Tag Archives: stevie wonder



Seeing verification of the Beats deal and hearing about the Cross Colours comeback made the image above doubly relevant. Few brands were putting an artist as uncompromising as Dr. Dre in their ad campaigns back in 1993, but Cross Colours — a brand that deserves to be recognised as a game changer — connects to pretty much every key player in rap and the shirts on their back during the golden era of African-American owned brands. Created in 1989 by South Central LA-based Carl Jones and Thomas “TJ” Walker Cross Colours wasn’t their first brand. Jones had put in work designing graphics for Ocean Pacific and Guess, before becoming a partner on the popular Surf Fetish surf brand in 1986, with Walker as part of the team. After spotting the potential in rap’s wardrobe, Fetish Blues was launched in 1989 — drop crotch trousers being a key seller and musical notes being part of the branding.

That same year, Jones and Walker would leave to launch Cross Colours to build on that success — Afrocentric colours, patterns and imagery played a significant part of the brand’s signature aesthetic.

From 1990, it was on. Labels read “Ya dig” and delivered “Academic Hard wear” for the “Post hip hop nation.” Spike Lee’s Spike’s Joint store would open in July that year with some labels designed by Walker. Cross Colours would take some inspiration from Lee’s pioneering endeavour, with a holding company called Solo Joint. Lee’s people would take umbrage with those parallels leading to a legal outcome that would prove problematic for the newer brand and the formation of Threads 4 Life, which would also carry another brand — Brooklyn-born Carl Williams’ Karl Kani line, which connected with Cross Colours after Williams and Jones met in 1990 and would be sold as the more upmarket part of the portfolio — a rap-related response to the Ralph Lauren business model. In a short period of time, Cross Colours would unite Stevie Wonder, TLC, Snoop Dogg and Mark Wahlberg, with some superior celebrity-led ads in magazines like The Source. Their decision to give clothes to the crew of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In Living Color paid off.

By 1992, Cross Colours (and a Spike’s Joint concession) would make it to Macy’s. With sales growing from 15 million in 1991 to 160 million by 1993, Threads 4 Life was huge and in response to a change in hip-hop’ sound, the look became less playful. It opened up a number of warehouse stores, plus a flagship store. Check out this footage of a group of dancers plugging the brand in Japan. Another upstart line, April Walker’s Walker Wear, almost became part of the family and Karl Kani had started to become the leading brand in profits, even expanding into footwear with Kani and Cross Colours’ shoes made under license by the Skechers company. At one point, Magic Johnson — who appeared in ads for the brand — was rumoured to be investing heavily, but the deal never manifested. This kind of thing might not have helped in the long run either.

By 1994, Threads 4 Life found itself in trouble — demand outweighed production, the ramifications from the Spike Lee lawsuit (as detailed in Lewis McAdam’s lengthy Loose Threads article from June 26, 1994’s LA Times magazine) had caused some critical damage, bootlegging was epidemic and a retail chain that spent big (as in accounting for 60% of sales) with the company had gone into bankruptcy. Seemingly as quickly as it blew up, Cross Colours was gone — it never ceased to be relevant entirely, but Kani’s name held much more prestige. Williams’ would take his company from the ailing Threads 4 Life and launch Karl Kani Infinity to thrive in subsequent years. Several Threads 4 Life staffers would make an impact in the industry where Cross Colours’ ultimately floundered by heading up Mecca, Enyce and Sean Jean.

Carl Jones had consulted for the brilliantly named Cy-Borg Millennium Clothing around 1992 and in 1997, he and TJ Walker would work on the brand again (according to the Daily News Record at the time, “The new, innovative streetwear line, launched this spring, is based on a futuristic concept that integrates technology — the information superhighway — with fashion…”). Jones would go on to found a self-titled brand, plus Juke Joint and a line called California Vintage, before working on creative direction for clients including Forever 21 and currently heads up the Bleulab reversible denim brand. Walker would run the Nation Design Studio that worked with AND1 and Converse, co-found Modisch, head up Jaded Apparel Corp and currently consults as a brand technician, designer and product developer. Both are still Los Angeles based.

Cross Colours was relaunched in 2000 as a mid-priced brand without Jones or Walker, with the trademark bought by a group that included Skechers’ CEO Robert Greenberg. That never seemed to make much noise, and there seemed to be more dud re-ups with that license in subsequent years, but it’s good to see the brand relaunch in 2014 with the original duo involved again and holding the license. While I’m unlikely to start lusting after an Ethnic Rhythms jacket (though I was all over that piece decades ago), this brand deserves its recognition. I know some of you W)Taps and visvim disciples first took interest in clothing by the vast denims and unnecessary adornments on garments created by the some of the sons of Cross Colours. The new site is here, with a brief history that’s accompanied by some great images. To this day, I still don’t know why they used the non-American spelling of colour. Was Cross Colors already taken?



If you wanted to see bad iPhone images of book pages then you came to the right place my friend. I couldn’t be bothered to hunt anything new/old down tonight and because it’s nearly Christmas, books seemed relevant.

Joe Mansfield’s Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession didn’t disappoint — rather than trying to play completist, it picks the most interesting pieces of Mansfield’s collection and delves from there. The scattering of essays and interviews makes it a richer read, but those ads, old logos, typefaces and mentions of significant records made on each machine are an education alone. I never knew what a BOSS Dr. Rhythm DR-55 was until I picked up this book, but now I hear it all the damn time when I’m in new wave mode on iTunes. I’m looking forward to seeing what Get On Down publications puts out next — niche subjects presented perfectly are the stuff essential books are made of.



