Northerners stay winning. As I sit here in the Lake District, 5 hours from London, I’m aware that I’m in a place where justifying some GORE-TEX expense makes a little more sense. Clobber-loving print publications from that side of the UK impress me time and time again to the point where I’m starting to repeat myself every time I receive new copies. Far more than just being about a jacket and a certain swagger, the Oi Polloi empire has spread south of late, but their always-excellent Pica~Post is an antidote to the influx of digital look books showcasing hollow-cheeked dudes looking uncomfortable in Sports Direct style gear on the periphery of a housing estate (just far enough away to avoid any potential wallet inspectors). Issue #9 (which retails for the comedy price of just 2p) contains an interview with perennial screen weasel David Patrick Kelly, who stole the show in classics like The Warriors. Commando, Dreamscape and Last Man Standing, before being one of the best characters in last year’s action masterpiece, John Wick. The team also got orthotic and put together a decent Mephisto feature that sheds some light on the billion dollar business built on uncompromised comfort, and how Arnie (star of the aforementioned 1985 fleck-suited, neck breaking, synth and kettle drum soundtracked favourite) and Pavarotti were fanatical about the brand’s offerings, complete with a shot of the rotund tenor wearing a pair — no shot of a rapper in freebie shoes without the super-soft walking experience can match that swagger. Proper’s new issue is a belter too, and they’ve gone Hollywood on us too — the illustrated guide to outfits in films is way better than another know-nada Steve McQueen fetish feature, singling out a few lesser-discussed sartorial screen moments, while Russ from TSPTR’s vintage sweatshirt collection will make you jealous.
The Hiroshi Fujiwara fragment retrospective on Rizzoli is pretty good. If you grabbed the Sneakers Tokyo and Personal Effects books, surprises are going to be minimised, but if you haven’t, it delivers the goods. Over the years I’ve heard the, “Hiroshi Fujiwara of (insert country/city)…” mentioned whenever it comes to isolating cool guys, but the majority exist as alpha individuals who are still followers who made the most of a digital world. Hiroshi laid down roots through an obsession with exploration and isolating personal picks and his taste is impeccable — more a McLaren-style figure than a blog-wonder. That’s what makes the difference, and for all the use of taste maker in the industry, there aren’t a great deal of them out there. The Fader article from 2000 is a good complement to this one and much of his travels outlined in this Interview piece help fill some gaps which aren’t fully explored in this publication — I’m still fascinated by the trips to London and NYC (and there’s some good examples of his Seditionaries and Westwood archive pieces at the close of the book), Soul II Soul connections, Tinnie Punx/Tiny Panx Organization, bearing witness to the Wild Style tour and all those Last Orgy articles (an English translation of Masayuki Kawakatsu’s biography Tiny Punk on the Hills would have cleared up a lot of that period from 1982 onwards). I want to know about the things that don’t necessarily translate, but the man behind the brands is fully aware that too much information can ruin the bloke as a brand. It’s good to be able to isolate the genesis years of Goodenough, Electric Cottage and A.F.F.A. and John C. Jay’s intro is a particular standout— as long as folks are calling themselves influencers on Linkedin, we’re unlikely to see another character make an impact like this. Not bad.
Northerners are the reason a lot of us fetishise coats and sportswear like we do — Oi Polloi’s progressive approach to something that started on the terraces is a great deal truer to the original energy than strutting around in a replica track top. Looking like you just got out of prison after 31 years in solitary confinement or dressing in a gang bang of anachronistic retro garments defeats a hard-to-define purpose. The new Pica~Post (free) and Proper (seven quid) put most competition to shame: a long discussion on sweatshirts with the Good Measure team and talk with an elderly ultra marathoner are the kind of content I mess with.
This edit from Dan Magee of a ton of classic and rare footage brought back memories of skateboard attacks at the end of the Right to Skate tape as well as some happier recollections. It’s a good use of two hours and seeing as my day began listening to Kid Capri tapes on YouTube and ended with this, my post about shutting the fuck up about 1993 a few years back has reached new heights of hypocrisy.
