Hidden Characters – They Came From Below, Like Marauders

2014 is quickly coming to an end. Every major brand has already dropped their most hype releases. A certain red rectangle comes to mind, as well as some big releases by Kith, Raised By Wolves, etc. However many other brands go ignore, though one brand in particular has really proven itself to be highly sought after: Hidden Character. Though unlike many of the hype brands of today, their products have continually been sought out for their designs, and not so much for the “label” mentality, which has come to dominate streetwear over the last few years.

HC’s last two drops of 2014, going along with their desire to not follow a set style, are different from one another. Their October drop coincided with their one year anniversary, though they really did save the best for last, namely their December release.

The Day the Music Died

Music is  an almost a universal medium. Sometimes we know the words of lyrics by heart. Other times we have not idea what the artists are saying. It could be argued that music is restricted by its region. The American mentality is that foreign music has no place in America, and vice versa. For the most part this is usually true, save for a few hit foreign songs here and there, a la London Calling, Paper Planes, even Gangnam Style. Among others. The Early 2000s was a transitioning point for hip hop, gangsta rap was basically dead and rappers were looking to talk about money and success. Many of the biggest rappers were from the South and East. Though other rappers may not have been given heavy exposure, they did have a following. Such as Jurassic 5. The 2000s also saw the premiere of an Anime that had strong hip hop undertones. It was also acclaimed as famous Japanese producer/DJ Nujabes worked on the show to produce some choice tunes that helped shape the world of Samurai Champloo, making it a crossover hit in both Japan and America.

HC’s October drop was very much a tribute to music, and was a bit riskier than what they have done in the past. People may recall that Hidden Character’s Spring 14 release came with various patches, that everyone wanted. Unfortunately the brand is sticking to their no re-release policy. HC did give extra detailing to something most brands usually don’t put much effort into designing, the neck tags. Turning something that most people don’t give much notice to, into a somewhat collectible item. It was a risk, though their biggest gamble was a more personal item. Influences for this release are primarily cemented in music, however one artist is given more significance, HC also shows off more of their drawing skills, while Anime only helped emphasis certain themes.

Nujabes working on Samurai Champloo’s audio was a pretty significant thing in of itself. Beyond that he put in work with various hip hop acts, working with rappers in Japan as well as in the American underground hip hop scene. He often went for a more classical/jazz style, using instrumentals from the piano, bass, drums, among other musical instruments affiliated with that genre of music. This allowed other artists to create a style that seemed more sophisticated in nature, combined with lyrics that were relevant to their era. Its what some hip-hop acts were striving for, a sound that echoed the studio era of music production, but were very relate-able to the struggles of the world. Nujabe’s style concerning Samurai Champloo was very unorthodox. Usually music, or audio, is only supposed to be in the background. People may not notice it, but its there. It gives life to fictitious worlds in film, video, TV, and Animation. With bad audio, its easier to unravel these worlds. Nujabes gave hip hop a bigger role in Samurai Champloo, allowing the genre of music to give the main cast a certain flair, while also using it in an expressive way to convey a sense of drama or comedic relief. The music of Samurai Champloo may be his most well known work in America, however internationally hes better known for his hip hop compositions. Unfortunately he died on February 26, 2010 due to a fatal car accident in Japan.

Music was a general theme used for HC’s A/W pt 1 drop. Early on, Children of the Corn were referenced in previews. The group was made up of rappers from Harlem: Big L, Bloodshed, Cam’ron, Herb, McGruff, and Mase. The group never made it to the big leagues. Though Cam’ron would go on to Mainstream success. While Big L has been given posthumous recognition in the hip hop community for his lyrics. Cam’ron is given a small reference for this drop, though Big L would be given a standout tribute in the second drop. Beyond this, other rappers, big and small, are also referenced through their lyrics. Giving people the opportunity to discover these, at times, overlooked rap artists.

Hidden Character’s lookbook for A/W 2014 was shot entirely in black and white, unlike their Summer 14 lookbook. A bit of an irony considering color was used more this time around. You get a feeling of aggression, fearlessness, and camraderie. Some of this does crossover into their graphics, though it comes off as being more of an artistic expression. Three tees made up this release, their first baseball jersey, as well as their first go at cologne. As usual fans of the brand eagerly awaited the drop date, and everything sold out fairly quick. Part of this was due to their Nujabes tribute, which was the well designed and very anticipated. Their bb jersey was given a personal touch, as it had some nicely executed embroidery, labeling, and tackle twill typography. Fallback: ROY was cleanly drawn, it allowed HC to maintain an individual identity. Perhaps their most peculiar, yet still highly desired item was their Snake Oil fragrance. Part 1 of their A/W collection was released shortly after their 1 year anniversary.

