I know that you might have seen the Air Force 1 documentary instalments from 2007 over and over again. All three parts clock in at around 19 minutes. But director and all round good guy Thibaut de Longeville was commissioned by Nike Sportswear to turn that work into something a lot longer in 2012. The resulting film, Air Force 1: Anatomy of an Urban Legend, was screened in NYC around the World Basketball Festival celebrations that summer and screened on OFIVE in France. It proved elusive since then online, but Fanagt on YouTube has uploaded it. At 75 minutes, there’s a lot more footage (and a couple of language barriers if you can’t speak French), plus a good narration from KRS-One. It’s more than just a repackage of the 2007 footage, though much of the footage seems to have been shot around 2006. Oddly, if you need more of the Baltimore story, there’s a bit more in the shorts (Cinderella Shoes’ owner has been excised here), but the animation on the 1984 releases — the daddy of the Quickstrike program — is a bit more specific in this production. Because this wasn’t handed out by Nike on promo DVDs, there’s an Azie Faison appearance and more explicit parallels drawn between drug dealer style and the popularity of the AF1. Sandy Bodecker (who has been heavily involved in numerous Nike projects that helped change the company’s direction — he was part of the AM1 project and was integral to making the brand a player in football and skateboarding) and the Up’s designer, Bruce Kilgore get in front of the camera too. Personally, I prefer the brevity of the original 2007 releases, because they remain some of the finest documentaries on the subject of shoes to date (unsurprising, because Thibaut and the 360 Creative team made Just For Kicks). I know there’s all kinds of shoe films in production right now, and many look unappealing, because they tread existing territory, film a few queues, single out some alleged influencers, then get a few dudes to open some boxes and bitch about resellers. Nobody’s telling stories, and W+K and Jordan Brand’s Sneakerheads and Just For Kicks are destined to be better until somebody actually makes an effort. There’s only a handful of trainers that justify a dedicated full-length film. This is 1 of them.
Edit:Annnnd it’s gone. Watch this 19 minute version instead and wait for a wider release some time soon.
I’m slipping in life. I missed this video of Riff-Raff and Harmony Korine playing basketball over a month ago and I only just saw the Kickstarter page for the Dust & Grooves book. Both are significant additions to the internet.
Being involved in retail (though it’s not secret that my heart lies in marketing and communications), I know it’s ruthless — a world ruled by a handful of innovative spots and a ton of copycats who are perpetrating. I’m not sure whether rules regarding perpetrating and biting were overruled a few years ago but it seems to be the case. My brothers at Patta aka the Dutch Masters are the realest dudes in the business as well as longtime supporters of my crap and the recent temporary downtime for the store proves that goodwill and being legit doesn’t make you bulletproof. It’s rare to meet dudes who walk it like they talk it, but Edson, Lee, Tim and Gee and the rest of the team are those guys — definitely a rare breed.
While we wait for the physical store to return, this MC Theater video of ‘The Patta Story’ is anecdote central, even if some tales are lost in translation, taking it back to the Fat Beats and grey import era (and you know, in your heart of hearts, that grey import was the most interesting part of Euro trainer retail — now those electronic and real-world shelves are exactly the same, give or take a few release dates). They had Parra on some design duties, they made the Air Max their own (who else was going to notice the power of the mini forefoot swoosh?) and put out a mixtape with Non Phixion rapping about New Balance and Spot-bilt over the ‘Run’ instrumental. That’s deep. Even when it’s not open, it’s still my favourite store. After a friend mentioned an encounter with a buyer who hadn’t heard of Sal Barbier, I fear the industry is being assailed by corny “all the shoes but not a clue” type folks – it’s that snapback and AM1 goldrush, yo. But that’s transient nonsense and Patta is forever.
Here’s the obligatory “Look what arrived in the post!” addition to this post — salutes to my friends at Nike for these 2012 iterations of the Hyperdunk. As the worlds of shoe and gadgets clash, it makes these visually incredible with the Flywire strands (originally called Magwire, fact fans), but incredibly hard to wear for casual use. But having messed around with the shoes with the Nike+ Training system I’m keen to use them for lounge workout use with the iPhone and improve my hapless jump height to make myself less of a failure as a man. I saw this version in LA recently and this WLF GRY/FRBRRY-DYNMC BL seems to be some NRG spin on the WBF version that dropped recently with some fancy extra packaging. I like this shoe.
If you haven’t read Paul Gorman’s ‘The Look: Adventures in Rock and Pop Fashion’ you should have done, because it’s the best book on music and fashion ever written and Gorman has dedicated a whole book to a living legend who was one of the subjects of that book — Tommy Roberts and pioneering his Mr Freedom (not to be mistaken for the Mister Freedom vintage empire, though I always assumed that Christophe Loiron and Tommy Roberts were inspired by William Klein’s film of the same name) store. I’m only a few pages into it, but the cover is proof that Jeremy Scott wasn’t the first to get playful with winged shoes and Roberts ran one of the first clothing brands to collaborate with Disney (in a curiously sexualized way) back in 1969. All with an interest in clothes and the culture of clobber should pick this one up. This and ‘Dream Suits: The Wonderful World of Nudie Cohn’ by Mairi MacKenzie are superior documents of the relationship between a musician and the clothes that define them.
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.
The only drag at this time of year is starting all over again. It’s best to try to start from scratch from January 1st, lest you become one of those people dragging old clippings around and making references to barely seen projects from half a decade ago. Especially if you’re writing for a living. The only projects that count are the ones ahead of you — we might live in a world of nostalgia and retro fixation, but don’t render yourself a retro. This policy began just as I’d started submitting sycophantic rap reviews to magazines to obtain free CDs and — rather quaintly — to get my name in print. It was 2001 — people cared about stuff like that back then.