I’m backing any brand that does outerwear right and ALL THAT IS LEFT has a good pedigree. I know this new line will be putting out a full range beyond jackets that seems to include denim and leather goods, but this orange GORE-TEX shell creation with a Pertex shelled lining that contains Canadian Hutterite down looks bananas (read here for a primer on fancy feather insulation). It looks like it launches in September and my expectations are sky-high.
A couple of things drove me to think about the Nautica jacket era this evening — old Gino Ianucci coverage (if you take the Chris Hall Champion homage, the Salvador Barbier Polo graphic and the Ianucci Nautica bite, you’ve got a holy trinity of sorts) and this great Proper interview with Steve Sanderson from Oi Polloi that dabbles in discussion of classic nautical gear. It seemed fitting to chuck this 1993 Yachting magazine piece on technical windbreakers up here (surprisingly devoid of Helly Hansen, though that might have been considered a weightier, more traditional sailing option.) This model is killing it — you can keep your normcore irony and pay tribute to this guy’s array of expensive outerwear, because he looks like the sort of guy who really would own a yacht and blast Hall & Oates from a Bang & Olufsen system as he glides across the water, quite rightly without his tongue in his cheek. And naturally, this stuff got reappropriated brilliantly.
Eric Avar has designed some crazy shoes and I remain a fan of his more outlandish creations, even if they’re impossible to wear with jeans. Seeing Foamposites, Flight 95s or original Frees being retroed is either a testament to the fact they’re still ahead of their time, an admission of defeat — that something that insane won’t be made again – or a pointless endeavour, because they were the antithesis of backward glances when it came to design. I still don’t know. What I do know is that Avar thinks differently (working with Tinker Hatfield, he co-created a lot of ACG classics and the mighty Flight Huarache). This whole shoe thing is played out, but I’ll always investigate anything that Eric Avar has created. After the initial excitement over the low-cut fourth Kobe design (I still count it as the sixth Kobe shoe, because the Huarache 2K4 and 2K5 are part of the story — taking adidas into consideration, it was probably the eleventh Kobe shoe), I always felt that shock of the new was dulled a little by variations on a theme for the next four chapters. It’s nice to see that the low-cut has been ditched in favor of a polarising high version for the Kobe 9 Elite. I guarantee that when this gets a trim down next year, the Flyknit fans are going to come flocking. This shoe has the scope to be great — good luck trying to pull them off with shorts though.
This has been on another site, but the list of limitations and lack of share icons means that it’s better off here. It’s a quick chat with Eric Avar about the new shoe and if you’re expecting nerdery and insight, you aren’t going to get it. Phoners for specific shoes result in advertorial-style content, but there’s some hints at what makes him tick creatively. Somewhere, I’ve got a 90 minute chat with him about past triumphs that would be more relevant to this blog, but the holidays aren’t a place for interview transcription, so you’re getting this instead:
Eric, what shoes were on the table during initial meetings for the Kobe 9? Football boots played a part during the fourth shoe, so what was a cross category muse for this one?
A lot of initial talks we had were about how we had established the low as a proposition and how that referenced football boots. When we started the conversation around the 9 he really wanted a hi-top that would play like a low top. Even when we started the conversations for the low top back in the day we had to clarify just how low — three-quarters or a true low? So we almost had the same conversation again about the high. Would it be a high three-quarters or a high top? Kobe was like, “HIGH”. So he referenced a wrestling boot and more specifically, a boxing boot. He immediately referenced Manny Pacquiao and Manny’s boxing boots and shoes and he liked the essence of being provocative that way and he liked the mentality and spirit of Pacquiao so that played a role too. From a performance standpoint he just wanted a hi-top that would play like a low top with the range of motion we established with a perceptive fit or feel around its angle.
It’s odd to think that half a decade ago Kobe was asking for a low top that acted like a hi-top and now it’s the other way around.
