Tag Archives: london

THE BRITISH SPORTS SHOP

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Because I like trainers, and it’s relatively well-documented, it’s assumed that I’ll be keen on anything that’s trainer-related that isn’t actually a pair of shoes. During a boom time, most stuff that isn’t from the actual brands is just cash-in tat, and I’ve had a few emails from people scheming some ill-fated sounding documentaries. Your documentary will run thusly: footage of queues (with a few interviews with excitable individuals ranting about resellers), at least one dude standing in front of a wall with a legal piece on it, dull footage from some kind of convention, some bloke in a sparsely shelved boutique, interviews with the same bunch of “influencer” dudes who are pretty much omnipresent anyway, a footballer who bought a load of shoes at a mark up (plus a couple of fakes) during the last 24 months, a depressingly token female collector, a rapper collared at some kind of store event talking about Jordans with excess background sound, and a quick collage of some guys with rooms full of Nike boxes from the last three years, complete with a Drake instrumental in the background. Feel free to prove me wrong, and if I am, I’ll almost certainly write something excitable about it for you somewhere. My guess is that it’ll be a shitty Just For Kicks knockoff. Why not just single out a solitary subject and run with it? I want to see a film dedicated to the dwindling state of mom and pop stores, about the Adi/Rudi rivalry, or on the golden age of the British sporting chains.

On the latter topic, it’s crazy how the shops that reached every provincial town, where most of us saw our first Air Max, ZX or Air Jordan haven’t just shut their doors or been assimilated into a bigger chain they’ve vanished from the digital landscape too. Their boom times were back in a time when only boffins had the internet, so there’s only slivers of information online.

Brits in their late twenties and above might recall a time before the scattering of trend-led spots with exactly the same sets of upper-tier shoes. Back in the 1990s, there was Olympus Sport, First Sport, Allsports, Champion Sports, Cobra Sports and its spinoff Cobra Frontier, Intersport, Sports Division (which, as I recall, took over Olympus shops in the mid 1990s before JJB bought them). But to Google them, bar LinkedIns pages of sport industry veterans and snippets of business and marketing archives, it’s as if they never existed. Olympus — a store I spent hours in, staring at shoes and asking for leaflets and catalogues — has just vanished, despite its colossal contribution to the trainer obsession that became a monster. Some of them were still standing until the mid 2000s. It’s understandable that they faltered and fell, due to bad business decisions, stiff competition, rapid expansion and takeover bids, plus the internet’s ascent as the shopping method of choice, but it’s unusual that they barely left a note for us to remember them by. Perhaps it’s better that they vanished completely, than become a sickly imitation of themselves like Regent Street’s Lilywhites, which went from selling Italian sportswear and the kind of specialist gym equipment that oligarchs would buy to Donnay shoes and Dunlop luggage in a couple of decades. Going there is like visiting your formerly high-flying friend, only to find out that he’s been sacked, disinherited and is living off Nurishment and the occasional Pork Farm product.

For a while, I found myself assuming that Cobra Frontier was just something I dreamt up. I could at least find a picture of a flagship Olympus Sports (nothing else though). I know my more learned friends will be able to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m sure Frontier started as an instore section of Cobra that traded in Timberlands, adidas Adventure, Merrell and Nike ACG, before it became a set of shops (that I’m sure, outlasted or took over standard Cobra Sports doors). Then I found this gloriously basic short film online that looks like it’s from early 1998. Looking like a college project and full of music and the occasional slo-mo blur that defines the era, beyond the skate park footage and obligatory graf, there’s a whole section filmed in a Cobra Frontier branch, with a wall full of Air Max and Terra gems, from a time when B-list celebs wandering out the Met Bar in a yayo daze made trail shoes seem like they’d supersede runners. Sarah Atkins, I salute you for making a trainer documentary that’s almost certainly better than any more ambitious production for those few minutes alone.

