Band logo power

Interesting fact in this Montreal Gazette review of a book called The Art of the Band T-shirt. The authors apparently interviewed a number of T designers, including Arturo Vega, who did the Ramones’ visuals. He says band T’s, or maybe T’s in general:

“are the single most important part of popular culture. People want to identify with something.” Maybe this is why Vega-designed shirts outsell Ramones albums by a factor of 10 or more.

Why kick out the jams when you can rock the T? The presidential seal remix is, after all, one of the best band logos ever.
(Thanks Dave!)

Venue: The Bench

You’ve heard of the in-store appearance, the reading, the signing, the party in a bar or nightclub or lounge or retail space or maybe even a park. Here, however, is another venue. A bench — The Bench.

New York streetwear brand Married to the Mob (getting some buzz lately for its latest KAWS collaboration) will be at, or on, The Bench, this weekend. The Bench is on Orchard and Houston. Outside an American Apparel store, although that’s not mentioned and is I assume incidental. It’s not about the store, it’s about The Bench. This is not the first event at The Bench. The Bench, in fact, has a MySpace page, with news about The Bench, and hundreds of MySpace friends.

So, as the invite says: “Come Talk Shit with the Baddest Bitches in Town on the Most Poppin Bench Around!” Saturday night 10 pm. And as the email blast I got clarifies: “PS., it really is a bench!”

Claw Money: The Q&A

I’m pretty sure the first Claw piece I ever really focused on was on a wall in Los Angeles, in 2003. Somebody was driving me around, showing me Shepard Fairey pieces, and there was this big claw symbol next to all of them. The guy I was with didn’t know what the story was. The symbol looked familiar, but I didn’t know the story either, until a little bit later.

The story is that the claw was/is the mark of Claw Money, about whom I kept hearing more and more from various people in the years that followed. Have made a name/mark in NY graffiti, she was doing the same in clothing and products (including, memorably, pillows), in the “streetwear” scene, or the “downtown” scene, or whatever you prefer to call it. She built an underground brand. The recent publication of her book Bombshell, which is about all of the above, and none of the above, seemed like a good excuse to see if she would answer a few Q’s. She said: Okay.

A few things are not covered in the Q&A that follows. One is that according to her recent interview on The Weekly Drop, she’s now making some art on canvas. Another is that her dog, Peepers Marie Saint (that’s PMS, she points out), turns 12 this year. But a lot is covered — graffiti, fashion, the book, her appearance in the documentary Infamy, being the first female artist ever to do a Nike artist series/”Tier 0″ sneaker, and what you might have said to her 15 years ago that would have inspired her to spit in your face.

Here goes.

Q: You’re a well-known graffiti writer, who also has a clothing line. Once upon a time that would’ve sounded strange, but not so much now. I think the essay by DAZE in Bombshell suggests you were into fashion before writing. The way the book is done, the fashion and the graffiti work all run together. Is that how you always thought about it?

I had a passion for fashion long before I got my hands on a can of Rustoleum. I’m an FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) dropout, and it was at that point that I picked up my graffiti habit. It wasn’t the other way around. I started in my 20s, which is late for a graff writer.

To me, graffiti and fashion come from two totally different places, but I’m lucky enough to have eventually merged them. And really, so many graff writers have clothing lines! West FC, one of the graffiti greats, is actually one of the founding fathers of streetwear. The company he started with his high school homeboys Sung Choi, Zulu, Bluster and Brue, is of course the one and only PNB. (Unfortunately this line been recently resurrected without any of the original members and in my opinion is destined to be terrible.)

I don’t consider my collection “graffiti clothing.” My logo is the “throw up” that I painted on walls illegally, but other than that, it’s not meant to evoke graffiti associations. I did it a a joke. Who knew it would be a hit? And as far as my book is concerned, it is not a graffiti book, or a fashion book– it’s the real story of Claw Money: artist, designer, family girl, dog lover and all!