The I Won’t Cheat baseball jersey was more or less Hidden Characters showing off more of their diy skills. In some ways it was more of a warm up for their Pt 2 cut n sew items. I Won’t Cheat was made of a subtle burgundy poly blend. The fit was more true to size, unlike traditional baseball jerseys. What made IWC a standout piece was the tackle twill letters, and custom embroidery. Tackle twill is the standard material that most sports teams use, it has a certain look to it, you just can’t get with silk screens. It gives better depth to typography, and an overall ruggedness to garments. The text wasn’t too elaborate, however the use of tackle twill gave the letters more of a pop. Moreover the twill seems to have been heat sealed onto the jersey instead of sewn. Their cherries design, shown earlier in 2014  was finally implemented. It was incorporated into the small baseball patch made by HC. The embroidery of the patch is quite intricate. Its something many brands may not think they could pull off due to all the details, yet HC managed to make the patch. Its interesting to note that the cherries design had a bit of controversy earlier this year, as someone inferred that HC had plagiarized the design. However HC proved that wasn’t the case. A custom red “Characters” label around the hem rounded out the design. Ultimately making a garment that wasn’t too loud, yet was very unique, a baseball jersey that any fan of the sport can wear.

The Reflection graphic tee was the most hyped item in the drop. There were many elements that alluded to Nujabes. The front of the tee has rows of text, Reflection is at the top. It basically describes the design work. Various paralleling designs can be seen. In the kanji text below, one reads Nujabes’ birth name, while the text next to it is his artist name. Written below is Nujabes’ real name in english. Below that is a track from the second Samurai Champloo album. The last line indicates his birth, while also subtly praising him on his music. Looking at the text from a distant, theres an almost parallel like placement of the words. The back portion features a nice rendition of Mugen and Jin battling, another use of “reflection,” while Purgatory is seen in the background. The details put into the duo’s clothing is pretty amazing, though it may be easily overlooked by people. Hidden is written below the two swordsmen, finishing up the design is another song by Nujabes written at the bottom. Two cws were available, navy was the rarer of the two. As it was initially a family/friends exclusive. The navy cw also had different colored prints, ranging from pink, lavender, to off white.  The tee is less of a nod to Samurai Champloo, and more like a tip of the hat to Nujabes. The other tee was dubbed Fallback ROY (Rookies of the Year). Unlike Reflection, ROY was strictly a Hidden Characters tee. There are no references to take away from the design, and in ways it helps gives the brand a stronger identity. The front of the black tee sports a pocket, with a simple “Hidden” tab. The right sleeve featured the text “Fallback” with the complimentary words: “HDNC: S-RANK.” Fallback has a metallic like feel, while the inner words give the graphic an old school arcade feel. Possibly from the late 80s. The back ROY graphic is the best. Showing, what could be, two inner demons battling one another. The one with the bigger horns, likely Hidden Characters, being the obvious victor. That character with the big horns has actually appeared in a past graphic from earlier this year, so it may be some sort of mascot or symbolic of HC. Perhaps akin to what Ed the Head is to Iron Maiden. Regardless the original artwork is skillfully drawn, with plenty of detail. It gives off a feeling of boastfulness, though 2014 has been a great year for a group of young adults, who created an unexpectedly popular brand. Making ROY a tee for anyone who likes original artwork, or clean graphics. All the tees came with red neck tags, every tag was unique as they featured lyrics from different songs, by different rappers. There didn’t seem to be much overlap in featured artists. Music artists featured ranged from mainstream to virtually unknown, so people will likely have to Google the lyrics to figure out who these rappers are. Making the tags almost as collectible as HC’s patches from their S14 drop.

Lastly theres the Snake Oil cologne. While many brands have ventured into this territory, many others have not. Its almost always one of those final frontiers brands undertake, that go along with years of testing. Though not caring for the rules, HC jumped headfirst into making a small batch. A mix of China musk and mink oil made up the concoction. The name itself being an homage to a misrepresentation of what a product can do. The three headed snake label furthers that idea. What made it truly covetable is that HC actually made custom wood boxes for the fragrance, instead of putting them in cheaper cardboard boxes. The Snake Oil was shipped out with condoms, giving a guy everything he needs for his night out.