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RAD

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The older generation of British skaters talking about a scene long before we had the technology for Sidewalk forums where people get angry about the price of Palace hoodies is something that interests me a great deal. This country has exported a lot to the skate industry and R.A.D. magazine (which spawned Phat — another publication that gets a lot of name checks here) was our Thrasher for half a decade. If you haven’t seen Rollin’ Through the Decades, it’s worth making the time for that documentary as a primer, and Theme Heritage’s Read and Destroy: the History & Relevance of the UK’s Legendary Skate Magazine panel is guaranteed to be an informational overload, with magazine’s editor Tim Leighton-Boyce, its former product placement consultant Vernon Adams, a frequent photographic contributor in the shape of Dobie (who really deserves a position as one of the best UK music producers ever too) and Rollin’… director Winstan Whitter all in attendance. I don’t buy into any idea that you need to know about Will Bankhead’s skate career, Ged Wells’ Insane imprint, Holmes’ early 1990s output or Tonite to enjoy wearing a Tri-Ferg logo, just as you shouldn’t be expected to know the 1982/83 76ers roster to appreciate a pair of Air Force 1s. But personally, I find the lineage fascinating — I certainly never expected Wurzel and the Death Box crew to be the start of something far bigger with Real. During its short lifespan, R.A.D. influenced legions and it’s good to see it given the treatment it deserves (thanks to Leighton-Boyce’s technical savvy, with his enthusiasm for the internet going back to a time when the idea of chatting via “electronic letter” seemed improbable, the magazine has long been available in chunks online via the excellent When We Was Rad site). It’s almost charming that the hot pink on this flyer is pretty much unreadable, but Read and Destroy… takes place at The Proud Archivist on 2-10 Hertford Road in north London from 7-11pm on Wednesday March 25th and costs eight quid to attend.

ARCHIVING AN ATTITUDE

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Ditto Press are becoming an imprint whose books I buy on sight, without needing to browse. Niche topics presented beautifully makes their releases the sort of thing that’s sought after within a few months of release. You can dither with other things, but when you leave a book waiting, it’s inevitable that they quietly slip out of print. To coincide with the Ditto Gallery exhibition on the same topic, the Skinhead: An Archive book is a deep dig into Toby Mott’s stacks of zines, packaging, records, notes, newspapers and films with Jamie Reid on design duties. That gold hardback cover with a female take on The Last Resort’s logo embossed on the cover, plus an appropriately uncompromising spine font custom created by Reid and based on a skinhead piece from a 1987 Penthouse article on racist skinheads (reproduced in the book) sold it to me from the start, and it’s good to see that Mott gives room to every aspect of the culture — the original skins, the right-wing skins, the left-wing skins, the female skins and the gay skins, each split by that brutal typeface.

Those of us who never recall seeing a SHARP skin as a kid and just remember braces, sneers and Screwdriver tees will remember the shaven-headed wolf packs as a reason to cross the road, back when glue sniffing seemed to be a viable get-high option. It’s a subject matter that’s loaded both politically and in terms of personal experience, so a publication covering all angles needed to be equally full-on. How many other books are going to include essays by Garry Bushell and Bruce LeBruce? That’s why this topic warrants exploration. Even Weetabix (whose advertising included a wheaty bovver boy in braces threatening you with, “If you know what’s good for you…”) advertising plays a role.

Different paper stocks, Risograph printing, tipped in pages, metallic ink and a jarring switch to lurid colour towards the book’s close is a luxury approach to a hardcore topic, but even a cursory skim is a confrontational experience. When a friend or relative swings by and has an idle flick-through Skinhead: An Archive, it’s Russian roulette as to where they’re going to land and what they’ll make of you, but for those of us with insatiable subcultural curiosity, this project sets a standard with its thoughtful broad exploration of an oft-paradoxical world linked by a headbutt aesthetic and macho uniformity. An incredible book. Go buy it here and visit the exhibition before the 22nd of this month, where there’s a Martine Rose tie-in collection too. This Toby Mott interview at Vice and Jamie Reid conversation and gallery over at It’s Nice That are a superb accompaniment to this project.

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Train cancellations meant that I never made the Soulland presentation at London Collections yesterday. I’m still stinging from missing out, because Silas and the team used technology the right way — using the Soulland app, the green backdrops behind each model came alive and let the iPhone shooter pick their background. Taking inspiration from the Happy Mondays, match day and Madchester, in the wrong hands, it could have been a car crash, but their strong prints, deliberately dishevelled fits and array of jacket cuts are great. I remember augmented reality being a buzzword back when I started my last job and most fashion projects using it regarding fashion being a shock and awe technique to distract from gimmicky garments. When technology is twinned with a strong collection and, appropriately, a simulation of the world through Shaun Ryder’s eyes circa 1990, it really comes to life appropriately. These Danish dons are doing content (another buzzword) right too: check out this chat with Mike Skinner on the site.