WEST is in the book, too. He remarks on how the claw is “more of a symbol than a throwup.” But you weren’t thinking the claw could have a life beyond walls? Read more

The Tat Test

I recently noticed an ad agency advertising itself to potential clients by asking if their brands could pass “the T-shirt test.” Please. The T-shirt test is for also-rans and wimps. Can your brand pass the tattoo test? Joining the likes of Nike, Apple, and PBR, is none other than brand underground subject The Hundreds. That’s their bomb logo, inked forever into some loyal (and in my view crazy, no offense Ben & Bobby) consumer’s skin.

Appropriate conduct

Not knowing very much about the Los Angeles graffiti scene, I’m really not sure how to judge whether this L.A. Weekly cover story is on the mark in touting the significance of a crew, or collective, there called The Seventh Letter.

With more than 100 members operating under the Seventh Letter banner, names like Revok, Retna, Saber, Push, Rime and Zes are just a few to watch as they fast become L.A.’s modern muralists. The Seventh Letter’s roots go back nearly 20 years, when the collective’s founder and leader, Eklips, a legendary writer in his own right, started the AWR (Art Work Rebels/Angels Will Rise) and MSK (Mad Society Kings) writing crews while bombing around the Motor Yard in Los Angeles.

Okay. Well, anyway, nowadays they have a brand, and do a bit of client work as well.

Having done paying jobs for Adidas, Boost Mobile, Nike and Scion, Seventh Letter members may get heat from other artists for selling out, but they refer to their opportunities as “buying in.” Why let a junior designer in an ad agency attempt the crew’s style when the real guy can do it better and faster and offer the product a little credibility?

“When a company hires or sponsors a Seventh Letter writer, they know they are going to get a professional, someone who can conduct themselves in an appropriate way,” says Eklips.

Here’s the site, if you want to hire or sponsor them, or just check out the many pix, including a Juxtapoz collaboration.

Simpsons, Kimpsons, and imaginary products

The insane Simpsons movie marketing attack is getting a lot of attention, but I have to mention two aspects of it. One is the strategy of making over certain 7-11 locations into Kwik E Marts stocked with the various fake products that are part of the show’s universe. It is definitely the most fully realized experiment in imaginary brands that I’ve ever seen. Here’s a set of images of the NY Kwik E Mart from Freshness. Here’s an overview of the imaginary brands on offer (via this guy, who’s got a list of Simpsons marketing tactics going).

The other interesting thing is that there’s a Vans artist series tied to the movie. Actually, that’s not really so interesting by itself, but one of the artists invited into the collaboration was Murketing favorite KAWS. One of the things KAWS is known for is his “Kimpsons” imagery. (Examples below and here and here.)

Some intellectual property owners might see something like that and send a cease-and-desist. Others are clever enough to do nothing, until the day comes to send a contract and a check. An image of the KAWS/Simpsons/Kimpsons Vans (among others from the series) at Complex.

Stories and T-shirts

Stories are a pretty important part of consumer behavior. Sometimes that means the story of the consumer him- or herself. Sometimes that means the story of the product.

Here is an interesting experiment in linking stories and consumption: A just-launched clothing brand called Graey, which is offering up part one of an online comix-style narrative, featuring characters in Graey apparel. It happens at, which I believe “went live” today.
So far the story — both the story on the site, and the story of the brand — is pretty much in the germinal stage, so it’s hard to make a judgment about any of it. But I’ll keep an eye on it.

To Do in NYC June 27: No Mas Lottery Event

The always-interesting team over at No Mas (see the Murketing Q&A with No Mas mastermind Chris Isenberg here) sends word of an event Wednesday night in New York that I can’t go to, but maybe you can:

The Lottery
Wednesday June 27
31 W. 19th Street / Between Fifth & Sixth

Happening the night before the NBA draft — where the drawing of random ping pong balls from a hopper determines the order in which general managers get to make their selections — the project/event “examines the role of fate in life and basketball.”

In this Lottery, the ping pall balls will turn seven lucky attendees into ‘general managers’ who will get to draft their pick of artwork from a giant wall of 8X10 portraits — one for each of the original 105 players drafted [under the lottery system]. It’s a process that Isenberg hopes will get attendees to ‘think about how weird it is that the lottery exists and has a huge effects on these players’ lives’ and to reconsider ‘the famous, the fallen, and the forgotten in relation to this ritual.