Overall the drop was pretty solid. With numerous small details that helped make every piece in A/W Pt 1 enticing to anyone who wanted quality workmanship, a unique sense of design, and an execution thats against the grain.

From Purgatory with Love

While 2014 has been a solid year for Hidden Characters, it would have been easy for the brand to phone in their last release and drop some average designs, or possibly even skip their A/W pt 2 drop. However the brand decided to end 2014 on a high note, making this release more inclined to their dedicated fans from the past year. There were various tees available to grab, the uberly hyped “Hidden” Hidden hoodie, and 9 uniquely dyed shirts. HC also decided to make new patches. Making this drop half experimental, half fan service.

While there was no strong theme for the majority of these items, there was one item that did have a concept. The Put it On tee, acts like a bridge from pt 1 A/W to pt 2. The tee strongly draws a link to Big L, while also tying in his defunct group Children of the Corn, HC throws in a bit of their own charm making something that has a 90s feel, with a small amount of macabre thrown in. The front of the l/s is pretty simple, though the the right cuff has some text from a Big L song. On the back we get a bit more of HC’s dark modern sensibility. A collage of images comes together, drawing subtle links to Children of the Corn as well as possibly acting as a warning. An image of Big L, having a vintage feel, draws in people’s attention. A Child Shall Lead Them can be read in the same image, its a nice little reference to Big L’s group Children of the Corn. The overlapping text of Put it On, balances out the tee, making it more for Big L fans. The repetition of the eyes, may just allude to the gangsta era of the 90s, when people needed to have eyes behind their back. Put It On is dope, because the use of Big L and the symbols throughout make it somewhat of a nostalgic item, however it doesn’t try to be an obvious 90s tee.

Probably their most ambitious project to date were their oxford shirts, the BDUs also made a return. While their past cut n sew projects haven’t been too big, they did try to add a more personal touch to them. They grabbed some white shirts, and hand dyed the top portions of them. However dying materials is not an easy process, nor can anyone predict how partially dying a garment will look. The end result yielded 9 unique dye patterns. Instead of going back to completely dye them, which would have created something more uniform, HC opted to go with the misfit dyes. Ultimately making something that feels more diy in the process. Labeled as Oxford A-I, the shirts have an uniform look, something most brands aren’t looking to make. While HC may have wanted them to look a certain way, it definitely fits into their concept of not wanting to fit in. Overall the oxfords have a mature look, with a more personal feel to them.

While both the Put it On tee and Oxfords had their fans, probably the most hyped items of HC’s last 2014 drop were their Hidden “Hidden” hoodie, and Mystery bundle tees. The H”H” hoodie was more of an experiment by the brand. Using 2 layers of ink, an under layer of regular ink, with a top layer of 3M ink. 3M is made reflective with either particles of glasses or aluminum. The experiment entailed allowing the 3M ink to slowly degrade the stencil. This would mean that H”H” hoodies printed after the first hoodie, would begin to look slightly different with each passing print. Its because of this reason, that fans went into a full on frenzy, causing the site to almost crash. Probably the second most sought after item, was Hidden Character’s Mystery Bundle tees. The bundle came with two tees, there were a variety of prints. Some were based on older designs, while others were new designs. Some may think the older designs count as rereleases. Thats not the case. HC changed certain details or in other cases theres missing elements from the first designs. Moreover the tees don’t seem to have a set focus, other than HC just making randomly cool designs. This may be a jumping point for HC to release their og graphic designs as prints for 2015, which they have already alluded to. Regardless the Mystery Bundle tees were met with much praise from fans. Both the Hidden “Hidden” hoodie and Mystery Bundle tees were the must cops from this drop. Everything about them represents what HC is about.

Over the past year Hidden Characters has grown, cultivating a decent sized fan base. While the numbers may not impress the people who have been in streetwear for years, the fans keep coming back. They’re obviously attracted to the brand’s concept, and thoughtful graphic designs. Hidden Characters has also managed to end 2014 as the third most commented brand on the HB forums, breaking a triopoly on the forums that has been headed by Black Scale, Diamond Supply Co, and Supreme for much of the forum’s history. While this may not mean much, it does show that the newer streetwear brands are finally gaining a foothold in the industry. So streetwear may have a future afterall. Perhaps Hidden Characters will lead the way, while the older brands fade away. Though its unknown what 2015 will hold for Hidden Characters, regardless fans are patiently waiting, til then stay hidden.

*All S/o

*Hidden Characters twitter

*Hidden Characters instagram

*Hidden Characters Tumblr

* Use Google to find Hidden Character’s forum

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