Hidden Characters – Midnight Blues

Hidden Characters’ 2015 season was an oddity in that production output seemed fairly small. This was primarily due to HC dedicating a lot of 2015 to improving their cut n sew skills. In October HC was selling sample BIBO all wool jackets for $80, to drum up hype for the next release. Their Autumn/Winter 2015 season saw the the brand host a second auction, however unlike Spring this auction was not invite only. The tees had a nice balance between HC’s characteristic hand drawn style and clean vector graphics. Although it’s their cut n sew and other hand made items that easily made this dual drop unique. Furthermore A/W 2015 felt a bit melancholy.

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One of the main issues with brands seeking success, is trying to bring their fanbase together. Before social media had become an essential aspect to a brand’s growth, most brands were restricted to where they operated. Fairfax is prime example of this. Many of the biggest brands today were largely successful because they had shops on Fairfax, so they were able to throw events and mingle with their fans. Today its difficult for newer brands to connect with fans and host a meaningful event, usually their fanbase is scattered across America and possibly overseas. Meaning that hosting a pop up shop or throwing a concert is difficult.

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However Hidden Characters has dealt with regional limitations through live streaming. Being that one of their members, specifically Khez, is heavily involved with the music scene this actually makes a lot of sense. The first auction was hosted in early 2015, while the second auction, which was called Dead Center, was streamed in December 2015. Unlike the first auction the second was openly advertised by the brand, so it wasn’t very secretive. Instead it was more akin to an event, A/W pt1 was also dropped that same day. The auction consisted of some reprinted tees that were given a bleach treatment, as well as a custom hoodie with various patches sewn on. Though obviously many people were feeling the auction stuff, the significance of the auction/concert was that it was an event for fans. I believe there were about 1000  people watching the stream. Of course many people were unable to grab the 1 of 1 pieces, instead most kicked back listened to khez’s beats, watched some cooking going on, looked at a cute model, and chatted the night away, while eagerly waiting for the online shop to go live. Its difficult to describe it all. Its one those you had to be there moments. The success of Dead Center lied in its high turnout and its ability to create a feeling of comradery amongst people who love HC, but are often divided due to distance and other priorities of life.

The actual A/W  release consisted of 2 tees, and a beanie. Which were Dead Center, Anotha One (Second Anniversary), and the MissingNo. beanies.

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Its obvious that more work was put into HC’s Dead Center tee. Dead Center shares some characteristics with HC’s Judgement Day tee. However its easy to over look the finer details. For one the tee is obviously referencing the live stream, same as with Judgement Day. The “2 minute limit” is a callback to one of the auction rules. So if you weren’t there when Dead Center streamed, well you probably won’t get these references. If anything just wait for the next one. The finer details were given the 3M treatment, but not the main graphic. The Main graphic is a reference to Gray Fox (Cyborg Ninja; Frank Jager), an important character in the Metal Gear Solid series. His story is complicated. He appeared in Metal Gear 1 and again in Metal Gear Solid. Although he died in MGS, he been mentioned often in the sequels. The Cyborg Ninja was an antagonist to Solid Snake. Despite initially being bad, he had a moral code and would later help Solid Snake complete his mission. The name Dead Center may also be an allusion to Gray Fox’s lightning fast precision with his sword, as he was easily able to stop bullets by either blocking then or cutting them down. Although one of the more interesting aspects of this tee comes from HC printing it in its hand drawn form instead of trying to make it look cleaner as a vector graphic. Throughout 2015 HC did not release a lot of graphics that had a hand drawn feeling, this is in contrast to 2014 when a fair amount of their designs were given more traditional art renderings. This is likely due to HC putting a greater emphasis on their cut n sew pieces. In general the hand dawn approach is better reflective of what the Cyborg Ninja is supposed to be. Anotha One is pretty straight forward, Hidden Characters was founded in October which is why it dropped during that time, the tee’s graphic text is very clean and simple. So its something that HC fans can wear any day.

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Although people were digging the Dead Center tees, the instacop of this drop were the MissingNo. beanies. The patch on the beanie is similar to the beanie HC dropped back in spring 2014 called either Demons or Stock, I can’t remember the name. The key difference between the two is that Missing No uses the Ifrit H design, while their 2014 beanie used their fireball design. Furthermore the MissingNo. beanie has a registered trademark logo, and was available in two cws. The text on the beanies are cheat codes people could use to catch Pokemon. People were into the MissingNo. beanies, because its kind of a lowkey reference to Pokemon. Most casual fans of Pokemon probably watched the TV show and played the first game, but later abandoned the series. However the average fans, who played Pokemon Red, Blue, or Yellow will probably remember that glitches would occur in the game, under certain conditions of course. One of these these glitches is that you would encounter glitch Pokemon (Pokemon that don’t actual exist), so they would take on different forms and names. Its all very technical, simply put MissingNo. exists because there is a lack of data on the cartridges. The most common of these glitches was MissinNo. a Pokemon which took the form of personified random data. Most people into the game would usually try to catch it, myself included. Though not everyone knew how to obtain it, though there many rumors, most of which were wrong, but it brought a kind of mystic to the game akin to MK1’s Reptile.

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Overall the highlight of A/W pt 1 was the Dead Center live stream. Mostly due to the fact that people were able to enjoy it as an event hosted by Hidden Characters. It was successful in various ways. Of course people really wanted the auction stuff, but not everyone was able to cop them. As every auction item was only available in one size, making each one unique. From the regular drop, which occurred almost immediately after the auction was concluded, the MissingNo. beanies were without a doubt the instacops. Dead Center fell more in line with HC’s rugged asymmetrical style, while Anotha One was a simple easy to wear tee. One last interesting quirk is that every piece from this drop was given a different region of origin. Black Dead Center is from Chicago IL, while the white version is from Columbus OH. Another One is from Madison WI. Black MissingNo. was made in Taipei City Taiwan, while the grey version is from Milwaukee WI. If you’re thinking WTF? Well don’t, or maybe do. All these cities, I’m going out on a limb, are possibly references to where some of HC’s members are from. As many of their members/friends come from either different states in America or  overseas.

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A/W pt 2 was different in that unlike spring there was quite a few pieces to cop from, Hidden Characters went all out for this drop. Not only did they flex their graphic design prowess, but they also brought forth some top tier cut n sew pieces. Essentially creating a complete release this time around. However while this drop is very different from the last release, there may be a common theme between both releases.

There were three different tees in this drop, each with its own concept, Germz, Make Tha Trap Say Faye, and Customer Appreciation. There were two cut n sew pieces. Midnight Union jacket, and BDU 2.0. HC once again experimented and made bars of soaps called Lucy Liu and a mixtape.

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Firstly Germz is a tribute to the punk band Germs of the late 70s. The back graphic closely resembles the Germs album (GI). All of the text from the album cover is replaced with “Hidden Characters S-Rank.” Though the text is crossed out. Towards the bottom left of the main graphic, theres text which reads, “what we do is secret.” This is a title of a Germs song and album. While the tee seems like a very straightforward flip, there are a few details that make this tee particularly memorable. The bottom text is a multi-layered print, its something that can only be achieved through silkscreen and not digital printing. The text was printed with 3M ink, while the top layer seems to be black ink. However due to the properties of 3M, you can still see the text, albeit more subtly. HC used this same technique when they made their HH hoodie from A/W 2014. Furthermore HC may have crossed out the top text in order to fall in line with the text they used, which itself falls in line with their own mantra and may be  slightly self reflective of the brand itself. While Hidden Characters has garnered lots of praise from their growing fanbase, their work is largely unknown to fans of corporate/mainstream Streetwear. As a band the Germs are somewhat stereotypical, while they only made one album, their music influenced many other successful bands. However like so many other legendary bands, they were around for a few years…and then the band fell apart.

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Although many people were into the Germz design, the Faye tee was arguably the instacop. Faye can be considered a successor to HC’s Asteroid Blues tee. Theres two major links between both designs. For one both tees take references from Cowboy Bebop, the other obvious element is that HC’s gun graphic from Asteroid Blues is brought back for their Faye tee. However the gun on the Faye tee now has a registered trademark logo. HC once again uses their multi layering technique, however they use it to echo the atmosphere of Cowboy Bebop. Much of the series takes place off Earth, typically in space or on another planet. The series is heavily influenced by noir films, as such its not unusual to see the darkness of outer space, while noticing the dim lights of spaceships in the background or midground. Faye Valentine is one of the central figures in the classic Anime Cowboy Bebop. The graphic could easily be a scene from Bebop, its very reminiscent of Faye being in a casino, likely gambling in order to pay her debts. Its a perfect execution of who Faye is, she often gambles in the series, usually at casinos, using her sexuality to exploit people, while also being very arrogant and typically smoking. Faye is very selfish at times, but has bouts of empathy, she can also be very lazy, however she can usually overcome any obstacle. HC’s Customer Appreciation tee is self explanatory. it was only $20. As for the what the red underline is, well when was the last time you used spell check on Word Document?