I know the Schott — 100 Years of an American Original book came out earlier this year, but I only got round to getting my hands on it. Anything Rin Tanaka is always worth hunting down, even if it always involves a hapless — and oft fruitless — bargain hunt to find it at a normal price. This is top five brand endorsed retrospectives of all time. A lot more brand would benefit from getting Tanaka to delve through his/their archives, but most don’t have the legacy of the Schott Perfecto. If you go around poking at your peers jackets and pretending that you know what you’re talking about, then you need this. The gallery of celebrity Perfecto wearers at the close of the book is a reminder that Schott’s period as a vaguely pricey nylon shelled jacket of desire for kids followed by a stint served on TK Maxx shelves was an unfair representation of the brand.




adidas’ 10 Years of Y-3 is one of those books that could have been phenomenal but ended up decent — with Yamamoto’s role with adidas looking like it’s deeper than ever and given his personal perspective is always deeper than the majority of other designers when they’re on the mic, the lack of dialogue from him was initially disappointing, but on a purely visual perspective, it’s proof of what happens when someone who can actually design gets free rein at a sports brand and there’s plenty of imagery of the shows going back to the beginning. Bar some comments from celebrity admirers and peers at the rear, it’s virtually wordless, but after the initial deflation, I have to concede that it suits the line’s approach. One day, everyone will look beyond the expensive slimline shoes that blokes used to wear with Armani denim round my way and concede that Y-3 was very influential indeed.




To conclude, here’s a picture of Stevie Wonder wearing a Fila tracksuit top, possibly during a British leg of the promo tour for Songs in the Key of Life. Even without sight, Stevie knew what time it was.



If you don’t like Coppola’s ‘The Outsiders’ we can never be friends. Ever.

I’ve referenced it on these pages a few, whether it’s Two-Bit’s Mickey Mouse t-shirt, the brief ‘Spraycan Art’ appearance or just the general look and feel of the film. It’s the reason I love denim, the reason I really started reading, the reason why I took an interest in Van Morrison’s work, the reason I love Diane Lane, the genesis of my Tom Waits fandom. Adding to that list, it’s also the reason I’ll challenge anyone who thinks Stevie Wonder totally went off the boil in the 1980s. The lists and bombastic prefixes I hurl around like a hot spud are open to change—that’s the nature of the obsessive mind, right? But this stays constant: ‘The Outsiders’ is my favourite movie of all time, and ‘Stay Gold’ is the record I’d want played at my funeral. It’s not the most cerebral of Coppola’s output—it’s a children’s (young adults?) film to some degree—but it’s just perfect. I’ll take it over ‘Apocalypse Now’, the first two Puzo adaptations and ‘The Conversation’—’Tetro’ was a beautiful piece of filmmaking, but the melodrama and stagey dialogue couldn’t contend with the timelessness of Greaser/Socs warfare. And yes, “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight…” still has me in tears. This film is prone to make me act a fool.

Stephen Burum’s cinematography elevates the proceedings from teen angst to something infinitely more widescreen and Coppola’s occasional heavy-handed stumbles are disguised in this instance by the simplicity of the narrative and great central performances. Seeing as I never caught ‘Over the Edge’ when I was very young, this was an introduction to the presence of Matt Dillon (it’s all about the magazine sweep near the film’s conclusion) and the extent of C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio’s range. Even Emilio Estevez’s ‘Transformers’ style switch from clan clown to battle-ready stance with a few flicks of a switchblade is seared into my pysche. Over-stylized? Undoubtedly, but this isn’t a subtle movie—it’s a grand affair that overlays a 1950s wrong-side-of-the-tracks b-flick with a 1930s big studio grandeur. That’s why the extended cut from 2005 jettisoning Carmine Coppola’s orchestral score was a poor decision. That version’s fine for the uninitiated, and the restored footage is largely excellent, but to see the ending altered felt like a tweak too far. Dallas’s brutal exit and the Johnny voiceover have long been cues to grieve and the studio fucked with my formula.

In terms of apparel, ‘The Outsiders’ lays down the rules—if you’re cool, it’s Chucks, double-denim and black t-shirts. Metallers sporting denim vests have known all along that it’s a strong look when it’s executed right. If you’re square, it was pastel pants and a sweater round the neck. Motherfuck a preppy. Those lightweight garments looked even more wretched after a rumble in the rain. That was drummed into my psyche at an early age and there’s still a great deal of validity in those onscreen divisions. The rich dressed like pricks and the poor looked effortlessly cool. Is there a more beautiful musical bookend than Stevie’s paean to wide-eyed innocence? No. Please—feel free to prove me wrong. So why the heck has it never had a UK DVD release? Sweden got a version briefly but we’re not deemed worthy. In fact, skip the DVD— few films warrant the hi-res glory of Blu-ray more than Francis’s definitive work. They could even put the deeply patchy 1990 14-episode follow-up TV series from Coppola and S.E. Hinton in there too. While they’re at it, can we have a very special edition of ‘The Wanderers’ too?

While I was raised on the painted artwork that reflects the director’s grand intentions, lifting the lead characters to somewhere almost fantastical before they’re brought back down to earth with the bump of a falling church roof, I’ve become acquainted with the simpler portrait shot and clean fonts used in most of the posters and DVD art. The lesser-seen Italian art above (often cropped) for their version, which seems to translate as ‘Boys of 56th Street’ looks closer to ‘Class of 1984’ than the sensitive portrayal it actually is. They even put Johnny Cade into some adidas Nizzas for no real reason. The German poster seems to show a completely different cast, Thailand got heavy on the romance, while France’s goes heavy on the violence angle, ensuring some audience disappointment for those expecting bloodshed. One of the Japanese efforts is fantastic—check Francis’s face in that ‘O’…

R.I.P. Darrel “Darry” Curtis.