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.
The beauty of the current craving for content and storytelling is that it means tales get told that are well overdue. Some of that is down to the older generation taking greatness for granted and not putting it down on video or paper, some is down to ignorance and some is just the assumption that there was already a documentation of the thing in question. It’s baffling to think that all these years have passed without a John Simons documentary — he has been mentioned in many key texts, but his is a story of working class kids absorbing overseas cultures with a discerning filter that turned dressing up into an artform in itself is amazing. Simons has long been the gatekeeper to a world of well-dressed yankophiles where the little details were the secret signals that connected club members — something as small as the roll of a collar could get the nod. But it’s far more than that, because even for us scruffs, Simons brought over Pendletons, Golden Bear and was searching for the perfect sweatshirt long before blogs. He’s one of the original obsessives, setting trends since 1955. I’ve long wondered what the difference is between a mod and a modernist, but from conversations with those better dressed than myself, the modernist preempted the mods — a sharp reaction to popular styles of the time and the groundbreaking movies and music released then and, while I’ve long assumed art’s modernist works of the 1950s and 1960s were something very different, the hard-edged geometric abstract work of the era seems to complement the attitude and a connected appetite for more avant-garde sounds and literature, but contrast with a love of natural shoulders on a jacket. Putting the majority of the #menswear brigade who get wowed by the sight of a pocket square and tie-pin to shame, John Simons knows and (longtime garment and culture connector) Jason Jules and friends have put together this Kickstarter to raise funds to make a full-length documentary on Simons’ history and legacy called The Neat Offensive. Between this and the Kickstarter-funded Duffer project, it’s good to see the kind of things the BBC would be unlikely to payroll can come to fruition.
Nearly everywhere I go, the folks in charge who know what they’re talking about seem to have Duffer affiliations of some sort. If your perception of the Duffer of St George brand is from the Debenhams and JD affiliations that put it on the high street, that’s just part of the story.
This is a store than seems to have involved a slew of characters over the years, launched a lot of brands and for Duffer alumni, there seems to have been quite a success rate through talent and the sheer volume of connections made on the job. Inspired by the title of a Richard Lyne story called The Duffer of St George’s in The Champion Book for Boys — the kind of story compendium depicting an instantly dated, otherworldly view of Britain — it’s the brainchild of Marco Cairns, Eddie Prendergast, Barrie Sharpe (an early adopter in reappropriating a 1950s look) and Clifford Bowen who started the company 1984 as a market stall shifting vintage army surplus, baker boy hats and workwear (which had undergone a resurgence via magazines like The Face), leading to further acquisitions and custom footwear creations.
In 1985, the Portabello Street store opened and in September of that year, Duffer and Barry Sharpe’s pioneering rare groove Cat in the Hat night started at the Comedy Club in Leicester Square with Sharpe and friends DJing before it moved to the Limelight on Shaftesbury Avenue with guests like Norman Jay, then shifted to Mayfair with an emphasis on house, garage and disco. Resurrecting and introducing brands at the Portabello store, their own mix of luxury, tradition and flamboyance would spawn a look based on their own perception of cool at street level — streetwear in its truest form. One example was the ‘Yardie Cardie’ look (check it out here in the V&A archives) that merged dancehall, casual and Italian style — Sharpe’s own Sharpeye line periodically puts out makes a great version of that cardigan.
In 1987, the Soho Duffer store opened on D’Arblay Street and pushed a smooth but psychedelic 1970s look that made them responsible for a full-on revival that would connect to the acid jazz (which Sharpe would be integral to) boom’s look at the end of the decade. During the Soho years the fixation with deadstock old school trainers, a preoccupation with selvedge lines on denim and aspirations to own some Schott can all be blamed on Duffer and four stripe tracksuits and Barnzley’s oft-imitated smiley face shirts shifted from the shelves. They fueled the baseball cap boom around 1990 and would create their own hats as well as bringing New Era to London and doing parodies of high-end lines like Gucci long before it was played-out. Duffer would be sold in NYC via James Jebbia and Mary Ann Fusco’s Union store and Japan seemed smitten with their offerings too. Not content with creating its own products and setting up their own stores to cater to and create an audience, Duffer would help set up shows for the new breed of maverick menswear designers.