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While the tees were cool, there were equally many people looking to cop HC’s cut n sew. The Midnight Union Jacket was hands down the fan favorite. The jacket had the same fit and quality as the BIBO jacket, likewise it has one gold snap, thats where the similarities end. As the name suggests the jacket is midnight blue, its a very dark shade of blue. The front has some nice embroidery, the back has stitched wool lettering, the interior has a quilted liner, and a special cut n sew label. The quality of the jacket is a cut above what many of the bigger brands put out, but HC priced their jacket at only $100. Although most Streetwear wool jackets go for more than $100. The BDU 2.0 was also sought after, at this point the BDU is an HC staple. HC constructed it themselves, it seems like the fit has been slimed down from their last BDUs. General speaking the idea behind the BDUs has been to give people the ability to change the fit using the straps, in order to maximize comfort or change the look.

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Beyond all the regular items from the drop HC decided to experimented some more. This time they ended up making bars of soap dubbed Lucy Liu. Like their Snake Oil cologne, HC created the scent themselves, the bars were made using goat milk mixed with oats. They also made a mixtape.

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So while there were many different things going on with A/W pt 2, there are a few common themes. The color blue being the most apparent. Midnight jacket is blue, the tags for both the Faye and Germz tee were blue, likewise the main graphic for Germz is blue. However a lowkey theme for A/W as whole could be melancholia. This takes the form of Frank Jager, Faye Valentine, and Darby Crash. While the Cyborg Ninja was a cool character in MGS, his story is very tragic. He started life as a child solider and as an adult he worked as a solider for Big Boss. Eventually he is “killed” by Solid Snake. In actuality he was captured, experimented on, a cybernetic exosuit was grafted onto his spine. Although he escaped he would occasionally experience great pain due to the experiment not being perfected, later he would die helping Solid Snake. Darby Crash was the lead singer of the Germs. Though he was very talented at writing, he was also a drug addict. Crash committed suicide by overdosing on heroine, which lead to the Germs’ breakup. As for Faye, while she is often portrayed as being a sour person, shes actually pretty lost.  For the majority of Cowboy Bebop she has no memories of her early life. When she does regain her memories Faye realizes that her family and friends are all dead. Meaning she is essentially alone in the world save for the Bebop crew. The commonality is that each subject suffered from loneliness and an identity crisis. If this was a theme, HC was very sneaky about it. But its definitely something different. Lastly, as December was coming to a close, HC made some Anniversary hoodies for their friends.

A/W was a huge success for Hidden Characters for many reasons. Another accomplishment is that the brand retained their rank as being the #3 thread on Hypebeast. It’s no small feat. Hidden Characters has a lot of momentum. As always much of this is because HC has a loyal fanbase. HC has been able to maintain the relationship with their fans, due to the brand’s ambitions and their ability to fulfill them. Hidden Characters distinguished themselves this drop through their graphic design prowess, quality cut n sew items, and their creative thinking. At this point HC can do whatever they want, as their fans have a lot of belief in the brand’s ability to execute concepts properly. Once again fans lauded Hidden Characters and are patiently waiting for the next drop. Til then, stay hidden.

*All s/o

*Hidden Characters twitter

*Hidden Characters instagram

*Hidden Characters Tumblr

* Use Google to find Hidden Character’s forum

Ludwig VAN – Americana & Luxury

Ludwig Van is an atypical Streetwear brand. This is primarily as a result of the brand’s focus on creating quality garments instead of  mass production. Another reason tends to be that Ludwig usually distances themselves from whatever trend is going on in mainstream/corporate Streetwear. However another reason is that the man behind the brand is very active in many fields outside of Streetwear. As a result 2014 was a somewhat slow period for Ludwig Van.Of course production was still going on and there was a release here and there, but there was no regular seasonal drop. During that time the owner was doing work for the Olympics, WWE, Adidas, as well as coaching an MMA team.

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However Ludwig Van’s 2015-16 releases were definitely worth the long wait. The 2015 drop was heavily influenced by Americana. Some of the characteristics of Americana are things indicative of the 1950s in America. This includes, but isn’t limited to: motorcycles, bikers, your typical American athlete wearing sportswear or letterman jackets, classic Hollywood actors, etc. I suppose people look towards Americana because things seemed much simpler back then. America had won WWII, there was an economic boom, and the future seemed to be limitless. Many well known Japanese brands have actually appropriated Americana, of course there are many brands in America that employee this style as well.

2015: Athletes & Hollywood

Although that begs the question, what does Americana even mean? If you’ve ever watched one of those documentaries about the 70’s I’m sure at a certain point they’ll discuss how Americans developed nostalgia for the 50s. Its ironic that even in the 21st century people are longing for an era they never knew. I feel as though many people have a Romantic vision of the 1950s. Despite this era having many social issues and injustices. Seeing that the founder of Ludwig is closer to that era, I believe his execution has more truth to it, as Ludwig tends to explore the various zeitgeists which make up the era that the brand is channeling into their clothing.

Ludwig’s 2015 drop had everything, which consisted of some tees, a crew, coach jackets, snapbacks, jeans and a rocker patch. One of the must cops was the Audrey tee which is an obvious tribute to Audrey Hepburn. The graphic is a two tone print (green and blue), the pic is further modified with Audrey having a bright red ball gag. Now for starters it seems that the tee is referencing Audrey’s sexuality, as its well known that she had quite a few lovers in her day. Though its actually very tastefully in what its trying to say, there are many tell-all books about how old Hollywood was filled with rampant sexual affairs, drugs, flings, and orgies. However Audrey also had a humanitarian side which summed up the latter half of her years before she died. I supposed thats why this print has two prominent colors, Audrey was a very complex woman.

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Following this theres the varsity jackets. In particular this was done a bit differently than others, I’ve seen over the past few years. For one the jackets have a small back print, however its a clear print, instead of being a traditional ink print. beyond this Ludwig used vintage ribbing material, likewise the liner is made using Vietnam era rip-stop nylon. The jackets are finished off using a new style of label and Lampo zippers from Italy. It looks like something athletes can wear, but also seems a bit more sophisticated, probably due to the fit.

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This drop also included the Selvedge IV snapbacks. Honestly when most brands make snapbacks they tend to use very cheap and uncomfortable twill textile or flimsy denim. Both caps were made using Cone Mill denim, only top denim brands in the US buy from them. The ounce is pretty heavy so theres a bit of stiffness. The caps are lined with vintage 1980’s Pendelton flannel. Both caps are topped off with an indigo calfskin emblem.Overall they feel like quality snapbacks, and very comfortable as Ludwig didn’t opt to use cheap material.

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While we’re on the subject of denim, Ludwig finally made more denim jeans. I believe their last pair was released in 2009? Ironic considering the brand is always tinkering around with denim. Regardless its dope that they finally made some more. As to why these jeans are special, they’re a collab done with Rivi Goods, an artisan denim maker. They are constructed using 1980’s orangeline slevedge denim, think Levis, before production went overseas. If that wasn’t enough they are reinforced with og US military spec nylon webbing in certain areas. They also include a back label and calfskin patch. Americana at its finest.

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Ludwig label.

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Arguably the instacop from this release were the crews, coach jackets and rocker patch. The Born to Roll patch is on both the crewnecks and coach jackets. They are very high quality and the look is very striking not to mention it gives off a strong feeling of 1950s America. One important thing to note about them is that they are made using chain stitching, meaning they were made by hand. Almost all modern embroidery is done by machines, so think about that. Born to Roll seems to be a call be back to the early bike clubs in America, however Ludwig encouraged fans to interpret the phrase anyway they see fit. The patch is fairly large and so it would look great on jackets and crewnecks. Born to Roll crew was given a heavy stone rinse to give each sweater a unique look. The patches on the crew come with a special label. Furthermore the crews have some subtle silkscreens, which are all indicative of Ludwig’s overall theme. The coaches are also pretty dope. They dropped in two c/ws and were constructed of nylon, with a mesh liner, plus Ludwig’s logo printed on the front. Overall the Born to Roll stuff seems to be heavily inspired by athleticism, probably because the owner practices MMA. There are also quite a few MMA fighters who rep the brand, so it may be a small shout out to them.

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2016: Beethoven & Luxury

At the beginning of 2016 Ludwig released their Spring collection. This is different from the last release as Ludwig seemed to be going back to their roots. Now while the brand has done many projects that have dabbled in reappropriating vintage materials, for a time Ludwig Van was putting emphasis on their graphics. However they began to move away from being graphically driven, though the brand was still making graphic tees, cut n sew became more significant to the brand’s overall image. One of the main goals for this release was creating graphics which better reflect the brand’s overall concepts. Of course things probably won’t stay this way, which is why this release is particularly intriguing, as Ludwig Van tends to experiments and try new things with every release. The graphic aspect of Ludwig tends to reflect the current mentality of the man behind the brand or channel his artistic nature. Ludwig dropped their second collab with Rivi Goods which also took years to make, lastly the brand appropriated some well known Luxury logos to make something thats purely fun.

