking whether I want to boost my SEO and maximise traffic. In response to the former, I respect your enthusiasm, but it’s me at home writing while eating a yoghurt, with one eye on a TV watching Johnny Handsome right now, so there’s no call for an intern (though, seriously, if you send something and it’s incredible, I would try to pass it somewhere where you can be exploited put to use*). In response to the SEO dudes — this site is still hosted by WordPress, I put my posts up at midnight and I upped 600 words on Michael Winner the other week. Does it look like I want to maximise traffic? Give me a small audience who know their shit over blog mass appeal.
That image above is the Wovens hanging on Mike Friton’s workshop wall in this Vimeo documentary (that Hypebeast put me onto). Mike Friton’s role at Nike is significant — he’s one of the minds who pushed the brand’s creativity out there in the Innovation Kitchen and his name is attached to some of my favourite Nike objects as part of the design team – he worked with Mike Aveni (and I believe, Tinker Hatfield) on the Air Woven project, I think he was involved in the Presto Clip (I’m not a huge fan of the shoe, but the detachable sole concept at prototype stage was amazing), the self fastening version of the Air Mag and my favourite — the “Footwear with mountain goat traction elements” concept that, I believe, became the Goatek sole (one of the best Nike designs ever) with an upper designed by Thomas Gray and Sergio Lozano. There’s a little bit of speculation on my part there, but those who want to be like that Mike should consider this Mike as an inspiration too — a great creative mind. Shit, I wish every shoe had a Goatek outsole.
Last summer I lost my mind over a tradeshow glimpse of Soulland’s sweatshirt offerings, with their nods to the embroidered efforts of my youth as well as the arm printed long-sleeve tees I used to favour. This is hard (check that back detailing) because Silas is deep into what he likes and it has that OTT premium essence in the DNA. Does anyone else think other high-end homages are veering too close to something from the market (and lest you call me out for liking Marriani’s stuff, at least it’s shameless) rather than Dapper Dan or anything close to cool? The custom sweat design here is more Givenchy than just chucking stars and dogs on something. The La Maison est Aux Commandes sweat and Bourgeoisie crewneck are both quality. The house of Soulland is definitely in control. Both are available from Goodhood right now.
Seeing as you came this far, here’s an early 1990s Champion Reverse Weave sweatshirt ad. As you might have noticed, I like Champion ads.
*I’m in no position to be offering advice, but here’s a tip for anyone hunting writing work in the bloggy realm — write something completely new for the site and submit it rather than offering a link to your blog of stuff that Hypebeast has already covered. Try to bring something new to the table rather than describing something as if a blind person has asked you to tell them what an Air Max looks like — had Chris Aylen, Chris Law and Russell Williamson not been very charitable to some terrible hip-hop reviews I submitted to SpineMagazine.com** 13 years ago, I would probably still be working for Serco/Network Rail.*** I’m not proposing you submit a shit review of an Artifacts album that uses the terms “dope” and “boom-bap” like I did.**** And don’t be too zany.*****
**The ORIGINAL hip-hop and streetwear site that had the same impact on me that Big Brother, Grand Royal, Ego Trip, Rad, The Source and Phat did many years earlier. Go ask your mum.
***Actually I wouldn’t, because I was “made redundant” but I know that this was really for spending time on CrookedTongues.com’s forums and eBay. I know this because I looked that the informant’s emails while they were at lunch.
****I presume that nobody used to submit reviews to SpineMagazine externally – hence the kind treatment. Now, I think lots of people see the internet as a career and standards of submissions are better. I like to think so, anyway.
*****Do footnotes on footnotes count as zaniness? In 1999 I supplied a review to Muzik magazine (who probably had a gold-plated office back then, at the height of superclub madness) and was told that I needed to inject more humour into my writing and my response was to riddle everything I wrote with wacky similes (“Like shooting Avirex-clad fish in a barrel”). Next time I submitted a piece I got an email back telling me to, “tone down the zany similes.” There’s a lesson there somewhere. But the print industry’s so on its arse these days that I think you could wake up declaring yourself a writer one morning and have had something published in a national publication within 6 weeks.