After the opening of the Covent Garden store in 1993 and with Duffer still creating trends and being some of the original resellers with their knack for picking up products like the Nike Air Rift and selling them for wild markups, investors entered the picture and Sharpe left to set up the aforementioned Sharpeye line (another of the great British brands), complete with a series of stores. By the late 1990s, the heavily branded Duffer zip hoody was a status symbol with a certain mass appeal about it as well as taking their footwear rollout more seriously to coincide with that popularity, resulting in their strange Spanish and Italian made asymmetric, centre seamed and driving shoe styles – with a hint of Clarks – under the Yogi name.
Duffer would expand to several stores before almost going under in 2008, but after the Duffer by St George pieces for Debenhams were borne from a 2007 deal, JD Sports got involved and made it theirs — now the puffa and retro trainer realm that Duffer helped forge is a norm and JD push that look, so, while it’s a long way from the detail orientated one-upmanship of the Duffer brand of old, it makes a certain sense. Eddie Prendergast and Steve Davies went on to found Present in east London, which keeps the old Duffer store spirit (the ability to edit and preempt) alive and Marco Cairns is still with Duffer, whose Japanese license pieces feel closer to the mid 1990s Duffer approach.
But that’s just my own rambling and it misses a lot of key moments and other pieces of the timeline (I’m open to all corrections) — the Duffer story deserves to be told by those who were there, because its influence on how southerners dress and how British menswear stores are stocked is colossal. The people that made clothes based on how the sharper man on the street was dressing ended up influencing how the man on the street dresses as well as the cool kids too.
With that in mind, this Kickstarter campaign to fund a short Duffer documentary, Style Brokers: the story of Duffer of St George makes a lot of sense. Go visit Strike Pictures’ page there and help make this happen. I always wanted to see a good retrospective article on Duffer’s history and legacy, but a film is a far better proposition — I hope they manage to speak to all involved.
I don’t have much of an inclination to be a writer or journalist. If an opportunity arises, I’m occasionally keen to participate, but the assumption of free work and a brief period spent in the competitive wastelands of fishing for freelance work soured any keenness I once displayed. I still enjoy interviewing people and maintain a wish list of subjects I’d love to document a conversation with. On the writing front, I’d sooner write a brief piece on a product for a brand for money than waste my energy peddling glorified advertorial for nothing. I think out-and-out corporate copy is a little more honest.
Despite this cautious approach, I wanted to speak to my friend Maxime Buchi because he doesn’t deal in one-word replies and because he asked if I wanted to conduct an interview to coincide with the release of Sang Bleu #6. If you have common ground but never grew up together, it’s strange how much conversation discusses other people’s past and output without ever broaching personal stories. If you know Mr. Buchi, you know that he’s an intense individual with a multitude of philosophies.
After conducting this interview almost a year ago in an incredibly noisy branch of Byron Burger (where background sound and dense dialogue muffled by food munching made it hell to transcribe), our outlet to publish it made the decision to stop running features. A few other outlets were approached but they wanted it edited down, which we felt rendered it pointless (and made me give up on magazines that operate within the industry I work entirely) and a mismatch for Sang Bleu’s glorious sprawl. Another good friend, Nick Schonberger wrote a great intro, but still, we had no choice getting our doomed chat published anywhere – either digitally or on paper – so Maxime upped it on the Sang Bleu site a couple of days ago. I’m blaming Maxime for any typos too. Here’s an extract:
GARY: You’ve got a Gucci Mane tattoo. What incited that addition to your body?
MAXIME: Gucci Mane as a rapper is pushing what I think is postmodern. He represents my idea of postmodernism in rap. Even before the albums he was representing something extreme and new in the same way as NWA back then. If you listen to it now, late 1980s rap was so theatrical. And then in the early 1990s, tension started building up. If you listen to NWA going into ‘The Chronic’ and if you listen to Ice Cube’s solo albums you can feel that it’s getting more and more serious.
G: It reaches an apex around 1992.
M: With the LA Riots.
