Given the pandemonium around the latest Supreme season’s offerings, it seems like a good time to look at some lesser-discussed pieces on the brand. The trouble with the internet is that most of the folks who were first seem to have vanished, taken down their sites or simply left behind by their early 2000s lack of search engine savvy. Sadly, it seems that Nikolai’s Rift Trooper site (one of the key inspirations for this blog) has gone after he stopped updating at the close of 2009, but thanks to the wonders of web.archive.org, you can read his very short interview with James Jebbia from July 2002 back when btinternet.com hosted sites were a thing, and conducted between the own-brand Downlow shoe and the original SB project. Here’s the preserved version of the page. The other links on the page are down, but searchable too — shouts to Simon and his Concept Shop site, with its early history of the Supreme backpack. The article it references is a good one too — talented designer Kevin Lyons’ brief piece on the legalities and morals of borrowing imagery in streetwear, Cease and Desist: Issues of Cultural Reappropriation in Urban Street Design, featuring Russ from SSUR, Joseph from Union, James from Supreme (and Union) and Eric Haze’s in discussion on the topic. Taken from the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design’s January 1996 issue, it’s actually more illuminating than most lengthier examinations of the same subject from recent years. Seeing as Lyons had worked for SSUR on some classic designs for Supreme, he certainly had some insider knowledge. It was reproduced in AIGA‘s now out of print Design Culture compilation from 1997.
There’s plenty of little moments scattered across publications that altered the course my career would take in one way or another. Back in mid 1998, The Face ran a ‘Fashion Hype’ (and hype would become a word attached to these objects like a particularly excitable Siamese twin in the decade that followed) piece on the newly opened Hit and Run store (which would be renamed The Hideout for presumed legal reasons by 2000). This two page spread was a rundown of things I’d never seen in the UK and sure enough never seen them with a pound price next to them. I immediately rushed out and asked a couple of Nottingham skate stores if they’d be getting any Ape, Supreme, GoodEnough or Let It Ride gear in, only to be met with a blank stare. lesson learnt: Kopelman had the hookups that the other stores didn’t. This Upper James Street spot was selling APC jeans for 48 quid, while Supreme tees were only a fiver less than they are now. The 1998 season when Supreme put out their AJ1, Casio, Champion tee, Goodfellas script design and Patagonia-parody jacket was particularly appealing, and it was showcased here, while SSUR keyrings, BAPE camo luggage and soft furnishings were a hint of things to come. I guarantee that once you made it to the store, a lot of the stuff that you assumed you could grab with ease would be gone — an early life lesson that hype just isn’t fair.
As an addict for print, I’ll get my fix by any means necessary. I’ll die when the stack of free publications I’ve amassed falls down and breaks my hip, leaving me stricken and starving. But in the meantime, I’ll still keep pathologically picking them up. The problem with the best free magazines and zines is that they were stocked in the cooler stores. Because those stores were cool inevitably, nobody else was in there beyond two shop workers, the smell of incense, and some esoteric mix wafting though the speakers. In that environment, avoiding purchase but grabbing a freebie was a definite zero eye contact and headphone move. I might have bought some twelves and mix CDs I never wanted to get hold of the ones kept behind the counter with customers in mind. A few years ago, hunting down the tactile pleasures of FRANK151 in London was a mission — since the pocket-size went to cargo pant size with issue #51 and carried a cover price, I’ve never seen it anywhere in the UK. It’s a shame, because the magazine has had some of the best content out there, and there’s plenty of images I’ve seen in FRANK151 that I’ve never seen since. If you want to get a little extra history on street culture over the last 15 years or so, go check out the magazine’s archive on issuu — you can flip though the lion’s share of the back issues (sadly, the ALIFE/Wu Tang edition is absent), going back to issue #1, when it was an Atlanta-based project with indie-rap and turntablist inclinations through to its switch around issue #10 up until some of the final freebies. All the content, without having to negotiate any moody employees of short-lived shops.
Earlier this evening I wrote something for this blog then found out it was on another site with a better writeup. After that Armin Tamzarian Billy and the Cloneasaurus moment I had to resort to something else quickly. However, don’t mistake that for integrity, because my plan-b was to up some more magazine scans and upping somebody else’s work in such a wholesale fashion is pretty much the opposite of integrity. Once this self-inflicted (what can I say? I’m a yes man, which ends up turning me into a no man when it comes to favours for a few months) freelance workload is over maybe I can start living in the now rather than the glut of nostalgia I’ve been unloading on these pages lately. There’s too many shoe-related (a lazy day job overspill) pieces on here and too much magazine scanning in lieu of writing anything over 500 words. Normal service will resume at some point in early summer.