Rushing blogging today for a number of reasons. But that doesn’t mean I can’t assail you with a bricolage of barely related bollocks. No sir. It just means it’s even less connected culturally than ever before. For some reason, putting some pictures from the bin bags of brand-related ephemera (which I believe are out there on the internet somewhere already) of Tinker Hatfield and Michael Jordan in deep conversation on the subject of Jordan V and VI caused some commotion, so here’s the images again (the AJV one is actually from ‘Sneakerheads’ and has been posted before, but sometimes you need to repeat yourself to get noticed). Garments, hair, variations on popular colourways and sensible shoes. It’s all here. There’s more somewhere in the papery stacks, but drop-feeding rather than turning this into some Jordan fansite is probably the best route. For the time being, until I start hunting that SEO scrilla by reposting Modern Notoriety’s images with some hyperbolic copy. One day I might start doing that here.
How the fuck did I miss out Carhartt and Chysler’s small collection of ‘Imported From Detroit’ jackets, tees and trousers? While the union of motor vehicle and apparel isn’t necessarily destined for greatness, these pieces are the best car-related clothing since Alan Partridge’s Castrol GTX jacket. In fact, unlike some more high-profile (and more expensive) Carhartt projects, they’re made in the USA as part of a new drive (pun unintended) to promote the brand’s homegrown manufacture, as detailed by A Continuous Lean last October. The blacked out ‘Made in the USA’ patches limited runs (each individually numbered) and Detroit map on the custom quilted lining are all nice touches. In fact, from a high-end partner and launched at one of any number of Euro fashion trade shows right now, the iPhone blog paps would be descending on these pieces. But they’re not letting them into their urban ninja or street goth world right now. Not yet, anyway. These are more legit because the motor trade is one that actually necessitates workwear, whereas looking serious by a wall for a lookbook doesn’t. Admittedly, while you’ll pay extra for APC and Adam Kimmel’s vision, and they probably won’t be made in the USA, and while I love the IFD Active Jacket, it’s quite clear from the imagery that it fits mad boxy, unlike the slimmer fit of the higher-end and Euro-centric pieces.
It’s good to read informed opinions that hint at some substantial levels of research too, and I’ve been preoccupied with The Weejun all over again lately. The musings of a Brit who has been infatuated with Ivy since 1979 (a little while before either ‘Take Ivy’ reprint, anyway) is a masterful blog and his Brooks Brothers circa 1980 piece reminded me of a conversation with a friend about rich guy trousers, wherein we defined wealth by the mindset that innately associates lurid corduroy with casual, rather than a beat up pair of jeans. Brooks Brothers mastered the rich guy trouser and The Weejun talks about the pair that caught my eye when those old catalogue PDFs popped up a few years back on the Ask Andy Trad forum via Yamauchi Yuki (who I believe is a Japanese Aloha guitarist), with a wealth of wild trousers in the mix. The Christmas “fun” cords are basically half of a click suit for the very wealthy. Anybody who can pull them off is an original don dada of the college town scene — I’ve seen similar attempts at lurid mismatches from Polo, but Brooks Brothers’ are significantly wilder.
Bookending this entry with shoe-centric talk, given the boom in all things Nike Free, here’s a shot from a Nike promo booklet on innovation of the original Tinker Hatfield shoe prototype he called the Nike Free back in 1994 — a decade before his brother Tobie Hatfield helped bring us a very different Nike Free in 2004. As the company copy points out, this was actually destined to get a Rift-style split-toe (this was just before the Rift too). I see a little bit of HTM2 Run Boot in here, plus some traditional weave in there that may or may not have informed later developments too. That’s a lot of influence in one unreleased space age sandal and pure urban ninja fodder.