In May that year, I watched a fairly joyless and disturbing Channel 4 ‘Cutting Edge’ documentary called ‘Brian’s Story’ that charted the street-level, hand-to-mouth existence of a Cambridge-educated journalist called Brian Davis, from the occasionally amusing misunderstandings and chaotic meanderings that replaced a successful ascent at a time when print press really mattered, as Brian slept rough and muttered his way through central London. Brian had written a book called ‘The Thriller: the Suspense Film from 1946’ in 1973 (with the cover using the classic shot of Popeye Doyle shooting Nicoli from ‘The French Connection’) considered to be a definitive text on the genre. He wrote for ‘Campaign’ and ultimately became editor of ‘Creative Review’ between 1982 and 1984 with an apparent reputation for perfect prose despite a shambolic way-of-life.
Becoming editor of ‘Campaign’ in 1984 at the age of 39, Brian walked out of the job after a week into a freelance existence marred by manic depression and alcoholism. Dave Nath’s documentary caught him sixteen years into that uncertain world, where a lack of work had put him on the streets. Brian wielded his bag of press clippings as the only link to a past life, talking about the big breaks that lay ahead of him and mumbling about a presumably fictional date set to interview Roman Polanski that would dig him out his rut. There was some funny stuff, like the jump cut from him being given a home to sleep in by a family member to a spectacular mess with marks on the kitchen walls from neglected cookery missions. Then there was the really unfunny stuff, like Brian falling to his death from the roof of a cheap hotel.
It wasn’t the triumphant back from the brink tale that he assumed the documentary would depict, but Brian was likable throughout and ‘Brian’s Story’ reinforced just how unreinforced our future is. If it could happen to somebody that talented — though nobody ever claimed he didn’t have his flaws — it could happen to anybody. And it’s a long way down. So I figured that it’s best not to be that person living in the past, with portfolio scans and LinkedIn lists replacing those faded carrier bags of old triumphs, and that it’s best to focus on the next.
Alas, like other documentary favourites of mine like ‘The Knocker’s Tale,’ Brian’s Story’ isn’t available online. Perhaps it’ll be added to Channel 4’s 4OD service at some point this year. Every time I hurl a BlackBerry across the room in a tantrum, give a MacBook the Ike Turner treatment or think back to my mum thinking I was autistic for being able to recall Dengar, Zuckuss and 4-Lom but not being able to add 1+1 I think back to Brian’s decline. The freelance realm can destroy a fragile mind.
It’s 2012. That means we must have robots cooking dinner, TVs implanted into our eyeballs and cars that do the driving, right? No. But we have got phones with cameras and affiliated apps that make the pictures taken look like they’re from the past. That’ll do. Plus we can spread rumours and make up Martin Luther King quotes for viral purposes by way of micro blogging. 2012 is awesome. What did you think a shoe would look like by this moment in time? the Nike-owned Cole Haan’s brogues with Lunarlon are an amusing mix of futurism and fuddy-duddy and I think I like them. That’s visible Lunarlon, not the secret drop-in midsole variation either. On discussing a friend’s move to Cole Haan, I joked about Lunar brogues and was told that I wasn’t too far off the mark.
Nike man Jarrett Reynolds’ custom saddle shoes with a Dynamic Support sole caused some attention just over a year ago, and the fruits of that project seem to be present in the Lunargrand wingtip that’s in the latest Sneaker Freaker. But why are people sleeping on the grey and lime variant in the traditional Lunar palette? That’s a truly insane creation that fills the strange cool kid gulf between total tech on the foot (witness the popularity of the Lunar line and Free Run+ 2) and Alden, Alfred Sargent and the rest. The Lunargrand is dumb yet amazing. Cole Haan’s been using Nike technologies for a minute, but they’ve long been the brand obstructing my digs in Nike outlets. This is something far more interesting.
Sports footwear trying to look like “proper” shoes is corny. Proper shoes trying to look like sports footwear is a far more entertaining proposition. Back in the early 1980s, Nike’s decision to make smart shoes using Nike technologies wasn’t a success, but it resulted in a range of forgotten shoes in plain and moc-toe styles like the Bedouin and Vagabond circa 1984, that used the Octowaffle pattern outsole as an adaption of existing Nike running technologies. Looking back, the styles are Clarks-alikes, and the decision to buy Cole Haan a few years later was probably a smart move, but I guarantee that many would lose their minds if somebody broke out the Bedouin now. The smart Nike shoes weren’t a success at the time, but the same thinking (and the popularity of Mark McNairy’s creations) makes these a little more timely. Nearly twenty years later, the HTM Zoom Macropus (a clever spin on the marsupial genus that contains the wallaby) was a bold move at trend level too.
While Nike are revisiting past experiments, they need to put out the stonewashed Nike Denim Full-Zip Jacket with the FORCE logo and underarm zips, plus the Denim Shorts that were released around 1990 to wear with the Air Force Five. A.C. Slater meets David Robinson is a strong look.
If you’re looking for something mindless to watch as New Year’s Day winds down, I recommend one of 2011’s most underrated action films — ‘Ironclad.’ It might outstay its welcome, but if you enjoyed 1985’s grim Paul Verhoeven-helmed ‘Flesh+Blood’ ‘Ironclad’ takes the medieval misery way beyond anything there. No fucking elves or orcs — just lots of fighting, and some of the goriest scraps I’ve ever seen. Forget Colin Firth with a speech impediment. This was one of the best British movies of the year. The beating of a man to death with a severed arm is a nice touch. Not even Paul Giamatti’s shit Engish accent could spoil it.