One of The Source‘s greatest moments in shoe coverage was the August 1994 issue with The Fat Fifteen selection that has the Jordan 10, Fila Spoiler Mid, the underrated adidas Intruder (as worn by John Starks), Womens’ Allegra, Air Flare and the Jordan III reissue. I can remember seeing this and immediately scrawling down the names of over a quarter of the showcased shoes and scheming how I could raise the funds for them. Then there’s the Just Kickin It piece where rappers talk about their favourite shoes. Andre 3000 likes an adidas Forum and Big Boi shouts out the EQT range, while Phife and Da Brat co-sign the Nike Air Darwin. Shyhiem and Kurious show an affinity for the Barkley CB2. A few months ahead of the staff walkout, The Source still ruled my life as a reference point and stuff like this gave me all the information I needed to head to a sports shop armed with questions.
When this blog was marginally more interesting, I pondered as to who draw the US poster for The Beastmaster that King Kase2 and the crew acted a fool over at the train station in Style Wars. Recently I discovered that it was C. Winston Taylor (aka. C.W. Taylor) was responsible for it. That’s one mystery solved, but I want to know who was responsible for the Champion Cheeba parody tee that was sold in Union circa 1993. Was it a SSUR creation?
“The corporations lead the trends. When did street fashion become all about sneakers? What is that about? Who the fuck cares what hip hop wanker has started what baggy arsed sweatshirt and jean brand? Unfortunately it would appear that many people do care. And so the trends are set.” Russell Waterman, ‘Aspekt Ratio’ #1, 2007
I grew up in a household where much of the music was confined to a small rack of vinyl in the lounge. As a toddler it seemed like an infinite collection of music, but my dad’s record collection wasn’t particularly extensive. It was however, eclectic. I was preoccupied with the covers of the Leadbelly 4LP retrospective, the lettering on Paul Simon’s ‘One Trick Pony’, the back of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Sunlight’, Third World’s ‘Journey to Addis’ and bizarrely, both my brother and I loved the Pointer Sisters 12″ coloured vinyl that contained some label paper in the translucent red due to manufacturing error.
Best of all, there was the Santana font — fantasy realist Robert Venosa’s masterpiece that accompanies Mati Klarwein’s painting on the cover of 1970’s ‘Abraxus.’ Coincidentally my friend Jonathan would encourage me to gawp at the cover of Santana’s self-titled debut to see the faces in the lion like some kind of child hippie. Yet we never bothered playing the actual music. In fact, when I did finally listen to ‘Inner Secrets’ it bored me. My dad told me that his Santana collection arose as a result of a casual mention to my uncle that he liked a solitary Santana song. The result? Carlos for birthdays and Christmas. He wasn’t actually a fan.
But what a logo it was.
As a result I’ve been drawn to any reference to the font, and it transpired that three of my favourite brands had a go at parodying it. I just finished a project pertaining to homages and it meant I could dig out one of my favourite t-shirt designs ever — Silas’s Slayer/Silas, which I believe dates back to 2003 (though for a long time, I believed this design was a Holmes release too). Silas’s knitwear, simple sweats, Black Sabbath themed creations and ’80s disco meets punk meets hip-hop collections were great, but this one was just pitch perfect, with the noodling fusion sound of Santana at odds with the speed of Slayer’s sonics. Of course, there were parallels in fiddliness (as any ‘Guitar Hero’ veteran can tell you), but it just felt like a joke told perfectly. The ultimate deadpan delivery. Seeing as there’s no set font collection beyond S, A, N or T, there’s an appropriate amount of improvisation and riffing on behalf of the designer, resulting in that jagged, Obituary-esque thrash metal tail on the ‘R’ ro maintain symmetry.
While I believe this is the best version of the Venosa design, solely because it’s so wrong that it becomes utterly right, Holmes and Supreme deserve shouts too. Holmes was an early fascination for me, back when Slam City and Bond were must-visits on any London pilgrimage. Holmes was the proto-Silas in its early ’90s irreverence, with some sources citing the name as a John Holmes reference, long before ‘Boogie Nights’ — Russell Waterman, Sofia Prantera and several other local creatives generated some forgotten classics under this Slam City owned brand. Their Santana font ‘Satan’ (circa 1994? The picture here is borrowed from my buddies at Goodhood) was one of them. That switched the letters around smartly, and with Silas (hence the character of Silas Holmes) being a sequel of sorts to Holmes, the Slayer tee is like a sophisticated follow-up to that cult favourite from a golden age of pre-Google Image Search homage.
Between both tees, props are due to the Supreme Santana logo shirt, art directed by SSUR, designed by Kevin Lyons and released in 2000. That shirt represents the year when the internet sent hordes to the nation’s capitals in search of expensive toys, elusive Prestos and BAPE. So why dredge up these past glories? Because the current glut of 1:1 replica attempts lack the wit to ever be this memorable and it’s always worth reinforcing just how important Holmes and Silas were.