I’m out the country for a week from tomorrow and I’m suffering from Wi-Fi paranoia, so why not drop a phenomenally lazy (down to the wonky scans) blog post on the off-chance I don’t get back online? When it comes to coverage, Supreme is thorough, but James Jebbia stays in the background. There’s chats on the brand history in ‘Interview’, the Rizzoli book and a scattering of Japanese magazines, but part of the brand’s appeal is in how a red rectangular box does the talking. Remember when Suge Knight called out executive producers all on the records dancing? He kind of had a point. If you’re doing things properly you’re probably too busy or/and successful to require a blog that charts your meals, freebies and new watches. The Supreme piece by Jeremy Abbott in the new edition of British ‘GQ Style’ is pretty good, with James mentioning his time at Morgan Allard’s Parachute store (a retailer with a pioneering pick of Japanese brands) and Ari Marcopoulos on photography. Don’t expect an excess of insight, because giving too much away hinders longevity, but it’s worth reading. And there’s more in it than in the ‘New York’ piece (above) from May 1994. Go buy the magazine if you want to see more images.
Farewell Tony Scott. Underappreciated and considered a maestro of the overstylised, his movies were always interesting. What’s wrong with an excess of style anyway? I never put a tape of any of his films into the VHS expecting ‘Kes.’ For matters of disclosure, I hate ‘Top Gun’ — it’s boring, hi-fiving rubbish and no better than ‘Iron Eagle’ or any of its sequels. I hate ‘Days of Thunder’ too. But there’s much more to pick from — a corrupt cop losing his fingers to Denzil’s angel of vengeance in ‘Man on Fire’ (incidentally, I’m also a fan of the messier 1987 movie of the same name too which Tony Scott was originally set to direct) , Bruce Willis making like Prodigy and rocking his assailant in the face and stabbing his brain with his nosebone in ‘The Last Boy Scout’ and the Drexl Spivey interrogation (Tarantino’s script but Scott gives it a final buff that makes it better) in ‘True Romance’ and the end of the slightly underrated ‘Revenge’ that’s typically glossy but packs an emotional punch (though it’s more effective if you’ve actually watched the movie). Then there’s 1983’s Bowie-tastic ‘The Hunger’ (above) with the gothiest opening scene ever. The new wave of bloodsuckers can’t compete with this vampiric new wave moment — the font, the lighting, Bowie, Peter Murphy, psycho monkeys, Catherine Deneuve in Yves Saint Laurent (and trust me, even if ‘The Hunger’ was the only thing Scott ever directed, for the impact the Sarandon and Deneuve love scene had on my pre-pubescent mind alone, I’d be mourning his passing) basically makes it the most black painted bedroom friendly 6-minutes of cinema ever. Bela Lugosi was dead, but this next breed of bloodsucker was a great deal more menacing. Ignore the usual bro fodder when it comes to celebrating Tony Scott’s life and there’s gems. Am I the only one who likes at least 50% of ‘Domino’ too? What’s that? I am? Okay then. Each to their own.
Tony Scott put Mickey Rourke on during his early to mid 2000s comeback trail, but I’m currently obsessing over his straight-to-video era, post ‘Wild Orchid’ and pre ‘Buffalo 66’. Rourke’s presence at any stage of his career is undeniable and this 1994 portrait by Michel Comte for ‘L’Uomo Vogue’ is amazing. The manliest of hand holding (check the dual watch wearing) and Mickey matching a Marlboro with adidas tracksuit bottoms and two-tone wingtips is a tremendous look. You need to be Rourke to make that unemployed look actually work for you though. He might dress a little Eastern-Europe theme pub now when he’s hitting Stringfellows, but there was a point when this guy couldn’t not look cool. (Image from Photographers’ Limited Editions)
For a short while I thought I dreamt up this photoshoot, but this 1992 ‘People’ article image of Phil Knight slam-dunking in Jordan Vs is every shade of awesome. Reluctant to get in the limelight, this picture is a rare super-animated publicity image of the Nike co-founder. Having read several accounts of Knight’s competitiveness on the court, that expression on his face is no surprise.
The downfall of many a product (sometimes an entire brand) is the fonts. Mr. Maxime Büchi is a mastermind when it comes to letterforms and with the new ‘Sang Bleu’ arriving shortly, he’s putting out some shirts with some fine typography without resorting to tattooing cliches. I need to transcribe an hour-long conversation with Maxime for another site at some point in the next few days. Gotta love that overachieving Swiss-born madman. In the meantime, go to SangBleu.com to see how you can get a tee. (Image swaggerjacked straight from the mxmttt Instagram account)
And via my friends in Las Vegas I just found out that Jim Jones’ Vampire Life brand and French Montana’s Coke Boys brand are exhibiting at the same time. Is streetwear beef going to make a return?