First off is the Regal. Now why I said this is interesting is because the Regal is the first true Ludwig graphic that has been released in a while. Thats not to say that the other tees aren’t indicative of Ludwig’s style. Its just that the regal isn’t a simple flip or takes cues from existing pieces of art. Instead It takes the core elements of the brand and juxtaposes everything together flawlessly to create something new. Such as Beethoven, Classical design, sleek motifs, a unique sense of symmetry, and  a feeling of originality. This graphic represents everything that Ludwig Van is about, without being very predictable.

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Symphony No. 5 has the simplest design of the three tees released. The print seems to be water based and feels very smooth. Its designed as a football jersey. The back graphic is big and definitely looks like it could be a jersey. The design is of course done as a Chanel flip, however it differs greatly in what others have done to the iconic No. 5 logo. Rather than mimicking the font Ludwig enlarged the 5 while keeping “No.” fairly small. The change is significant in that 5 becomes indicative of a sports jersey, however its a bit deeper than that. The whole idea of the sports jersey is that the wearer is loudly endorsing a player. However Symphony No. 5 is twofold in that a balance of Chanel and Beethoven are being channeled. Although right off the bat the musical reference is more apparent. Furthermore the tee feels a bit looser compared to the other tees, in order to better capture the sports look/feel. Regardless its a subtly complex tee that can be worn everyday.

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This last one in particular again shows off Ludwig’s graphic design prowess. No. 5 is another tee that taps into Chanel’s signature perfume, however its much different from Symphony No.5’s execution. Unlike  Symphony No. 5, No.5 is much more colorful and plays extensively with text and is riddled with references. Aside from Chanel and Beethoven overall the print is an homage to Andy Warhol, who himself made prints based on No. 5 perfume for Chanel. Below the main text is “Deutsche Grammophon,” which is a nod to an iconic classical music label founded in 1898, the name itself translates to German Gramophone. Beyond the graphic visuals the text itself retains a lot of Chanel’s signature layout, but there are also Classical elements such as “Deutsche Grammophon” and “Ludwig Van.”

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Every tee comes packed in its own reusable bag.

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Signature Violet & Emerald stitching.

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Ludwig Van label, front.

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Ludwig Van Label, backside.

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Finally, the most standout piece from Spring 16 has to be Ludwig’s second collab with Rivi Goods. Dubbed Case Shell Pants they are constructed of 1980s US Army case shells. So to clarify case shell are basically bags or boxes you store ammo inside, which may also function as a carrying case. Considering how much material was needed to make these pants, 100 were made, the case shells were likely used to carry around artillery or perhaps heavy caliber rifles. The 80s were the height of the Cold War, both America and the USSR were ready to go to war and possibly nuke everything into oblivion. The case shells were obviously used as some pants have prints or stitches on them, which has resulted in various shades of olive drab, so no two pairs are like. The primary material of the pants seems to be canvas, while also having nylon webbing as belt loops, as well as sporting nylon reinforcements in certain areas like the first Rivi Collab. The pants were given an enzyme wash in order to make the pants soft and comfortable. Rounding out the design there is a Rivi Goods tag, and another label from Ludwig Van. While this project seemingly took forever to be released, I think it was 4 years in the making, its definitely something that Ludwig wanted to make sure was executed properly. If you’re into vintage fabrics or Americana this is an instacop.

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One last thing. Ludwig also dropped another patch. Called Libertas, its a fairly decent size, 5×5 inches. I believed they were used on some jackets a few years back. Like Born to Roll Libertas is made of a heavy wool with lots of hand stitching. The quality looks very on point, and it would probably look good as a should patch for your leather jacket…or denim jacket, or tee, etc. The price price practically makes the patch a steal.

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Prints

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So overall both Releases were done very well. 2015 feels like its mostly about Americana. While 2016 digs heavily into Classical composer Beethoven while also paying tribute to Chanel. All the tees were made of fine Jersey, and washed in order to give them a softer feel and vintage look. Its important to understand that they are not made using regular blanks, instead they seem to have been custom made by Ludwig Van, this is obvious when you see the back of the tees. Furthermore I it seems that the tees were dyed after their graphics were printed on them. As you can see that the neck tags have an image of Alex de Large, which have been dyed on every tee to match their shirt’s corresponding color, save for the off white shirts. All items were made in Los Angeles. Theres something here for everybody who wants to stand out in Streetwear. Regardless Ludwig Van has delivered another great release, hopefully we’ll see more drops soon.

*Ludwig’s VAN Instagram.

*Ludwig’s website.

*Ludwig’s store.

*Ludwig’s Twitter.

*Ludwig’s Facebook.

 

T.H.E – The Identity Crisis of Streetwear

Art is hard to define. Its usually easier to go about describing who an artist is vs what their work is supposed to be. Art has had an important role in various movements throughout history ranging from political to social. Today its somewhat difficult to tell whether or not artists are still important today. Many of the tasks that artists could do as a service have been made largely obsolete through technologies of the 19th century and more so in our modern digital era. To illustrate this, you can look at photography. Originally if you wanted a portrait of yourself made, you had to got to an artist who would either paint or draw an image of you. The process might have occurred over an extended period of time, such as a month or years. Once the technology behind photography was somewhat perfected, the photographers began to slowly replace the portrait painters. Art’s relevance today usually comes in the form of being a gimmick or pop culture appropriation, while emotionality is spurned by the average person.

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The Heated Environment,aka T.H.E, is unique in that the brand is artistically driven, graphically being influenced by minimalism, but maintaining a level of emotional depth that isn’t unwieldy. Founded back in 2013 T.H.E is part of the newer wave of Streetwear brands. It’s already  gained a respectable following due in part to its unique style and a well executed collab. T.H.E’s importance is due to its desire to bring meaning meaning back to the graphic tee. This is basically the crux with major Streetwear brands. As the biggest brands have expanded, most of the products they sell have lost their meaning, in favor of mass production and distribution. As a result many people into Streetwear have become largely conditioned in that they easily buy into the hype that these brands generate for themselves. Most of the older brands rely on their history/heritage as well as social media as a means to this end. However if people were to look at all the major brands, they would realize that none of them stand or represent for much of anything anymore. There is no singular concept that they stick to, rather their drops tend to be either very broad and commercially based. Meaning they have no true identity, ergo an identity crisis, or simply just’ve become corporate Streetwear brands.

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Rurouni Kenshin has been referenced quite a bit.

The relationship between art and Streetwear has become largely unnecessary. Harking back to the days of Stussy and his flipping of graphics, they were spontaneous and commentaries on fashion. Stussy’s appropriation of iconic designs were very uncommon during the 80s, even going into the later 90s and early 2000s. Looking back a few years, people can argue that graphic tees used to be more meaningful. Freshjive and Obey instantly come to mind. Both brands were headed by artists. Freshjive was very politically driven, many of its notable designs were social commentaries. As a result their tees usually pissed off people. Early Obey designs were also political, however they tended to be very nuanced.

Though The Heated Environment is only about three years old its already dropped some pretty impressive graphics. A fair amount of the brand’s designs reference Anime, however geometry and repetition of images as well as sequences further give a foundation to T.H.E’s style. To date all of the brand’s graphics come off as being minimalist, there is little definition. However the brand’s aesthetic is more than that, its further defined by how images are juxtaposed in order to convey a certain idea. In that sense T.H.E should not be considered a minimalist brand. Most of brand’s graphics should probably be identified as line art.

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Burning Ships.

One of T.H.E’s ongoing themes have been their wolf vs sheep graphics. Wolf in Sheep Skin seems to suggest that even the people you trust can be capable of deceiving you. While Kill the Sheep leans toward the idea that the world is essentially run by mindless sheep, while wolves are the people on the fringes of society that stand out.

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Its important to understand that art isn’t an essential component to Streetwear. The biggest Streetwear brands may be inspired by artwork or artists, but their products can’t be called art. Obey is a prime example of this. In its younger days Obey was an artistic vehicle in that Shepard Fairey used to spread his messages, because of this people associated the idea of Art with the brand. Nowadays Obey is selling a lifestyle or concept to people, but not its art. Yet it continues to thrive. This can be said for many other high profile brands. As many people aren’t too keen about products that will challenge them to think. When Art is utilized, its usually done as a crash grab or to hype up a company’s profile. To contrast this you can think about the demise of Freshjive. For years the brand had provoked people and fans alike with their often politically incorrect attitude about social issues in America. During the Golden Age of Streetwear the brand was basically known for this. As the Golden Age ended, Streetwear was moving away from its niche themes in favor of more generic designs and lifestyle concepts. This move made the industry much more profitable and arguably stabilized their economic problems, however art and depth had essentially been swept under the rug and was no longer an essential component. Freshjive ultimately changed their style in order to latch onto the new economic boom that was helping establish the modern era of  big Streetwear brands (ex: The Hundreds, 10 Deep). Regardless Freshjive went defunct.