BRANDING

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Given the current craze for multiple brands on a garment by illegal means with almost as much gusto as the bootleg boom of the late 1980s and the strange period when Boss, Nike and adidas shared shirt space with a neon rainbow fade connecting rival or disparate logos. This shirt from Oshman’s celebrates their extended family of outdoor brands (with an appropriately bouncy typeface) but omits Patagonia and Arc’teryx from proceedings despite their key positions in the Harajuku store. That’s a whole lot of big names in one place on the back of this t-shirt and while Merrell might have kicked back and become a laceless dad shoe of choice without any semblance of Free & Easy’s rugged paternal style, those with a longer memory might recall Merrell having some staggeringly expensive, Italian-made hikers like the Wilderness on the market back in the very early 1990s that rivalled Vasque. They definitely managed to kill that credibility on these shores, but in Japan they seem to be in good company. This brand orgy is excellent.

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Paul Gorman is one of my favourite writers and while I wait for his books on The Face and artist Derek Boshier (check out this Clash artwork) I read a brief stopgap in the new GQ with Gorman’s feature on British photographer and fashion editor of Paul Raymond’s Club International, David Parkinson. It’s an education if you want to find out more about a forgotten legend who did a lot of things worshipped now several decades earlier, but took his own life before he could capitalise on it. On the subject of British subcultures rarely explored, the Dean Chalkley and Harris Elliott curated Return of the Rude Boy exhibition looks like it’s going to be a necessary visit when it opens in mid-June and this Guardian piece offers a quick overview of the look’s origins. It looks like Barrie Sharpe’s book has been successfully kickstarted too, meaning the Duffer story — and a lot of London’s clubland moments from a pivotal time — will be told.

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I worked on a little project — Genealogy of Innovation that includes around 200 shoes — for the Nike Football Phenomenal House project that opens in London tomorrow at the Sorting Office on New Oxford Street. Lots of football boots from the past and a few other important shoes (with a few underrated gems in the mix) and it’s on until Saturday. There might be some more discussion regarding that exhibition on this blog next week at some point.

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DUFFER

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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.

LONDON

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A lot of brands could benefit from walking before they run and while I always want to celebrate homegrown organisations here, I rarely get the sense that there’s anything behind the brand to differentiate it from the rest when I get emails about new lines. That’s because I’m still judging things by the standards that Gimme 5, maharishi and Slam City set (and there’s a whole book — or at least a booklet — to be written on Duffer’s contribution and legacy). Shouts to Trapstar, Grind London and Y’OH (currently on hiatus) for creating brands with a sense of substance and none of the thirst that deads a brand from the offset — every brand I ever loved as a kid didn’t even seem to want my business and that was appealing to me. it still appeals.

Personable, transparent, super-social, heavily PR’d wannabe Supremes miss the point of why Supreme built foundations that can sustain waves of hype that could kill a lesser brand — crucially they have a skate heritage. If you’re making streetwear for streetwear’s sake without any subculture at the core other than a quick blog buck from the slew of British sites who’ll post any old shit then you’d better be making the best tees, hats and sweats ever. Most aren’t. Having said that, the blokes behind brands like Hype are almost certainly richer than the people behind interesting product, so credibility as we knew it back in the day might be an archaic concept.

Palace is interesting in that it’s rooted in the same spirit as Slam City spinoffs like Silas (given the folks involved, it’s practically a sequel), but it seems to have hit multiple audiences without compromising, as that triangle is on nearly every moodboard and presentation I’ve seen in the last year in one way or another. Shouts to Gareth and Lev for that one — jaded old farts like me love what they’ve created and so does that lucrative 16-19 year old consumer that brands are baffled by right now. I still think that the handful of alpha kids who know have an innate understanding of whether a brand is begging it by trying to bamboozle them with Tumblr-sourced skulls and galaxy patterns or whether a brand — or the folks who run it — have a certain subcultural provenance. Maybe I’m deluded.

To see Palace rise from a collective putting out book reviews, tees and clips to something that brands —from high street to high-end lines — want a bit of in a few years is phenomenal. If Relax ran the classic (shouts to Mr. Chris Law) October 2002 Slam City feature now, that diagram (above) would probably only be slightly different (for starters, TONITE, Aries and Palace would be there). It’s unhealthy to live with two feet in he past, but I think it’s always good to get retrospective in order to understand why Slam is such an important part of our culture and it’s an institution that’s key to appreciating the importance of skateboarding as a central force in creating a market for daft printed tees in this grey climate of ours.

The Palace Christmas Pop-Off opens this Friday at 100 Shoreditch High Street (an address that seems to place it within the Ace Hotel space) and the flyer promises nothing but awesome things rather than just garms, hardware and shoes — “a new silver board that makes you skate faster”, “hyper-printing techniques” we haven’t seen before and bobble hats, plus the new Palace Reebok project are all going to be there. This will be popular.