How demanding is Kobe as a partner in design? We know he’s a player that loves control and the last four Kobes had that shape, the cut, the outrigger — there was very much a Kobe formula. Does he know what he wants from the start?
Yes. He does — he knows what he wants, but there’s always healthy conversation back and forth. He challenges myself and the entire Kobe team and I think we also challenge him in terms of what performance insights we may have and what performance technologies we have. We challenge one another but yes — Kobe is very articulate and very creative and he knows exactly what he is looking for and where he wants to go with his product.
Have you noticed that confidence and understanding increase over the years?
He has always had a good level of understanding and he has always been creative but I think through the years we’ve become more familiar with one another and the entire team. That gives us a deeper level of conversation which just leads to more potential of what we can do and where we can take the product. We’ve learned where we can take things.
Did you have a role in the creation of Flyknit originally — did it pass through the Innovation Kitchen and the ‘Zoo’?
We’ve been evolving the Flyknit technology in one way or another for probably about 12 years. There’s been so many people that have played a role directly or indirectly to get it to the point where it is today. I was in that mix, but it’s hard to say exactly what role.
As far as Flyknit engineering, does it have to be toughened up to be on the court as opposed to use as a running shoe?
That’s one of the unique things about Flyknit — its flexibility as a design and manufacturing tool. You can really push the boundaries in a number of directions to answer a number of performance problems. In basketball we knew we needed to push the boundaries in security because of the propulsive forces and lateral movements in the game. There were a number of ways to do that in both the fibres that we used and the stitches we used to create that constraint you would need above the running product.
On the running front, speaking to Sean McDowell this summer he said that he feels like George Lucas in that he wants to go back and change what he created in the past to improve it — with Flywire, Lunarlon and Flyknit around now, do you ever feel the same about earlier Kobe models or are you always looking forward?
That’s a good question. I think everything has a time and a place. With the type of technologies we had back then, we were pushing the limits and the innovations we have now are appropriate now. One of things about design in general and not specifically footwear is that technology is evolving so fast and there’s just so much room for improving in general when it comes to creativity and performance. You can look back through history and I think that’s always the case. A lot of times I’m asked what my favourite project has been and I steal a quote from Frank Lloyd Wright — he always said it’s the next one. I really believe that. In hindsight there’s always something you could do better and there’s always something to improve upon but as we go forward, the insight and data makes it an exciting time in general for footwear design.
I always associate my favourite designs from you, going back to Penny, Jason Kidd and Payton with the Zoom Air era of Nike design. Is that the perfect technology for you in that it’s great cushioning but it never gets in the way of a design? It’s rarely a focal feature.
It becomes the design — yes. That’s a good observation. I think Zoom is a very appropriate technology for basketball — it’s good cushioning and good responsive cushioning allows you to get lower to the ground. I think some of the Lunarlon foams we’ve been working on are very similar. For me, it’s a good tool — I’m a big believer in natural motion and product that works on one to one with the body and we’ve been using Zoom to provide that cushioning as part of that harmony.
How does natural motion operate in the Kobe 9?
We’re using the drop-in midsole with the Lunarlon foam and that midsole is, by its nature, very lightweight, compliant and flexible. We’ve used an outsole that’s also a little more pliable. There’s an aspect of the whole product that’s form-fitting and dynamic to the foot, so yeah, it’s in there definitely. The collar being dynamic also allows for a more perceptive fit.
With Kobe’s build and mode of play are there things you can do with him that you couldn’t do with a player like LeBron?
There are definitely differences between the style of play and body type of players but today’s players in general are just so athletic and explosive. It’s almost like playing a video game where you have your different attributes and strengths of a character — one might be different to another but that’s just how athletes are. Fundamentally, you’re trying to solve the same key problems, but you might zoom in on a key attribute of a player and amplify that a little bit where it’s appropriate for them and in line with their needs.
Did Kobe’s injuries make development of this shoe lengthier? Personally, I never expected him to even come back at this point but I just put that down to him being a freak of nature. Was wear testing more rigorous?