Generally speaking while T.H.E has designed most of their tees with a theme, they’re not heavy with ambiguity or concepts that would go over people’s heads. Their Coffee and Sleep tees are good examples of this. Coffee is a high contrast design which is a reminder of how the hot drink is important with helping people start their day. The sun can be seen rising in the background shining onto a cup of hot joe, furthering the importance of coffee. Sleep is the opposite as a sun fall is occurring and emphasis is on the person trying to go to sleep, the clock above the window reinforces this theme.

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Coffee.

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Sleep.

While The Heated Environment obviously strives for depth, it doesn’t always take itself seriously. The brand has occasionally dropped an Anime design here and there. I suppose T.H.E’s Anime references are largely an outlet for the brand to be a bit fun, while also paying tribute to their favorite shows. Interestingly the brand has tapped into various low key Anime series rather than focusing solely on the most popular shows that Western audiences would be familiar with. Such as Welcome to N.H.K., Initial D, Ergo Proxy, and Bokusatsu Tenshi.

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Cards by T.H.E, a Welcome to the N.H.K. tribute.

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Its kind of difficult to say what purely defines T.H.E, one moment its serious, while the next its not. Geometry is also a heavy influence, though this is usually only seen in the brand’s promos/gifs. Looking at them for a moment they also have an underlying meaning, which help to further give meaning to The Heated Environment. Most of the gifs are either rendered as wireframes or simple high contrast designs. Simply put T.H.E seeks to show the basic essence of their art with added emotion. Again this isn’t necessarily the same as minimalism.

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Geometry is also an essential component.

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Possible Metal Gear Solid reference.

I feel like the best way to understand T.H.E is to look at their collabs with Xavier Wulf’s brand Hollow Squad. Xavier Wulf is an independent rapper with a pretty big following. Both Wulf and the man behind T.H.E share a love for Japanese culture, Anime in particular. Their first collab was a very simple Bleach flip. Their second collab however is more definitive of what T.H.E is all about. The graphic is executed as line art, its a fairly big design, and it taps into Initial D. Everything is juxtaposed very well.Old man Bunta Fujiwara is in the mid-ground smoking, while Mt. Akina is in the background and its raining. A road wraps around the man in the foreground while text below reads: “dont die here.” It all feels very melancholy and can be taken as a commentary on life. The background may be symbolic as adolescence and early adulthood can be wrought with pain and uncertainty. The man may be symbolic of people or older adults who have become jaded and stuck in life. Whereas the road and text are possibly a subtly metaphor being that young adults can overcome these difficulties and forge ahead into the unknown. This arguably encompasses everything that The Heated Environment represents. T.H.E sticks out in our current era of Streetwear, it’s concepts and unique graphic executions make it a bit quirky, but T.H.E is a truly  memorable brand. They have sporadic drops so you should definitely follow them on Instagram if you dig their work.

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*The Heated Environment, abbreviated as T.H.E there is no third period

*T.H.E’s Instagram.

*T.H.E’s Twitter.

*Official website.

Hidden Characters – After Judgment Day

Somewhere out in America there’s a place called Purgatory. Though where its located is unknown, it is the headquarters of a very unorthodox brand. A subversive brand who’s fan base continues to expand. Their themes range from the macabre to Anime. Though they’re barely two years old they have been making waves. Their designs are far from being clean cut, yet its apparel are nonetheless methodical in execution and only people with an appreciation of graphic design could understand the method to their madness. While most brands are concerned about trying to keep up with trends, the people behind this brand are only concerned with their own vision. Every season they seem to be moving against the grain of what many bigger Streetwear brands release. It doesn’t matter if they make enemies with the sheep of Streetwear. In 2014 they ended up being one of the top three brands on the HB forums. 2015 continues to be an important year for Hidden Characters.

Judgement Day

Following one successful release after another in 2014 you would think the people behind a growing brand would rev up production and ride the wave into a typical cycle of growth. Such as upping stock, and selling more products. Yet Hidden Characters decided to slow down production instead. Nearly more than half a year into 2015, the brand released almost no products. Of course you run the risk of alienating costumers, and even from a financial standpoint the brand missed out on making money. Instead HC seemed to focus on improving the quality of their prints and their cut n sew technique.

Not too long after the New Year, two HC members headed to Hong Kong on a personal trip. Along the way they met up with an artisan leather maker named Mr. Shen. One HC member grew up next door to him. What occurred was a journey into artisan design and Hong Kong’s vast textile industry. When the dust settled Hidden Characters had created their Blood In Blood Out jacket. Featuring insane specs, the jackets took quite awhile to be made. Everyone’s jacket came personalized with their initals, a mix tape, and a comb/knife. Due to the long wait time HC gave a free tee to the people that ordered from the first run of BIBO, it also made a reference to their HB fans. To date the tee has not been made available for purchase. For the full story go here.

Blood In Blood Out jacket.

HC’s signature asymmetrical quilted sleeve.

BIBO freebies.

Mix tape by Khez.

 

For Spring 2015 the brand was planning a discreet drop. There were two elements to this. A secret quick strike that was to be uploaded onto Silkroad. HC’s Silkroad was instituted back in 2014, its a call back to the online black market, which itself is a callback to the og Silk Road of Asia. HC was giving out a link to their loyal fans for a secret concert/auction. Days before the release the quickstrike was revealed, putting fans on alert. As a result Hidden Characters was forced to produce more of their Judgment Day tees. The downside to this is that there are no custom tags. Despite this the tees sold out.

HC’s Judgment Day tees came in white and pink. The front features an embroidered H patch, while the back is a multi layered print. The patch is actually a reworking of L’s screen avatar from the Anime Death Note. Death Note delves into Japan’s Shinigami mythology. The Protagonist, Light Yagami, finds a book which can kill anyone whose name is written in it. While his intentions are initially good, he is a narcissist and is eventually corrupted by the power. His main adversary is L, who also happens to be the world’s greatest detective. The back print is a tribute to WWE’s Judgment Day matches and Kane. Judgement Day matches were special WWF matches, but were discontinued a few years back. Kane is a veteran wrestle from WWE’s 90’s era, Undertaker was typically either his wrestling partner or foe. The print is a combination of regular inks and semi gloss inks. Most of the bright reds are semi gloss ink, so they feel very smooth. Below the main print HC seems to have posted it’s membership list.

Judgement Day tee.

The interesting aspect about this release were the auction tees. One of HC’s proxy profiles had made a reference to a special event and those interested in the event were given a link.  You had to register in order to be part of the auction, and it was not widely announced. The link was for a live streaming concert, all run by HC members. The tees were mash ups of various Hidden designs. A new design was also implemented, which has yet to be given a wider release.

Online concert/auction from spring 15.

The auction/concert is important because in an increasingly interconnected world, the biggest Streetwear brands have become largely apathetic to the fans. On the flip side many people don’t care about loyalty to brands. So in many ways the internet has essentially destroyed the old relationship between fans and brands. Many of HC’s fans are located across the US and overseas, so its hard to just have one city based event. It used to be that brands would sponsor concerts in LA or NY in order to build a relationship with fans. So HC hosted their concert online, thus circumventing the problem of travel. Honestly what other brand has even thought about doing this?

Two of the auction tees. There were various versions and cws.

To Hideo: Good Bye

Hidden Character’s first seasonal release was in July. A little more than halfway into 2015. While the wait was pretty long, the fans never left. This release was interesting because it was on the eve of Hideo Kojima’s, supposedly, final Metal Gear Solid game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. There were other themes too, such as WWE, Bone Thugs, and Pokemon. This release was noteworthy because of how HC made their tees and also because they made a gold plated Playboi Pikachu necklace. It was different from their last releases in that, they seem to be exploring other facets of American culture. Such as with gangsta rap, black metal, and video games. They went pretty subtle on their designs. Moreover it feels like they wanted to put an emphasis on improving their print quality. This is most obvious with their Solidosnake and  Bottomline tees.