Since Nick at Classic Kicks put me onto a video of Eli Bonerz showcasing the X-Large store in 1992 on MTV’S House of Style, I’ve had dusty adidas Campus and Conart on the mind. We have tendency to sidestep a few brands when it comes to street wear retrospect, sending graffiti-inspired brands into some kind of rap-addled nowhere zone that’s neither skate nor street enough for some folk. That’s bollocks of course, because Conart and Third Rail created their own lanes back in 1989 and 1990, respectively. Now, tag and burner covered cotton isn’t necessarily what I’m wearing, but flicking through old issues of ‘The Source’ and ‘Can Control’ I’ve seen ads that had me hastily researching (pre-internet) the world of international money orders to at least lay my hands on a catalogue and stickers.
Third Rail’s expansion into different elements of apparel (I don’t recall hearing the term cut and sew back then) and Conart’s spin on a classically west coast small front logo and graphic explosion across the back with the oval chest lettering belying the graffiti characters mean-mugging on the shirt’s reverse all blew my mind in my early teen years, and while I knew the legendary RISK from reading ‘Spraycan Art’ until the binding broke and was aware that he was a key mind in the Third Rail empire, it wasn’t until I read Slash’s autobiography that I realised that Conart’s Ash Hudson is Slash’s younger brother. It’s odd how some brands don’t quite get the shouts they deserve, but Conart and Third Rail cemented LA’s position as the birthplace of street wear as we know it. I’m sure every brand making gear elsewhere, be it New York, Tokyo or London, would concede the power of west coast labels inspired them to make their own power moves, fused with their local aesthetics, trends, movements and attitude.
These two brands made full use of the merger of style, airbrush custom culture, long legacy of Cholo style letterforms, technical flare and everything else that differentiated LA’s graffiti from other regions. As far as ambassadors for other coasts went, the moment Biggie wore a Conart tee to wield a machine gun, a certain immortality was cemented.
Conart’s current site seems to be down, but the above image of a 1989 ad from ‘URB’ is taken from their Facebook and RISK’s blog upped some old ads last year — this post is well worth your time.
This December 26, 1994 ‘LA Times’ article captures a certain moment in time (even if it seems to misspell RISK’s real name):
He once took spray-paint cans and made the city of Los Angeles his imagination’s canvas, but Ash Hudson has now turned a third-story Rampart Boulevard loft into a studio where L.A.’s biggest vandalism problem is a business success story.
A former graffiti vandal—or tagger, in the vernacular of the streets—Hudson turned entrepreneur in 1989 by founding a firm called Conart. He has turned it into a clothing distributor that designs graffiti images for T-shirts and caps and boasts of 1994 orders totaling $1 million.
Conart (convict and art) now employs half a dozen paint-can-wielding staff artists and provides free-lance work for others, helping to focus their creative energies into a lucrative business.
“We’re occupying so much of their time that they don’t have time to go out on the street,” said the 22-year-old Hudson, a native of Culver City.
Taggers have been dreaded and hunted in major cities since urban teens began vandalizing buildings, subways and freeways in the late 1970s. The term refers to the vandals’ tags, or personalized signatures, they attach to their handiwork around the city.
But out of this illegal pastime have sprung legitimate graffiti artists, claiming a niche in the contemporary art world as well as in the clothing industry.
Dozens of graffiti clothing companies have started in big cities throughout the country, particularly in Los Angeles and New York and mostly by former taggers, said Robert Christofaro, a graphic designer for In Fashion, a trade magazine in New York City. Many of the companies have found it hard to stay afloat.
“A lot of them can’t manage to stay open . . . it’s a hard marketplace,” Christofaro said.
But for many, graffiti has become an avenue to opportunity. The clothing designs have attracted a large following of young adults who grew up fascinated by the genre.
“All the people that are most successful in the graffiti scene have expanded but held on to their graffiti roots. . . . The whole thing is being innovative,” said Kelly Gravao, another ex-tagger, who now owns Third Rail, an alternative clothing company in Boyle Heights. Third Rail also began by selling graffiti designed T-shirts and caps, but has since expanded its clothing line.