It was actually a pretty normal process. With Kobe, in terms of him trying out prototypes, like you said, he’s a freak of nature — everything he does is calculated to the highest degree for the most positive outcome. He approached his injury that way, from the rehab to the training and it was in sync with the prototypes of the product we were working on and it actually wasn’t that different.
Were you shocked when he wanted to add scars to the back of the shoe?
Nothing with Kobe shocks me! I had just met with him shortly after surgery and I have a picture on my phone of a picture he showed me of his surgery and his injury and we were talking about that and I mentioned that it was kind of a cool visual and he was like, “Oh yeah! Let’s put stitches on the shoe!” That’s the classic hero’s journey — rising back to the success. We just immediately stumbled across that and felt it from an inspiration and visual standpoint.
I know form often follows function but these shoes always have such a strong narrative — I mean, the Black Mamba concept has become a performance part of the shoe, but when does the plot become part of the process of design?
I think each shoe is a little different — there might be more insight or inspiration from style or form. On some, it’s a little earlier in the process and on others it comes a little later. I personally think that good design is when style and function are seamless — almost naturally flowing into one another like, “Okay, here’s the performance and now we’re going to layer in the style.” It’s when they’re fluid and one almost creates the other we get some of the most compelling products and that’s when I personally think that good design happens.
Issue 14 of Proper is pretty shoe-centric and the magazine remains one of the few menswear magazines with a sense of humour (the workplace stories are particularly amusing) — crucially, the team know their stuff and the evolution in terms of presentation has been tremendous, with a visual language in place over the last three editions to match the irreverence. Chatting to BWGH about the Jimmy Savile incident (when lookbooks go wrong) and trawling through Lindy Darrell’s spectacular haul of Nike SMUs are some of the highlights from this one. Still one of the best publications out there.
I’ll update this blog properly in a few days. Tonight, instead of visiting this site, I recommend listening to the mighty Tim Westwood mistake human immunodeficiency virus for a high street CD/DVD retailer during a carnival announcement as a reminder as to why Tim will always matter. I also recommend checking out Zipper. Zipper is a Levi’s Vintage Clothing funded magazine with contributions from the Proper squad and a well-executed 1972 theme that you can check out here. Among the knowing faux-old world content, there’s some great Levi’s artwork from campaigns commissioned by agencies like SF’s Foote, Cone & Belding and the AMC Gremlin Levi’s edition with the denim seats. When commercial artists like Larry Duke and Bruce Wolfe were creating promotional imagery, it yielded some of the most beautiful commercial artwork ever executed. I’m assuming the Bruce Wolfe who painted the late 1970s animals partying with arcuate pocket kites is the same Bruce Wolfe who painted the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom poster too. Every time I’m down I stare at this poster to stare at a world where a crocodile dressed like a casual and a penguin wearing a denim jacket are united in merriment. I’m sure that later on, the pig got his throat ripped out for speaking out of turn, but for a few minutes, food chains were abandoned in favour of fun. It’s like a lost chapter from Animal Farm where Napoleon hands out Boxer’s ketamine stash. Is that a fox wearing hickory stripes? Shouts to the bear for his head to toe duck too — even the crow is dipped. This beats any lookbook.
I don’t usually read many magazines because I’ve written for some and that’s all I need to prove that they’re probably not what they used to be. It’s turning my surroundings into an expensive barely browsed fire hazard. But I like Fantastic Man because it’s written by people who know far more than I do about the history and business of fashion despite a name that makes associates on the train home from work think I’m browsing gay erotica. I just want to read about clobber by proper journalists rather than chancers like me. By putting what’s just a long form FM article in small paperback form, Buttoned-Up (Penguin) is a fair use of 4.99 that can avoid the peculiar provincial town glances reading the magazine on public transport brings my way. I’ve found that an out-of-town commute has been the best book club (albeit a one-man book club) ever making me kind of literate after years of reading very little other than rap rumours. This book lasted from Bedford to Elstree, which is a good 40 minutes of start to finish content, which might be last a little longer if you’re not prone to hastily inhaling text rather than calmly absorbing it.