WWE originally began its existence as Capitol Wrestling Corporation back in the 1950s. However CWC eventually went defunct and was replaced with World Wrestling Federation, WWF, in 1979. It would remain in this state until 2002. By the 1980s WWF became one of the biggest companies in Wrestling, it’s only true rival being WCW. By the 90s a new generation of wrestlers was leading WWF into a modern era of wrestling. One that focused on wrestler’s penchant for mayhem and their degenerate lifestyles. The biggest of these wrestlers was arguably Stone Cold Steve Austin. The man was a vicious fighter, he wasn’t graceful in his technique, but rather he just really wanted to beat his opponents to a pulp. Often times he did. Beyond this he was a heavy drinker, so it wasn’t unusual to see him with a six pack of beers. He also had a memorable hatred for HHH and D-Generation X. Another reference is Norwegian Black Metal band Darkthrone. Norwegian Black Metal essentially became a fully realized genre partially due to them, and other bands like Mayhem. What characterized these groups were their sound, dedication to satanism, their use of corpse paint, as well as a deep seated hatred for Christianity in Norway. That last one actually led people from this group to burn down churches in Norway.

Custom tags return.

HC’s Bottomline tee was released in two cws, charcoal and powder blue. The front features some nice embroidery, unlike their Judgement Day tees these are not iron on patches. 3:16 is a reference to Austin 3:16, one of Stone Cold’s signature phrases. The back mimics Darkthrone’s font, it’s very jagged and printed in white semi gloss ink. There are many finer details which could have been done through silk screening vs digital printing, just look closely at the print. HC’s take on the logo is different from the original in that, overall their font looks broader, and there are a lot more jags. The back graphic is striking because many of the jags are drawn horizontally, almost like they’re moving, so it feels aggressive. What really put this piece together was the white semi gloss ink, which isn’t too loud, and the embroidery. The references are niches, yet the materials used to make the tee gives it a more lux vibe.

Bottomline tee.

Front embroidery.

Back graphic.

The Metal Gear Solid series started back in 1987, with the release of Metal Gear. The series has been around for almost 30 years now. While there was a sequel, the next major development in the franchise was in 1998 with Metal Gear Solid. Here fans were given a much better understanding of the main character Solid Snake. Hes essentially driven the series since the beginning. Though Solid saves the world numerous times, he often never finds happiness and spends most of his life dealing with one global conflict after another. MGS3 introduced his biological father, Jack aka Big Boss, as a main character. Boss is somewhat like Solid, though initially he is a “hero” he eventually realizes that he has been manipulated by the US government and leaves the country. Soon after he decides to create his own army free from governments or ideologies. MGSV: The Phantom Pain sees Boss going on a quest for revenge and bringing the series full circle. Hideo Kojima has been the mastermind of this entire series. He had often said his next MGS game would be his last. Sadly as of 2015 Konami finally decided to end Hideo’s tenure with the MGS series.

Solidosnake is probably the most unique item in this release. There are actually 3 versions of this tee, a white tee with a black print and vice versa, though both had green accents. The 3rd version was only available to 10% of the people who bought Solidosnake. It’s essentially the same as the black tee, however there are red accents instead of green, there is also another graphic that says “1st edition.” Something to taken away from Solidosnake is the amount of effort it took to make it. By contrast the print from Bottomline probably took only 2 passes of ink to make the graphic, as its one solid color. However Solidosnake has midtones and shadows, which required various amounts of ink in certain areas. For those that bought the tee, feel around the back graphic and you’ll feel that some areas have more ink than others. This adds an extra dimension to the tees. As the blk tees use white ink, it looks like Solid is sneaking around during the day. Whereas the wht tee uses blk ink, so it looks like Solid is running around at night. The amount of layers on the print will probably be more obvious on the wht version. The small green/red accents saying “Call Hideo 2” are of course small tributes to Hideo Kojima. The front features 3M vinyl decals, the “!” is another callback to the series’ earlier days. It would pop up whenever an enemy spotted you. Even the entire print may be a reference as the shape somewhat resembles a box, which are staple items in MGS. The 1st Editions tees may be a reference to Pokemon cards. 1st edition cards are rarer, for varying reasons. The main one being that they are made in small batches.

Farewell Hideo. Green accents printed in semi gloss ink.

3M vinyl decal. It is not printed.

Print from 1st Edition version.

Other items from this drop was the Bone Thugs tribute tee Crossroads and the very sought after Rare Candy. Crossroads was pretty straightforward, it was all silkscreened and the print design was nice. The Rare Candy necklace had a hard enamel base, and was 18k  gold plated. Its obviously a tribute a Pokemon, even the name Rare Candy is hint to the Pokemon series. It’s modeled after their PP logo. It came with a chain and its own special packaging. Overall Hidden Character’s Summer 15 drop had a wide variety of themes and they hit most of their marks. The two hypest pieces were Rare Candy and Solidosnake. Bottomline was an interesting combination of different aesthetics. Crossroads was essentially for Bone Thugs fans, HC did a good job at echoing the group’s style of the era. Though of course this is essentially a warm up leading up to the brand’s autumn/winter releases.

Crossroads tee.

Rare Candy necklace.

Kitten Characters Hack

Almost every brand has its enemies. Hidden Characters has a few, one of which is apparently a strange organization dubbed Kitten Characters. Though it’s not clear who they are or what their beef is which HC. KC hacked all of HC’s accounts and proceed to re-release some of their items. Specifically the BIBO jacket and Rare Candy necklace.

Kitten Characters.

Needless to say the restocks sold out. The damaged had been done and KC got away. HC was able to regain control of their accounts. What this hack tells fans is that, yes restock are possible, but only if Hidden Character is hacked by Kitten Characters.

Hacked on 09/15/2015.

Possible Kitten Characters member.

While Hidden Characters has remained very quiet throughout 2015, they definitely have motivates for doing this. Spring 2015 was very low key, almost non existent. However HC is obviously trying to find a way to build a more meaningful relationship with their fans. What continues to sustain the brand are people’s appreciation of the brand’s unique outlook on niche cultures as well as their graphic design prowess that is inclined towards the 90s kids. Moreover their cut n sew ambitions have continued to grow. Though its unclear what type of message HC is seeking to leave on Streetwear’s  cut n sew sector. Regardless the fans are patiently staying hidden.

*All s/o

*Hidden Characters twitter

*Hidden Characters instagram

*Hidden Characters Tumblr

* Use Google to find Hidden Character’s forum

effulgence – In the name of effu, I will Punish you

Of the many newer Streetwear brands that have sprung up, its easy to forget them. There are numerous reasons for this. The most common being that a brand is too common. Post 2008 many senior brands had withered away. Although many people never question what came before the current trend or recent era of Streetwear its somewhat important to look back at them in order to better understand a particular San Francisco based brand. Today there are numerous trends throughout Streetwear, ranging from sweatpants, to particular colors, to collabs, to blank tees, to all over prints, to yearly themes, etc. Before the end of the Golden age of Streetwear things were different in that there weren’t as many trends happening at once. There was no common formula most brands would implement in order to sell their clothing. You could say the need to standout drove brands to be more creative. In many ways effulgence is a byproduct of the golden age of Streetwear, yet its also part of the newer wave of Streetwear brands that stick out like a sore thumb.

Mind you sticking out is not a bad thing. If 10 brands were lined up next to each other, they would definitely need to stick out. Pre-2008 many brands were delving into the world of underground hip hop or golden age of hip hop in order to be inspired. Many tees were dropped that implemented hip hop in a stylistic way. Not necessarily in a boisterous or corporate hip hop sense, but with an aim to be more enlightening. Abcnt, early Obey or Akomplice tended to portray hip hop in a less commercial light. At times they showed lots of expression through their designs, which tended to be more vibrant, yet still maintained a cohesive theme, usually about people resisting the lies of Big Brother or corporations.

Effulgence has been around since 2009, meaning the brand was at the tail end of Streetwear’s Golden Age.  While a system has evidently been put into place that runs the economics of Streetwear, many brands will not survive. Theres a lot of factors that can and often do kill brands. One of which being their size. The biggest brands have the most products on the market, so its easy for them to more or less decide what will and does become the norm in Streetwear. Theres also an established link that holds all the big brands together.

However effulgence is in a unique position in that they can say they are part of the original Golden Age, yet its not part of the collective that drives Streetwear today, instead effu is part of a newer wave which ultimately has its own sphere of influence. What makes up this sphere is that many of these brands have gone back to silk-screening their tees, the owners attended college, some use concepts of vaporware, they tap into Anime, they’re 90s kids, but most importantly they are very creative. The brand is solely run by effustephen.

Classy effulgence packaging .

The driving force behind effulgence is its appreciation of Hip hop. Another important aspect is the brand’s San Francisco background. Going back a few years they made an impressive tribute tee to Hieroglyphics. Though the past is the past, it still says a lot about the brand. For summer 2015 effulgence looked to music and Anime. As far as the entire drop is concerned the hip hop products are arguably the ones that stand out the most. However effu has also placed a strong hand in the Anime community as well. Overall the drop is very 90s-centric. Effu’s logotype returned in two different colorways. The tonal salmon colorway sticks out more, as you won’t see too many brands using that shade of orange, furthermore its color loosely echoes the Pokemon Magikarp. So you know if you wanna show Magikarp some love. There’s also a pink logo tee, you know because pink is manly as fuck.