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GRAFFITI WITHOUT GRAFFITI

For the most part, graffiti magazines aren’t very good at all. It’s all well and good documenting the temporary, but the internet does a damned good job of logging ups in realtime. Plus I’m embittered at the £10 a time I spent in Tower Records on luridly logo’d foreign language, sporadically published ‘zines that were just scanned photos. You can do a lot more with a magazine than much of what’s out there and it can be done without dry snitching or lapsing into street art tedium. I’m more interested as to what goes on in the minds of the weirdos addicted to damage and On the Go (which is also the name of “Toronto’s #1 Commuter Magazine”), 12oz Prophet and Life Sucks Die all delivered their own unique interpretation of the hard-core nature of the scene. Now the UK’s own Hurt You Bad has stepped into the arena, their “Graffiti magazine without graffiti in it” mission statement is bound to make traditionalists slate HYB with their own “art fag” slur, but it’s actually a great read. No drips, no posed entries through holes in fences…none of that. But there is plastic surgery on a pig’s head, a really good SMART Crew interview, a chat with a writer who’s inside for cocaine trafficking, lots of good photography, Horfe’s work, me talking about the Beastmaster poster and a really big explosion at the very end. There’s extremities and obsessions at the core and you should pick it up. The digital world is spilling onto paper in one big inky gaping yawn in an effort to prove that it’s “for real” but more often than not, a Richey Edwards style self-harm episode would be more engaging. HYB however, has an agenda, chapters with fancy titles (fancy titles require fancy coffee) and all sorts of grown up stuff that proves they’re about more than just blog slander. It’s worth supporting.

While you’re supporting Hurt You Bad and anything else that benefits from everyone’s favorite miserable subculture, spare a thought for those inside for it — OKER’S 24 month sentence means his family won’t have him around for Christmas. Pure Evil Gallery is selling these prints and pieces to fund his nearest and dearest over the coming months. Murmur don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time all you like but bear in mind that burglars get equivalent or lesser sentences and a man (already on a suspended jail term) who punched and paralysed a man in an unprovoked assault got 34 months. Punishment’s part of graffiti you need to accept — especially if you’re a grown up, but there’s better uses of cells than filling them with people with a pathological predilection for writing on stuff. Fairey deserves more substantial sentence for that piece of shit opposite Nike’s 1948 store in east London and whoever was involved in that godawful Microsoft mural that recently went up — from the PR company to the painters — should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. A crackdown on street art and on-the-spot fines for tourists standing in the middle of the road with iPhones held aloft taking snaps of street art should be implemented, with doors kicked in and devices confiscated for containing street art tour apps.

Thanks to my buddies at First We Feast (best new website of the year) put me onto the 2013 opening of a Shake Shack in Covent Garden. There’s room in my heart for that place’s concretes, burgers and dog biscuits in a London setting. Seeing as the NYC branches are hardly cheap, I’m assuming that the dollar to pound conversion won’t be as startling as say, Chipotle, when it arrived on these shores. Crinkle cut fries stay winning too. This and Balthazar (when brands are paying for breakfast) will make this tourist trap area worth the effort spent swearing at the living, grinning, faux chirpy living tunnel of flesh that is the gauntlet run of charity predators on exiting the train station.

There’s a new Larry Clark film out and you can watch it right now, because Larry and the studio system don’t get on (lest we forget, Clark ended up choking a man who was meant to bring Ken Park — never released in the UK — over here). Having read some reviews from the Rome screening a couple of weekends ago, I expected the usual distributor limbo, but we have access to it immediately. Marfa Girl has skateboarding, woozy amateur performances, topless teenagers, an awesome babbling bird, some sex scenes, an interesting soundtrack, a gratuitous female toilet sequence (Clark’s own kind of streaming), some restrained melodrama, guns, a cast of unknowns and some beautiful cinematography (from David Newbert). It’s curious that, given free rein to do as he pleases without industry interference, everyone’s favourite documenter of casual deviancy, doesn’t make something particularly explicit (well, by his own jazzy precedents) and instead focuses on spirituality and very small-town eccentricities. You can watch it for $5.99 (which lets you have access to it for 24 hours) right here as a stream. If you like Larry’s work (does anyone else think James Woods’ performance in Another Day in Paradise is a career high?), you need to watch it. If you don’t, it’s not going to convince you. I liked it. This NOWNESS interview with the Larry Clark is well worth watching too.