A 108 page examination of the button-up collar’s shirt and its ubiquity in east London is presented in the style of a Fantastic Man magazine and it’s a topic that fits the magazine’s clinical irreverence perfectly. At the same time, I get the impression it was pitched in a free form way over artisan breads on Kingsland Road without much preparation. Some have marveled about the specific nature of the fastened shirt collar as a book subject, but I’ve read far longer books on less. The interview with Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys (I remember Chris Lowe‘s Issey Miyake and Travel Fox gear blowing my mind as a kid), who are underrated in the style stakes, essay on the power of the collar in fashion through the 1990s to the present day, and its tees to dandyism and other manifestations of sartorial movements by Alexander Fury and Simon Reynolds’ piece on the buttoned collar’s position in mod culture, skinhead style, The Who, The Creation, Subway Sect, Secret Affair and a brace of 1980s groups who turned the aggressive uniform into a sensitive statement, including Orange Juice (who are cited as key button-uppers a few times in the book).
Personally, I have to pop that top button otherwise I feel like I’m being throttled by cotton, but it’s fascinating to find out just how much meaning can be ascribed to a simple gesture. Buttoned-Up is an amplified but pocket-size example of what Fantastic Man does very well.
Another publication that comes correct is Proper, because everybody who writes for it seems to enjoy clothes and the cultures around them. It reads like Mark, Neil and the whole crew are having a blast putting it together. If they secretly all hate each other like Sam and Dave and found the publishing and editing process hellish, I’d have no bloody idea, because Proper is so fun. The themes continue, with the surf-centric issue #13 following up the psych-hike of #12. This one contains Yusuke Hanai, lad holiday recollections, histories of the board short and aloha shirt, an Our Legacy interview and an amazing chat with Andy Weatherall (who had a shit ton of tattoos long before everyone else went all Max Cady/Brian Setzer/Mike Ness). I remember going to Magaluf and pick pocketing an overweight holiday rep for extra beer money before falling asleep in a lift. Great times. Proper has undergone a self-fulfilling prophecy by become more proper with each issue in terms of presentation. A few years ago it was like chatting with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but disheveled bloke down the boozer — now it’s all slick but still full of content like a caffeinated coffee shop conversation in one of those places where they know the provenance of their beans. Go and support the new issue.
I’ve never known how to feel about the shellsuit. I have some fond memories attached to it, including a relative who rocked up at our house one Christmas in a shellsuit, white toweling socks and loafers, Gazza, bare-chested beneath his flamboyant tracksuit spitting bars about how ace being a Geordie was and an episode of Casualty that included a plot about market-bought shellsuits and their notoriously flammable ways. Somewhere down the line, the definition of a shellsuit seemed to get twisted — waterproof running/training suits weren’t the same (some of the Italian sportswear brands made amazing ones) and hypernonce Jimmy Savile’s metallic numbers were something different too. For me, the shellsuit was slightly wrinkly, often unsparing in its use of logos and bore only a slight gloss. I recall owning an Umbro tracksuit with shellsuit trousers but a conventional glossy nylon track jacket. It was shit. I always wanted an adidas one, but now they’re the brown tie and flare combination of the early 1990s — a benchmark of terrible dressing of their times and implicated as part of Savile’s sex offending arsenal due to their elasticated waist.
It’s a shame, because there’s something a bit Stetsasonic circa ’88 about a flamboyant shellsuit. The Palace crew are trying to bring it with a Trailblazers logo homaging variation in the new collection at Slam — it actually has a 70% cotton count on the shell unlike the OGs which were made of nothing but polyester and napalm to immolate you while you were cooking Super Noodles. Palace played with World Cup 1990 imagery for their Umbro collab, so it looks like they’re following it up with a tribute to Gascoine’s post semi-final stardom steez. Theo Parrish wore this jacket at Boiler Room and if anyone can bring back the shellsuit, it’s Theo and Palace. After the current preoccupation with fleece, raglan and loopback, are we going to regress back to the shell? I kind of hope so. If the year ends in everybody breaking out pajamas and shellsuits in public, Liverpool’s got another thing to never, ever stop bragging about.