Logotype tee.

Backtracking to 2014 effu made a clean looking Pokemon inspired tee, dubbed Jenny/Joy. Ultimately removing the color and some of the definition from both iconic characters. Allowing people to admire the contours of the women. For their Summer 15 drop they made a Mega Man tee. Mega Man,  has had a long history in the gaming industry. Capcom created the character in the late 1980s, his name is Rock Man in Japan. Although Mega Man didn’t reach the height of his popularity in America until the 1990s. While he is primarily a video game character his origins are also rooted in Anime. As Rock Man’s concept art is definitely Japanese, the series later had its own Anime series. Effu’s Mega Proto tee shows Mega Man clashing with his nemesis Proto Man, rendered as line art with a sense of motion, you can really feel the mood of this classic rivalry. Though the Mega Man series has arguably waned this tee is a reminder of better days.

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Mega Proto tee.

One of the instacops from this drop was their Sailor Squad tee. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, known as Sailor Moon in the US, has had a long and successful history in Japan. Its difficult to summary its legacy, but beyond the original mangas, its had numerous spinoff books, it became an Anime, had numerous seasons, there was a few movies, there was even a live action series. Then it eventually ended, however its legacy was so great that it was recently revived and after numerous delays premiered in 2014. Sailor Moon is a quintessential 90s cartoon. Most kids from that era will likely recall waking up and changing the channel on their old blocky tv. There were a lot of shows back in the day, but Sailor Moon is a classic mainly because of the dynamics of the characters. The show had lots of silliness, you couldn’t really take anyone too seriously, yet the show also had some very dark moments. Effu’s Sailor Squad tee is interesting as their execution is fairly simple, all the graphics are white, there are no other colors. The front shows a small Luna with the effu logo, while the back shows the entire Sailor Squad with the effulgence logo. You can almost compare the back design to Charlie’s Angels, the juxtaposition of the women and the logo just look that way. Other than that, the emphasis of the tee seems to be the design of the characters. There are many details that could have been missed if color were included, so its obvious effu put thought into this graphic. The pose of the women perfectly embodies the Sailor Scouts and does them justice.

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Sailor Squad tee.

Finally we have the Hip Hop inspired stuff, which is an import aspect of effu’s aesthetic. The wildest of all the tees was the Ghost Maiden tee. Its a combination/tribute of Ghostface Killah and Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie. Ed the Head sports a hockey mask, making him a “ghost,” its a nice lil flip of Maiden’s World Slavery artwork with the effu logo on the bottom. Much of Iron Maiden’s aesthetic is kept, giving it a metal feel. Though the back is different, we see a much bigger ghost maiden graphic drawn as line art. While below we see “tour dates” which are all references to Ghostface Killah. What makes this really unique is the fact its printed on inside out tees, so you won’t see anything like this from any other brand. However the piece de resistance is probably effulgence’s Makeveli Coach jacket. Effulgence wanted to utilize a do it yourself aesthetic, so effu made a bunch of patches and sewed it onto their jackets. It feels very clean and not too rough around the edges, yet still feels unique and not commercial, most of the patches are references to the 90s. Such as 2pac, Mike Tyson, Death Row Records etc. Overall the drop is very memorable, it shows that effulgence is still a brand to be recognized in  Streetwear.

Rips not included.

Maiden Ghost tee.

Makaveli coach jacket. Navy on navy violence.

*Pronounced effulgence, no capitalization.

*effulgence’s instagram, twitter, facebook.

*effulgence’s forum.

*effulgence’s website.

*effulgence’s webstore.

Anime and Streetwear, what about the Otakus & Cosplayers?

Continuing from this previous examination of Anime’s relationship with Streetwear we’ll talk about the other perspective. Specifically the Cosplayer and Otaku (Anime) communities, it’s important to understand that both communities are not the same, even though at times they can be very closely related. Some very basic concepts of Cosplay, depending how far back you wanna go, can said to have some resemblance to Halloween. It bares a stronger link in early 20th century America with Sci Fi fans, who would make their own costumes, as America’s future seemed full of technological possibilities. As for Otakus, its origins are of course from Japan. However its original meaning, postmodern Japan, has greatly changed. In Japan Otaku can definitely be used in a derogatory way, although it may not be used definitely that way. Now how and where do these two distinct communities fall on the fashion spectrum, and what do they have to do with Streetwear is somewhat speculative. They are non the less important in understanding what Anime and Streetwear are, and what they can be.

Asteroid Blues tee by Hidden Characters. Second Version.

Streetwear’s origins can be found in skating, other athletics, hip hop, among other things. Skating is particularly important as Jeremy Klein, an influential skater, had adopted Anime and Japanese culture as one of his early motifs. While hes known for many things in the skating world, he eventually help create Hook-Ups, a skating company thats distinctively influenced by Anime, in the early 90s. It can be suggested that Jeremy Klein started America’s relationship with Anime and clothing. During this time Anime was still a virtually unknown subculture. More than a decade later, Triumvir decided to introduce Anime to Streetwear in America. The results were very mixed. Not too long after Triumvir ended their Street Fighter collabs other Streetwear brands began to take Triumvir’s work a step further, ultimately creating something different. Ronin, a NY streetwear brand, may well have been the first. Though now there are many others, however they don’t bare a resemblance to Hook-Ups or Triumvir. Many of these newer brands are headed by Asian Americans, and so they have a different perspective on the art form that is inherently Japanese.

Otakus

Theres a lot of people who can and do identify as being an Otaku. For awhile the term was relegated to small venues/places within America, it was a way to understand who was a fan of Japanese Animation. As the word was used in non dubbed Anime. Eventually this changed. As Anime covertly invaded America’s underbelly of disenfranchised youth and adults, something was ultimately cultivated. Overtime this manifested as a way for people to describe themselves, in a positive context. You can think of someone who plays sports as an athlete, they might use that word to describe themselves. This is essentially what Otaku now means to cultures outside Japan. If you’re an Otaku, you’re basically saying you’re a big Anime fan, or you may be using the word to associate your love of it and maybe even Japan. However in Japan, the word is not universally used this way. Originally it was used to describe something, not necessarily someone. It apparently referred to someone’s house, so just otaku not Otaku. After a while it transformed as a way to shame people. Referring to people as Otaku meant that they were obsessed with something, to a severity that it affected their overall wellbeing. You can possibly akin it’s meaning to addiction, which is never a positive thing. With Anime’s growing influence in Japan, as well as its economic benefits, the word Otaku isn’t 100% bad, but you have to understand that its not universally linked to Anime. Its apparently tied to negative obsessions. As foreigners tend to import words from other countries, Japan’s word otaku was also imported, through a misunderstanding, people now have a positive word to describe themselves.

What Otaku brings up on Google.jp

However its important to understand the idea of what Otaku means is somewhat murky. Like who came up with the meaning behind the word? Who’s in charge of its meaning? This lack of definitive meaning, outside Japan, gives the concept of Otaku a somewhat fluid meaning. Some individuals may use it to say they’re hardcore Anime fans. In another context some people may just use it to invoke an association to Anime, think instagram or twitter. However you can’t use one word to describe the Anime community. As with many pastimes, hobbies, lifestyles etc some people may be more into it than others.

Kanye West’s music video for Stronger is overall a great music video. Its also very much a tribute to the 1988 Anime movie Akira. At one point Kanye West even entertained the idea of working on the remake. So its very obvious that hes into Anime, yet hes never actually describe himself as an Otaku. Of course hes one example, of celebrities who love Anime, but aren’t “Otakus.” The late Robin Williams was also a fan of Anime, so is actor Christian Bale (Batman), who worked on an Anime movie. I’ve personally never meet a fan of Anime who described themselves as Otaku. There are people out there who would fit the bill, however they may be a fan of Japanese culture in general. Interestingly enough a designer, possibly an Otaku, for the 2012 Victoria Secret fashion show ripped off Rei Ayanami’s plugsuit design.

Is Batman an Otaku?

As to why this is significant in America, simply put something that was considered on the fringes of society are basically part of it now. Hot Topic is a prime example of this, as they carry many stuff an Anime fan would want to buy. In general theres way more stuff, licensed and unauthorized, that an Anime fan can now buy. Whereas a few years ago people would have to go to import shops. Anime culture itself has expanded overseas, into Europe and even South America, where its fan base is steadily growing. Theres also more expos devoted to Anime, while AX is probably the biggest, in between there are many other expos that pop up.  AX is arguably a cow cash, with many big and independent vendors. A place where many quintessential “starving” artists go to peddle their artwork, or Anime fans/Otakus try to sell stuff in order to survive or make some kind of living.

