It’s March 2012. After a hazy year of explosive change, ‘skate-punk dirtbag meets hip-hop gorecore’ rappers were changing the fashion game and vice-versa. Supreme LA’s support for OFWGKTA arguably helped to push them forward into the limelight, while BLACKSCALE were keeping their ears to the ground about a certain A$AP MOB that had been giving their garments some healthy endorsement.
Elsewhere in the world, this crossover of music and clothes – let’s be clear, it’s nothing new, but ‘something different’ happened – was translating into publicity, sales and cash. ‘Yonkers’ sent the price of one particular cap up to $tupid and ensured that every other design available didn’t sit around. ‘Swag’ hit the streets. Some say we just weren’t ready for it. Others say it had to happen, that the markets could never go on the way they had. Others say it was the fault of the bankers. Just kidding.
Cue the announcement of the Supreme x Comme des Garçons SHIRT collaboration in March 2012. Hot after the opening of the Supreme London store 6 months previously, this heavily-publicised and consumer-friendly collection, with something available for everyone, literally blew up. Everybody had polka-dot fever and nobody knew it; lines at stores around the world got so long that people formed drum circles; raffle systems at DSM’s new Ginza store saw people paying homeless men to sit in line for them and; DSM’s UK website, offering the first chance for Supreme customers in the UK to purchase product online, froze for about 12 hours and ended up manifesting orders for three times the amount of stock available (read: crazy kids dun goof’d our computers).
Moving on, sneakers. I genuinely saw so many stories in 2012 that combined Nike, shopping malls and civil unrest that I started to wonder if perhaps there was something that I hadn’t heard regarding Nike’s nature as a company that JUST MAKES CLOTHING FOR YOUR BODY AND TRAINERS FOR YOUR FEET. People getting shot, crowds of teenagers getting tear-gassed, and a dude offering the title to his car in exchange for a pair of Jordan Retro XIs. What kind of a world do we live in that somebody would genuinely give up their means of getting home in exchange for a simpler mode of transport that they would clearly never use?!
This could all be really, really tedious if you’re anybody except Russ Karablin of SSUR. Ukrainian-born, raised in NYC, Russ has been part of the NYC Graffiti scene for two decades. He followed in the footsteps of Stüssy, X-Large, Zoo York and the like in the 90s when the t-shirt became the chosen means of transmission of his message. The message: ‘Sex, Politics and Protest’.
Logo-flipping has been one of Russ’ favourite tricks, and in the context of his own history and the brand it has formed part of the charm – He received a Cease & Desist for his Rolex flip last year, and I was slightly disappointed to receive my hoodie and notice that the crown had been slightly modified – so when A$AP Rocky started getting wider attention in 2012 and ‘Wassup’ shot Russ’ ‘Comme des FUÇKDOWN’ flip into the mainstream it was cool to see one of the real heads making money.
But more than anything, it was timed perfectly. In the bewilderment of sneaker riots, skate-meets-couture collaborations, swag-crazy rappers and product-placement music videos, it felt like Russ was just reaching out to the people scrambling for all these products, perhaps even his own. Guys, seriously, calm the fuck down.
It felt like a scathing response to all of the madness that fashion was perpetuating. And then, unfortunately, fashion did what fashion does – perpetuates things. So then you’ve got ‘Junya Mafia’; Hermes changed to ‘Homies’; fucking ‘Yolo by Mark McNairy’. You start to ask yourself, ‘Where’s the bite?’ It doesn’t really seem that clear to me what it is about Mark McNairy’s design that distinguishes it from the ‘Applecrumble & Fish’ design by Meat & Cheese that I’ve been able to purchase in any Route One store for the past nine fucking years.
There are people who flip logos because there’s a thought-process involved. SSUR, Supreme, Fuct, X-Large and the like are not only brands that have been around since the 90s. They’re part of that original wave of streetwear that saw people claiming their chests as personal billboards and making their own statements. After decades of looking around and seeing logos shoved in their faces it was a chance to shove one back, and logo-flipping had all the satirical bite to transmit those messages. Take their images and make them your own, and if you can fuck theirs up at the same time, all the better. Anybody remember the Double-S logo?
There was rhyme and reason there. Go search on YouTube and find the videos of MTV interviewing the Beastie Boys about their X-Large garms; BBC documentaries asking teenagers about their trainers; Run-DMC’s ‘My Adidas’ paving the way for a whole new age of branding and beats. For a while these brands, with their effortless ‘cool’, were treated the same way as the couture brands grafting 52 weeks a year to make their stuff look effortlessly cool. Why not borrow some of their branding when they’re bound to borrow some of your swagger when the next season rolls in?
When the Comme des FUÇKDOWN flip blew up again in 2012, it was different, the flip itself had become a brand. It felt just like when I started seeing an Obey cap on the head of every other guy on Oxford Street – by becoming what it had now become, the brand had lost ownership of its message. Nobody got it anymore. SSUR and Obey are different stories entirely, however, and if there’s one thing you have to give Russ props for it’s ensuring that his brand’s larger message of chaos and insolence stays clear in the hype – his ‘Channel’ flip hoodie is a razor-sharp nod to all our friends in the import/export markets, while the ‘Bomber’ snapback, with its elegant script text, is the perfect sartorial ‘fuck-you’ for any young arab male on the tube who’s sick of getting dirty looks – SSUR uses these neutralised, family-friendly brands and logos to address ‘hot topics’ on the youths’ lips in a way that makes them engage. More so than ‘Christian Bore’ anyway.
However, another thing about flips like Russ’ is that, sometimes, they’re just a bit of fun. Take a logo, make it funny, whatever, no biggie. Some of these latest efforts feel so laboured under the notion that it’s supposed to be a combination of wit, satire, politics, rebellion or whatever and it just feels contrived. How is a rip on a brand gonna be funny if it was done so in a concerted effort by another brand? It’s like laughing at a kid for wearing nice labels – you’re only pointing and laughing because he got your attention.
Bottom line – please stop doing this stuff. A joke gets less funny each time you hear it, and changing some of the words around isn’t going to fool anybody, especially when the older guys are doing much better routines with better gags. If I see anybody in the street wearing a ‘Yolo by Mark McNairy’ t-shirt I will be sure that the statement on the t-shirt follows through much quicker than expected. You have been warned.
If you enjoyed this, Greg posts regularly on his own site Fuckin Yeh