There’s a special place in hell reserved for people wandering around saying “Trill” and “We out here”. Especially hipst… actually, let’s be more direct — whiteys. Unless you’re Haystak or Lil Wyte or something. Self hating hipsterdom of the Homer Simpson “It’s funny ‘cos it’s true! We’re so lame!” kind is equally jarring, but honestly, the only rap nostalgia I’m interested in is a restoration of the days when melanin-deficient rap nerds got a “What do you know about hip-hop?” reaction to any attempts to spark a chat about Rap-A-Lot. I used to enjoy the vicarious thrill of listening to X-Clan, King Sun, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, Geto Boys and Brand Nubian just because they didn’t seem to want me listening to them. They weren’t retweeting my endorsement — rappers were taking my international money order for fan club membership or merchandise and sending me nothing because I was a white rap fan and I didn’t deserve it.
It was a poorly kept secret that we were the ones funding the industry by making up a lion’s share of music purchases, but nobody seemed to cut us any slack — we were honkys, crackers, goofy dudes or cops with amplified caucasian dweebiness on album interludes. We kind of knew our place. Even MC Serch sometimes sounded so disappointed at being white that he’d berate white devils too. Somewhere down the line, the pet white characters like that white dwarf in Too Much Trouble, Miilkbone and Knucklehedz gave way to a post-Eminem world where wild liberties are taken, kids that aren’t Paul Wall have fronts, people actually debate whether it’s cool for white people to say “nigga” (some people even think it’s cool if Gwyneth Paltrow does), hug rap replaced thug rap and even the gooniest goons seem to want to interact on social media, not helped by a climate of dickriding where rappers and hip-hop personality on Twitter “reacting” to stuff is a big deal and everything has to be “addressed”.
As is the case with high-end brands and formerly snooty stores wanting to be buddies all of a sudden, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with rap’s acceptance of me. I’m assuming that the NPR intern kid is white (posisbly even fictional) and there he is dismissing Public Enemy — that would have been a beatdown in 1988 (not that I’m advocating one and it’s kind of quaint that kids still want to be music journalists). Now it’s just a low-level viral ticking off. And how did you just get on the Trill talk when UGK said it 24 years ago (20 if we’re talking Jive records)? “We out here” is strictly for white teed characters in the background of WSHH videos. Revoke those passes people — hip-hop needs to start getting intimidating again. The music’s still on point but some folks need to be kept in check.
Anyway, everyone knows the only white dude hip-hop allows is Phil Collins.
If you spotted the mysterious artwork for Pasolini’s ‘Trilogy of Life Criterion Blu-ray set doing the rounds this week, which may or may not be a fake, because its origins are mysterious, you’ll have spotted the homage to Basquiat in there. Whatever the origins, it’s a lot cooler than Swizz Beatz shouting about “That Basquiat Life!!!!!” on Twitter. Is a disfranchised, heroin addled existence something to add multiple exclamation marks to? How about, “That Mark Rothko Life!!!!!”
I maintain that Long Beach’s Proper don’t get their due for breaking from the collaborative norm just before a hype communication infrastructure was in place. Their ASICS GT II used speckles when they were still cool and applied military grade ripstop long before everyone else did. In a ‘Sneaker Freaker’ interview in 2005, they talked about a Gel Lyte III they were working on (seemingly coinciding with the model’s reintroduction). And then, nothing. This Knicks-colour version of the shoe is one of the great lost collaborations and it even has a phantom-like quality, thanks to some wonky Photoshopping. If this shoe had come out, I would have lost my mind and I still think it holds up, despite the slew of makeups that have dropped since.