Cosplayers

The term Cosplay isn’t actually that old, it was coined back in 1983 by a Japanese man named Nov Takahashi. Hes credited with helping give an identity to the then unnamed Cosplay community in Japan, which has ultimately doubled back to America, eliminating what came before it. So does that mean that Cosplay was inherently a Japanese phenomenon? Not exactly, in a way it can be said to be a culmination of Japanese, American and European concepts. To the people that find it odd, cosplay’s roots go far. Depending on where you want to draw the link, in its basic form Cosplay is essentially people dressing up in garments, that wouldn’t be considered normal clothing. Working on this you can say it has some relations to either Sanhaim or even guising in medieval Europe. If you wanna get modern about it, you simply have to look at Halloween. If you wanna get more modern about it, look towards Sci Fi expos in America. Samhain was a Celtic tradition that would mark the end of spring and the beginning of winter, which was associated with death. It was a time where people would honor the dead, and wish to see ghosts of their relatives, yet in the same vein people would dress up, so that ghosts wouldn’t try to possess them. Guising occurred during Hallowmas (All Saint’s Day), people would dress up and go door to door begging for food or money. As compensation they would either sing, dance, or pray for someone’s deceased loved ones. While early 20th century Halloween in America is usually associated with kids dressing up, make no mistake adults were also into it, albeit to be scary instead of cute.

Early 20th century Halloween in America.

If you really wanna gauge when contemporary concepts of Cosplay came into play, you have to look at the Sci Fi community. They’re arguably more or less the precursors to Cosplayers, as they used the term Costuming. Think of early fantasy novels, magazines, or films. Such as Wizard of OZ, HP Lovecraft’s works, or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Their worlds were often set in modern day contexts, playing around with the idea that there could be worlds vastly more intriguing than our own. Eventually science began to modernize, and fantasy novelists played with the idea of overtly advanced societies. The 1939 Futurama Pavilion showed how designers were becoming enthusiastic of a futuristic America. This same year the first Worldcon was held, this is where you essentially have the birth of Costuming. People would dress up as some fantasy based creation. By the 1960s America had developed a great interest in space and so came the birth of Star Trek and later Star Wars, along with their devoted fans. This all occurred before the advent of Cosplay in Japan. What sustained Costuming, was people’s desire to be part of an idealized fantasy world, one that could be vastly more exciting than everyday life. By the early 90s there were already Cosplayers at Anime Expo. Anime was instilled into the 90s kids, and so a silent coup was forming. As these kids became adults, Costuming was replaced with Cosplay.

Cosplay today.

What can characterize a Cosplayer is that they’re wearing a costume of a character from a popular show or animated series. While in the beginning Cosplay may have been exclusive to the Anime community, thats not the case today. You can go to other places outside of Anime events or expos, like Comikaze and find “Cosplayers” dressed up as their favorite comic book or video game characters. In some cases people may not even be familiar with the characters they’re Cosplaying as. So the term Cosplayer is somewhat ambiguous.  Most people are just happy to find other people dressed as the same character, so it doesn’t matter whose costume is better. Ergo the classic Cosplay group photo.

However there is another aspect of Cosplayers, one which is basically considered a lifestyle. For these people, Cosplay takes a more serious role in their lives. These type of people may frequently buy/make costumes as well as wigs. Many hours are painstakingly put into the construction of accurate or over the top renditions of any Animated character. Some form relationships with photographers, they frequent conventions year round instead of once a year. Cosplaying another gender isn’t looked down upon. Some times its a sustainable way to live, maybe even profitable. This is due to social media, as the higher the following a Cosplayer has, more endorsements they can get. In some cases they may make money, though not always.

Get a 9-5

One of the integral aspects of adulthood is getting a steady job. This is unavoidable. Though theres different ways you can ultimately support yourself, without having to get a conventional career. Ultimately this is where all three communities can find a common ground.

In the years following Shawn Stussy’s creation of Stussy, the brand transformed from a small operation into a multi million dollar business. Thats not to say its origins have been 100% conventional. Moving onto the 2000s, there was an influx of newer streetwear brands, many of which maintained a level of financial success. While the numbers weren’t extraordinary it was sustainable. Eventually in 2008 the recession hit and more or less leveled the playing field. Many of the bigger brands called it quits. While many of the smaller brands used this to their advantage. This was the genesis of the big streetwear brands of today. Such as The Hundreds, Undftd, 10 Deep, Huf, etc. Many of these brands found success because they built relationships with their customers. They threw parties, or sponsored concerts, held skate sessions, and most importantly they maintained a presence on social media.

Funimation CEO.

Concerning Anime, there is money to be made. The bulk of this money is probably made in Japan where Anime possibly has its largest following. Looking at things from a business perspective it’s not too hard to understand. Every year theres a lot of new Anime and Manga series’ being created. If the series is a hit they create tons of products that can be sold or they can simply license out their IP (intellectual property). This is typically how most of these companies make money. Funimation holds the American distribution rights to most of the big Anime shows from Japan. While Funimation does the dubbing for these shows, its more than that. They do probably sell dvds, but its not as profitable as licensing. Funimation can simply license out any show to other companies for a fee. The easiest way to understand this is Hot Topic and Anime. They make and sell clothing or accessories featuring popular Anime characters. As for the why, its extremely inexpensive to make clothing on a commercial scale.

That isn’t to say the little guy can’t get in on this.

The Anime kids

 What these independent Streetwear brands, the Otakus, and Cosplayers have in common, is simply their appreciation for the art form that is Anime. Theres also the dilemma of economics. Ever since the recession hit America, career opportunities have become harder to cultivate. While certain industries have boomed and busted, America’s apparel sector has continued to grow. As Anime’s influence has continued to thrive, it has become its own market within the world of fashion. There isn’t a dominate entity which rules Anime apparel. Theres just a bunch of random companies here and there making money off the backs of many graphic designers. So profits are very centralized with these businesses.

Uniqlo is a player within Anime fashion.

Anime Kids have struck out on their own, hustling in a lot of different ways. The Anime fans who can draw, typically try to sell their art on line, or do commissioned artwork. Some Cosplayers also do this, although they may try to sell prints of their photos more so than their artwork. Conventions are especially important because theres a lot of money to be made, people gotta survive. Interestingly enough some Anime kids decided to go into apparel.

This is ultimately where all three communities are doomed, yes doomed because it’s unavoidable, to collide with one another. As such it’s important this happens sooner rather than later. For a few reasons. No doubt there will probably be people in the greater Anime community who would be against the idea of a union between streetwear and Anime. Either because they want to keep Anime “pure” or possibly because people from the Streetwear camp have mocked them in the past. However its important to understand that Anime and streetwear/fashion have already developed a relationship in Japan. So this concept isn’t a new or foreign idea. As for the streetwear brands that use Anime, it’s important to know that the owners of these brands are fans of Anime. They’re Anime kids who grew up in the 90s. They aren’t just exploiting Anime, they’re familiar with the source material their brand’s are appropriating. Some brands to look into would be Hidden Characters, The Heated Environment (THE), Effulgence, Ronin, etc.

T.H.E.’s take on Anime is very minimalist.

In 2015 here was an incident involving Anime artwork. There were allegations that Ronin had wrongfully used an artist’s work as a tee shirt design. While this is wrong, in the end Ronin did the right thing, and the artist was compensated. While the incident was initially negative, people should take some positives away from this. One of the major problems with running a clothing brand is creating something that people will buy. Graphic tees are essentially the heart of streetwear. If you wanna make some Anime inspired tees you may want to go to Deviantart and commission an artist to make the graphic, you may even want to start a long term business relationship. This way the starving artist won’t stay starving. Just remember not to rip off smaller artists, you should only consider appropriating from businesses that are already making lots of money.

Some Anime kids have had a slow start in fashion, so there are some things they should consider. Specifically supply and demand in the world of fashion. If a certain shirt sells a lot, the brand will usually restock said item. This will often lead to certain products going to the sales rack, this isn’t bad for bigger companies like Uniqlo, as they make their products very cheaply. You may not want to go this route if you’re doing everything independently. Streetwear’s strategy has almost always depended on exclusivity. Meaning that even if a particular shirt sells very well, they probably will not restock that shirt, it adds more meaning to the design, among other reasons. Such as storage, keeping a stack of tees in your house for long periods of time can be bothersome, likewise you’ll probably want to focus on your next release.

Effulgence freebie.