The project was inspired, he says, by Patrick Ewing (the Knicks’ dream-come-true-via-lottery choice in 1985) and Len Bias (the Celtics’ jackpot-turned-misery choice the following year).

Sounds promising! More here — including RSVP info;I gather that you need to do that if you want to go. So check it out.

Grind on

Okay, your T shirt, jeans, sneakers, hoodie, and skateboard all have street cred — but what about your premium blend coffee? As mentioned earlier, I’ve become increasingly interested in the brand underground migration into mundane and bourgeois products — the XLarge beer cozy, the Supreme air freshener, etc. Via Freshness comes word of the Frank151 online store, featuring not just coffee, but Stay High Cookies and Cream bars.

Obviously, I love it.

XLarge, considered

The most recent episode of The Weekly Drop was a pretty good interview with the founder of XLarge. I had some knowledge of the brand as an early Southern California player in what’s now called streetwear, but I knew less about it than I do about some other brands. (As it happens, I own at least one XLarge t shirt that I like a lot, but this is one of many examples of how my own taste doesn’t necessarily dictate my reporting.) Listening to the interview inspired me to click over to the brand’s site. I assume the T’s now on sale are from the out-going season, and some new batch of stuff is on the way, but a couple of designs stuck me as interesting for various reasons.

This item, Hi-Jacked Tee, jumped out at me. (In this and all cases, click on the image to go the item’s listing in the XLarge site’s store section if you’re interested.) Note the Arabic-ish treatment of the XLarge name. Seems like wearing this would be asking for trouble. But perhaps that’s part of the idea. Will Urban Outfitters bite this? I don’t think so.

Since I’ve been on this logo remix kick, I have to highlight this. They have a couple of t shirts with a similar theme, but I always enjoy seeing mundane products — a beer cozy, in this case — get the brand-underground treatment.

As a Warhol freak, I’m slightly tempted by this one: “Pop Cultural Revolution,” amusing.

But this one was my favorite. Apart from the sort of PE (as in phys ed, not Public Enemy) look, remixed with a rat, I’m probably feeling vaguely nostalgic about NYC. Of course, I’ve had the experience of moving away from NYC before, so this time my nostalgia has a somewhat different flavor. (The only T-shirt I presently own that’s NYC-specific is one I bought just before leaving town the first time, in 1999: Purchased on St. Marks, it’s one of those shirts that says, “Welcome To New York: Duck Motherfucker,” with a huge gun graphic. I love that shirt.)

Mostly I think I like the fact that the “XL” gets their branding done in a relatively subtle way. The fact is, I like a lot of brand underground designs, but I’m not any more anxious to be a billboard for their supposedly super-cool logos than I am for mainstream logos. I mean, it’s not like I’m idiotic enough to believe that anybody who looks at me will think I’m down with latest whateverblahblah, because I’m wearing thus-and-so brand. (In fact, in my case, the more obvious it is that I’m wearing a supercool-brand T-shirt, the more obvious it is that I’m a dope in denial.) So I like how the “XL” here presumably accomplishes whatever the XLarge crew wants it to accomplish in terms of spreading the XLarge name — but at the same time I could almost certinaly wear it without anybody realizing it was a brand at all. In a de facto sense, it’s un-logo-ed.

At least that’s my rationale for buying it. Which I just did.

A book about “Streetwear”

The title is, in fact: Streetwear.

I don’t know anything about it beyond what’s here, at the author’s site. Could be interesting.

On a possibly related note, We Make Money Not Art has an interview with “a PhD-candidate in critical fashion design,” partly about a project that “engages with social and subversive fashion design. [The project] takes a critical and political look on design and in particular on the fashion system and its networks. By organizing workshops and distributing booklets, the project tries to demonstrate in a very approachable way how to critically hack and re-form the operating system of modernity and the industrial modes of production.

I don’t really know what any of that means. But, again, could be interesting.