Gravao, 26, was arrested on many occasions and even shot in the leg when he tagged “in the wrong neighborhood,” he said.
Third Rail has grown 300% in sales since it opened in 1990, not long after Conart, Gravao said. He has one retail clothing store, Crazy Life, and is about to open a second in Hollywood. He said his focus has shifted from graffiti to various other clothing designs, targeted at surfers, skateboarders and snowboard enthusiasts.
Conart, he said, is one of the survivors in the graffiti-clothing business, benefiting when many imitators fell by the wayside. Today it sells to 470 accounts at specialty stores across the United States and as far away as Japan, where graffiti designs have become very popular.
“In Japan they’re not doing Japanese letters, they’re doing American letter schemes,” Hudson said.
Conart does half of its business there, where its designs are sold out soon after they are sent out, he said. He has even heard of bootleg Conart T-shirts being sold around Tokyo.
“(Graffiti) has become a big thing now with rap. . . . In one week everything (in stores) is sold out,” said Ken Kitakaze, who has coordinated Conart’s distribution to at least 50 stores throughout Japan for the last four years.
Conart is “the original maker of the graffiti street-style T-shirt,” said Paul Takahashi, a buyer for Extra-Large, whose clothing stores in Hollywood and New York were among the first to carry Conart’s designs. The market was saturated with imitators as soon as Conart’s designs hit stores, he said.
“We carry Conart because we try to keep the more original stuff.”
Irma Zandl, president of Zandl Group, New York marketing-trend consultants, said that recently clothing targeted to young adults has been dull. In the clothing industry the time is right for visually exciting pieces, like the ones graffiti artists design, she said.
The T-shirt designs are colorful and mesmerizing, but at the same time they often touch on social issues—and take a controversial point of view.
One of Conart’s depicts a Ku Klux Klan member holding his infant son, who is also dressed in the white garb of the organization. At the bottom it says: “Future Police Officer.” Another shirt is a caricature of two black men, one holding a gun and the other waving a flag that says: “No Justice No Peace.”
Hudson, an African American whose dreadlocks dangle to his chest, didn’t expect any of this success. Big business snuck up on him and his “conartists,” as he calls them. It snowballed when he began selling graffiti designed T-shirts in front of high schools at age 16.
“(Conart) was a hobby turned business,” he said. “I saw the connection of putting the imagery on clothing.”
Dammit, internet. You’re supposed to keep me updated on everything that happens, yet the launch of Foot Locker’s Europe-only (allegedly) rollout of Nike Huarache LEs wasn’t brought to my attention until they were all over eBay. The Huarache is the shoe that changed everything back in the early 1990s (you don’t see kids embracing modern silhouettes any more on these shores), then had a second wave in the early 2000s at road level again alongside a swathe of monotone Huarache Trainers too. Apparently these Black and Tour Yellow 2012 reissues are just the start of a summer-long rollout. I can’t get down with this shoe when it’s sat on a Free 5.0 sole and while I’d prefer some mesh in that toe box rather than Durabuck type fabric, these are pretty banging.
If supplies had been more plentiful (thank you Tan for the hookup), I think the streets would have been flooded with them once again. Instead it felt like the Foot Locker Limited Edition hangtag days of old. I’d like to think that it was a connoisseur backlash to the Free editions that led to the re-release, but I think ‘The Only Way is Essex’ and Wiz Khalifa are the entities that got these signed off. Still, in an era where every element of sports footwear is previewed, given closer looks and even the opening of a box is broadcast, that a release like these could come and go in relative silence is kind of odd.
Drop 3 of Our Legacy’s Splash collection appears online tomorrow. Serious looks, animal print Cosmo Kramer style shirts and Riri zippered designs with constellations printed on them? As I’ve mentioned before, this brand is untouchable at the moment. Defining the rollover basics at ‘Rollover’? Good move. The Oi Polloi exclusives, contrast armed Great Sweats, tracksuit bottoms that bring a refined edge to the uniform of the unemployed and pretty much everything they make appeals to me without being mired in the beige pixel world that so many other upstart menswear lines are. Tres Bien also still have the best blog of any store, bar maybe the Hundreds.