Although newer brands might initially be at a disadvantage, one thing that can work for them is having people sponsor or cosign their brand. This is where the Cosplayers come into play. Instagram is a place where you’ll find a plethora of models, depending on their amount of followers they might be asked to cosign a brand. This can range from free products to being paid. Usually they’ll just take pics of whatever random shirt or pair of kicks they’ve been given and tag the brands. So theres nothing too fancy about this, however models are a dime a dozen, they almost always accumulate their followers through sex appeal, so much of what they do is purely business. Cosplayers are vastly different, there are some who do modeling and may identify as one. However others do not. Dedicated Cosplayers usually become their own tailors. They have an understanding of fabrics, they can measure, more importantly they know how to cut material and sew it together. This is important in Streetwear as many people that start out, eventually want to branch out into cut n sew, it can be slow process though. Cosplayers cosplay for different reasons. Some are motivated for their love of costume design, and so may cosplay characters they aren’t familiar with, while other do it in order to make a living. These type of Cosplayers may not actually make their own costumes, instead they may just go to a tailor, which is essential in this community. For those that do make their own outfits, they are typically the ones with a deep passion for the characters they watched as a kid. They also tend to go out and take very creative photos, usually with a photographer they love working with. Of course this usually doesn’t add up to an income. Some Cosplayers get sponsored, though no actual money may be made. In the world of Streetwear, newer brands may want to have Cosplayers cosign their brands. Mainly because in a sea of atypical models, Cosplayers stand out more. Seeing that theres already a good amount of Anime fans in the Streetwear community, these types of relationships may work well. Cosplayers stand to grow their fan bases, as well as possibly make some money.

Left: Mostflogged, right: Tattobot

Speaking of Cosplayers two important ones are Tattobot and MostFlogged. Not too long ago these women created an Anime themed fashion brand called Anime Trash Swag. Glamourous, colorful, hentai, macabre, spunky, and of course Anime, sum up what ATS is all about. The brand seems to focus on the Anime community, many of their items are custom made giving everything more of a personal feel. Though their appeal may lean towards women who want to be loud and stylish, they also have some stuff for men. Beyond this they are Cosplayers, they make their own costumes/wigs and go to various cons, and have a great following, so things look good for them and ATS. You may also want to look at Stahli’s Cosplays. The range of her work is pretty dope, you may recognize some characters, while other are a bit obscure. Something to take away from this is being able to stand out. Cosplayers do this by making their costumes a bit different from a characters design or using unique materials, theres also photograph. They may edit their pics or they may have someone else do this. In streetwear when brands go into cut n sew you definitely have to learn to make your products stand out, so keep Cosplayers in mind.

Canadian Cosplayer Stahli.

Most importantly each of these communities needs to have an understanding with one another. Streetwear today is motivated by status, exclusivity, as well as a desire for quality products. They’re not all snobs though. Anime fans will of course buy Anime stuff, but clothing may not be on their wish lists. So don’t hate on their style. Cosplayers can be artistic and stylish, but are mostly looking to have fun. Some even wear Cosplay attire as their “normal” attire. Learn to respect their craft. Streetwear brands should try checking out Ax or other Anime cons to gain inspiration, or possibly sell their merch. Anime fans curious about Streetwear may want to go check out some Streetwear brands that tap into Anime, or possibly Fairfax. Cosplayers may want to start a relationship with brands who will pay them. No one knows how big Anime and Streetwear/fashion will become. Not too long ago the 80s were all the rage, but today is the day of the Anime kids.

*The first part of Anime & Streetwear.

*TattoBot’s Instagram.

*MostFlogged’s Instagram.

*Anime Trash Swag’s website.

*Stahli’s Instagram.

Diamond x Undftd – 05′ vs 14′

Diamond Supply Co has had quite a meek history, for many years the brand made little to no money. The brand didn’t make $1 million til 2011. Since then Diamond has flourished financially, while maintaining its skating roots. One of its most memorable years was 2005. During this time Nick Tershay, the founder of Diamond, was living in LA and was prepping for the release of Diamond’s Nike SB shoe. Needless to say the Tiffany was a great success, not only for Nike SB, but also for Diamond Supply Co. Both brands increased their presence in skating and streetwear. In order to make 2005 a bigger year for Diamond, the brand had set up a collab drop with Undftd in order to commemorate the release of The Tiffany.

Arguably the biggest tee that Diamond dropped that year was their collab tee with Undftd. The tee itself took many cues from Diamond’s much admired “Tiffany” Dunk. The most striking aspect of the tee is the Undftd logo done in a croc style. While the Diamond script logo is layered in the Undftd logo, but within the confines of the logo itself. Unlike newer Diamond tees this tee has a neck tag, it lists Diamond’s website. Which is odd because most blog sites will cite that Diamond opened their site in 2006. The neck tag also stats that the tee was made in the USA. Furthermore the fit seems to be the same as regular Diamond tees of today. Likewise the side tag can still be found on the 05 tee, its classic red embroidered “Diamond Supply Co” text was still used. An extra tag on the left sleeve was included, Undftd’s logo is displayed.

In 2014 Nike SB sought to recapture the excitement that used to regularly follow every SB release. In doing so they once again came to Diamond Supply Co and thus the Diamond High was birthed.  Nick Tershay said in a 2014 interview that he originally wanted the first Dunk to be a high top. Unsurprisingly the drop was everything both brands wanted it to be. The Diamond Hi sold out quickly, many SB veterans reminisced about the 05 release. While newer SB fans were able to get their own experience that echoed the original Nike SB drops. So all in all the release met everyone’s expectations.

It was only appropriate that Diamond should ride the wave made by the release of their second Tiffany inspired kicks under Nike SB. As such there were many Diamond Dunk Hi inspired tees that came out this year. The most interesting one was the Undftd tee. By itself the tee was one of Diamond’s best tees of 2014, like the 05′ version it takes many cues from the Nike SB x Diamond Dunk. However thats not to say that they are very alike.

For one, the front graphic on the 14′ tee is overall slightly smaller. This is also true for the Undftd sleeve tag. Oddly enough the longsleeve tee actually fits a bit longer than its short sleeve predecessor. It should be assumed that since Undftd sold these tees on their site, that they probably used their own blanks and printed the tees with their own connections. Unlike modern Diamond tees this longsleeve has a neck tag, which stated the tee was made (probably printed) in Mexico. The color on the Diamond text is a slightly different shade of teal, it looks like theres more blue than green. As a result the 2014 tee is closer to the color Tiffany than the 2005 tee. Lastly theres the Diamond side tags. Both have the same embroidered text of Diamond Supply Co, yet they are still, surprisingly different. The differences are very small though.

Nonetheless both tees are executed fairly well. However comparing the two, the collab tee from 2005 looks and feels better. The print looks and feels nice. While the crocodile print may seem over the top, it really isn’t. Of course the graphic mimics the skin of a crocodile, it chooses a more subdued pattern. A design thats good, but isn’t trying to be loud and grab people’s attention. This is even clearer from a distance. As the finish on the Undftd print looks like its closer to having a matte or possibly semi-gloss finish. Whereas the Undftd croc logo on the 2014 shirt is slightly smaller, and the design looks more boisterous. Its possible that the designers were aiming to draw a closer link to the Diamond Dunk Hi, as it looks like the patterns are somewhat similar. Theres also the fact that the graphic seems to have a glossy finish, so you know you will probably be noticed wearing this shirt. On the left sleeves of both shirts, each has an embroidered Undftd tag. However the tag on the 05 tee is a decent size and would be easily visible. For some reason the tag on the 2014 shirt is only half the size and would probably go unnoticed by most people. This is strange considering the 2014 collab is visibly louder. Though on the inside of the left cuff an embroidered “UNDEFEATED” can be read. On the right forearm of the 14 longsleeve theres another graphic, a combination of both Undftd’s and Diamond’s logos. While the logo is ok, its not as dynamic as the frontal graphic, both logos are rendered in white so they kind of just blend together. Then theres the neck tags, the tag on the 05 version has no embroidering, but instead is a printed graphic. It doesn’t feel irritating at all. The neck tag on the 2014 version has embroidering, which isn’t bad. However the material of the tag feels flimsy, and while it isn’t annoying, you may feel it rubbing against your neck, so in the long run it may get annoying to feel the tag.

Lastly theres the availability of both tees to consider. Both are equally good tees to have, if you’re a fan of either brand. However its obvious that more tees of the 2014 Diamond x Undftd longsleeve were made vs the 2005 Diamond x Undftd tee. If you’re wondering why, you only need to look at both releases in their context. In 2005 Diamond was a small brand, with ambitions that were not within reach. Nick has gone on to say in various interviews that he didn’t have much money, and couldn’t afford to have his tees printed in mass quantities. As a result he probably made the tees himself, if thats the case there may have been 50 or maybe 100 tees made. This is reflected by the fact that there are so few tees left. At this moment I can only recall seeing 4 tees on sale over roughly the last decade. Compared to the 2015 reissue, theres way more available. Given most they were released last year, they are still much easier to find and buy in any size most people could want. There was way more hype for the 2014 release, as this time around the legend of “The Tiffany” had swelled to great proportions. So much so that the collab tee had gained its own following. As a result both Diamond and Undftd were prepared for this drop. Indeed both brands made a pretty penny that day. Regardless people will still remember the kicks as well as the tee for years to come.