G: When’s the first time you saw tattooing in hip-hop? Tone Loc’s Crip tattoos were early. There were a lot of shoulder tattoos but Treach from Naughty by Nature seemed to be on forearms early.
M: You know what? I just remembered the other day, that the first rap tattoo I remember was a French rapper from the group NTM.
G: What was the tattoo?
M: It was a logo that MODE2 designed.
G: MODE2′s and Chrome Angelz’ work lends itself to a tattoo very well.
M: MODE2 designed that logo and it was the cover of their very first single. It was a mini CD. Joey Starr had it tattooed at the top of his shoulder. You can see it in the video of ‘Le Monde De Demain.’ If I remember well, I even got it as a sticker in on of the early issue of infamous french rap fanzine ‘Get Busy,’ I am not talking about the watered-down 2000 resurrection, but about the early 90′s photocopied ones. The first copy I got — the one with the sticker — had a MODE2 illustration on the cover too. I still have it. It’s amazing. I used to think that the first rap related tattoo I was struck by was in the Warren G ‘Regulate’ CD booklet.
G: The ‘Long Beach’ back piece?
M: Yes. It’s so good.
G: You grew up in Switzerland. What was the hip-hop scene like there? Is it like Germany, where people really get into things?
M: Yes. I have a feeling that hip-hop kicked off in France and Germany as a very serious cultural thing. Switzerland came early too. Bambaata used to visit. We had the Zulu Nation, of which I was a member. Those who could were traveling to NY as if it was going to Mecca.
G: If you can only get certain things sent over, you’re going to get serious. What got you into hip-hop?
M: Rap. I grew up in a very political environment and my parents were very left wing.
G: Were they bohemians?
M: Kind of. In a Swiss way, whatever that means! They had strong values. I read ‘The Communist Manifesto’ when I was a teenager. I declared I was a communist when I was 12. Obviously, I didn’t know what it really meant, but I could understand and agreed people should generally be more equal. My grandmother was an Italian Protestant. We had that obsession with America right out of post war Italy. And also because of the hippy culture my parents were into.
G: Did your parents have any interest in the Black Panthers?
M: Absolutely. My parents didn’t like punk. For them it wasn’t an option. It influenced me. For them rap was that fight in America for civil rights. Obviously, they couldn’t understand the lyrics – then they might have had another opinion. They might have had another opinion. The first rap I heard was Run DMC’s ‘Tougher Than Leather’ which was pretty hardcore. Rhythmically and lyrically it’s pretty tough. From then onwards I was only interested in things that were tough sounding.
G: Getting a backpiece as a first tattoo is a bold move. Don’t most people end with that?
M: In Japanese tattooing you start with your back then expand to your entire body and that’s totally how I approached it. I was totally ready for such a commitment. I had been considering my tattoo for a long time. That’s just the way I am. A backpiece is a personal and symbolic investment. It’s like having a good watch. Not a lot of people know, but those that know appreciate.
Jorg at Beinghunted has started talking about the origins of his site. I’ve long cited BH as a key inspiration on what I do and with the current array of content management tools, sites like that being updated in HTML makes them seem like something from another world. Ease-of-use 12 years later is staggering, but as the man points out, it still works. I remember seeing the Hideout version of the Nike Presto on there (see above) in late 2001 and desperately hunting them until they mentioned that they were a one-off a few weeks later. Were they made by Nike? I’ve never known, but that Jordan IV Cement theme seemed unique at the time. Bear in mind that these were the days when an Alpha Project shoe could appear in a major Hollywood production, like this cameo from the Zoom Seismic in 2000’s Hollow Man.
The Mo’ Wax Urban Archeology trailer shows that James Lavelle and everybody else involved seems to have plenty to dig through. This video was presumably meant to coincide with a Kickstarter link to raise book and exhibition money, but at least it’s happening. There’s plenty of Mo’ Wax music I couldn’t listen to in 2013, but the imagery and ephemera collated is something I’m keen to see. Will the Mo’ Wax Bulletin Board get a mention too? That was a key digital nerd meet up spot to see in a new century and wait for releases that never seemed to happen.
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.