Staple: The Q&A

Today I’m pleased to present a Q&A with Jeff Staple, of Staple Design, The Reed Space, etc. I’ve forgotten now how I first met him, but as an example of where he fits into “the scene” these days, consider this Consumed column about a collaboration between New Era (the old-school baseball cap company with surprising street cred) and NYC “custom bling” jewelry artist Garbiel Urist — put together and overseen by Staple.

Anyway, the story of Staple’s success has been told many times in magazines like Theme and… I don’t know, lots of magazines, but that Theme piece is one that I remember. The point is, the part of his story that seems to get the most attention is that he says he got into the streetwear/T-shirt/design business by accident (made some T’s for friends, stores wanted to sell them, etc.). I’m interested in what happened after that, because to me Staple seems a bit ahead of the pack in terms of building a real business. If I had to bet on one brand-underground entitity that’s really going to “make it big,” not just as a brand but as a business as well, it would quite likely be Staple. (Luckily for me, I don’t have to bet.)

Here, then, my Q’s, and his A’s.

Part of my interest in the so-called brand underground (so-called by me, of course) was the creative side, but part if it was always in the entrepreneurial side. I feel that by and large being sort of openly entrepreneurial is seen as not just acceptable, but kind of cool, for this generation. (I forget how old you are, but basically I mean contemporary youth culture.) But there’s still some stigma around “selling out” in the “wrong way.” Maybe I’m wrong about all that, so what do you think?

The way I see it, there are a whole lot of creative people in this world. The differences are the ones that are able to make something out if it. Even back in design school for instance, tons of kids had a great eye, great talent, and graduated with great grades. But what you were able to do with that talent was the deal breaker. Maybe it’s because I am now so neck deep in this industry, but in my opinion, there is a HUGE chasm between being an “entrepreneur” and “selling out”.

My company is somewhere floating in the middle of this chasm. I’ve been doing this long enough to remember the days when doing a shoe with Nike or designing a soda can would automatically be deemed as “selling out”. Now it’s a badge of honor. I wonder why this is sometimes. Read more

A (possibly vintage) classic

The other day, Bobby Hundreds posted a bunch of pictures of a friend’s “vintage collection of first generation, early ’90s streetwear shirts.” Putting aside any thoughts about the idea that something from the early 1990s now qualifies as “vintage,” I was interested to see the famous Freshjive Tide-riff T-shirt, which some say was the first of what’s since become a whole category of brand-“parody” shirts that twist a streetwear brand’s name into the graphic look of some other logo/style.

The guy’s collection is impressive. As I’ve said before, someone should do a book of streetwear T-shirts, along the lines of some of the sneaker books. (I keep saying this because I secretly want to write the introduction, but I don’t want to do any of the hard work of putting it together and finding a publisher and all that. Just for the record.)

Brand summation of the day

To my knowledge, I never signed up for the Colette newsletter. It just shows up in my inbox. But that’s cool, because today it included a bit on a bag they’re selling, co-created by Married to the Mob. Married to the Mob is described this way:

Symbole américain de la sexy bitchy attitude des temps modernes.

I have zero command of French, but that sounds pretty good to me.

Looks like it’s an edition of 10, priced at 850 euros. Here’s the link. The Colette site blasts music upon arrival, fyi.

5950 X 10061 = ?

Jeff Staple posted some images of a new brand-collaboration limited-edition product the other day. New collaborations are a dime a dozen, but this one interested me because of the collaborators: New Era, and Timberland. Usually, one big mainstream brand collaborates with a brand-underground-type brand (see this old column on an Alife/Levi’s project, or this one about New Era collaborating with Gabriel Urist, under the auspices of Jeff Staple, in fact), swapping financial resources for downtown cachet.

But here we have two mainstream brands collaborating with each other. Granted, both brands have unusual relationships with the hipster (or trend-setting, or whatever, you know what I mean) consumer. Each has “authentic” “street” “credibilty” etc. etc. But still, it’s pretty unusual for something like this to happen, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

What’s next, an Adidas X Nike sneaker?