Fashion and the Cringification of Skateboarding

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave with terrible wi-fi, you’ll be aware that a few weeks’ back ‘the bible’ of mainstream fashion, Vogue Magazine, celebrated skateboarding’s ‘coming of age’ through their ‘Skate Week’. Quartersnacks already took the time to summarise the content, but there’s something addictive in checking out stuff you already know you’ll find offensive. If you’ve not yet delighted in the self-torture, like a Cenobite who can kickflip, the topics and the manner in which they are covered are cringe-inducing.

There are ‘flip kicks’, celebrations of longboarding as the “more stylish” option (yo, how can a magazine in love with all things French not know that Monsieurs Gillet and Puig are more stylish than anyone, and they don’t fucking longboard?), discussions of which skaters have the greatest hair, and this picture of Brit ex-pat Ben Nordberg that makes you want to vomit on yourself, eat it, then vomit again in a necessarily extreme ritual exorcism. This awful coal seam has been mined with succinct humour by others, from Jenkem to Complex, our contribution is to investigate just why we care so much about such ham-fisted appropriation.

Ph: Getty Images

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In the absence of specific postgraduate reading lists, an informed guess would distil things down to the almost physical discomfort one feels when their sense of identity gets messed with, alongside an asymmetric power relationship between skateboarding and the mainstream.

Identity is important. We invest time in constructing it, feel a huge amount of ownership over it, yet it’s a place of constant conflict. It’s necessary for the functioning of politics and society: it motivates us to vote (“I am a civically responsible person”), who we vote for (“I’m not a fucking Tory”), what we buy (“these sneakers will make me feel like early career Lucas”), and who we hang out with (“these people are like me, and by hanging out with them, I become more like the person I want to be”). But individuals have only partial control over it. Our identity is formed by the interaction of internal and external factors: how we see ourselves (our subjective identity); how others see us (objective identity); and how we think others see us (social identity).

For young people especially, heroes and role models play a big part. When I was 21, in rare moments of self-confidence, I believed that dressing like Josh Kalis made me look a bit like Josh Kalis. This delicate illusion quickly dissolved when others objectively informed me that I looked like a fucking dork. Vogue Skate Week hurt a little because it provides a window into how others see us, how they make sense of our sub-culture, and where they locate it within the context of the things they find familiar (for example, why a fashion magazine needs to talk about skateboarders’ ‘great hair’). All together, the outcome isn’t pretty when parked up against our image of ourselves.

Ph: Glen Luchford for Gucci

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The cast-iron motherfucker is that platforms like Vogue, with none of the knowledge, have more of the power. By ballsing up their representation of skateboarding on a massively public stage, they risk actually changing how skateboarders perceive skateboarding. How many of you had “mosher” or “greb” shouted at you as a kid, even if you exclusively rocked gleaming white sneakers, a Yankees fit and a t-shirt covered in rappers’ faces? Incrementally, a view of a subculture loudly expressed by a majority who know nothing about it mutates the self-identity of those within it. When I was a teenager, MTV and Fred Durst had more power in dictating how others perceived me than any imaginary covenant signed in private with the Church of Robert ‘Wu’ Welsh, and I found myself constantly apologising for, or playing along with, the cringified image held by my non-skate friends.

The really interesting argument is that skateboarding brings this upon itself. In cosying up to something powerful, we can hardly complain when Big Fashion makes us look like bigger pricks. New York’s excellent Stoops magazine, which combines the high standard of photography we’ve come to expect from independent mags with superb writing, goes deep on this tricky question. Stoops’ Ted Barrow and Eby Ghafarian point out that, rather than originating what we look like, we’ve instead co-opted and repurposed aspects of our identity from elsewhere. Skateboarders are essentially stylists rather than designers – picking and arranging looks that already exist. In the 1980s, skaters may have repurposed looks from punk and hardcore counter-culture, but in the 90s, it was straight from the mainstream: Polo, Nautica, Guess, pre-SB Nike and Adidas. What made skaters look cool was:

1) Good taste and an attention to detail.
2) The act of skateboarding itself.

Gino is a well-dressed Italian American in his early forties, but when he steps on his skateboard – even when just pushing, of course – he becomes something much cooler. The mainstream dig skateboarding because we reflect a well curated interpretation of their own language straight back at them. If you doubt this, think about the corer-than-core brands like Dime (whose logo shadows Dior) and Palace (who, amongst other high fashion call-backs, had a popular run of t-shirts repurposing the Chanel logo). This can also be seen in Vogue’s interview with Koston this week to mark the release of some depressingly limited high-end collaboration. Koston gushed to Vogue that skaters have always cared about fashion – a skateboarder pretending not to care was evidence of “him caring about how he looks.”

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And the pay-off is seductive. In the mid-to-late 90s, the only people who’d look at a skateboarder for sexy times were particularly broad minded indie kids. In the early 2000s, it became the Nu Metal kids congregating in provincial town centres. Now skateboarders are attractive to everyone from preppy college students to hot models. No longer are we pariahs in the eyes of the popular and beautiful. The price is that we stop being a counter-culture, and when that happens, we start playing by the same rules as everyone else.

The French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault explained how popular culture engenders social control, building on an idea developed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th Century. Bentham imagined an ideal prison, ‘the Panopticon’, where every inmate could theoretically be observed at any time. Even though the prisoner had no way of knowing if he or she was actually being watched, they would behave as if they were. Foucault theorised that contemporary society has evolved as if it were one huge Panopticon – not just through the technology that enables constant universal surveillance, but through a populace that constantly self-polices conformity. When an individual or group deviates from cultural norms, an army of media commentators, cultural figures and ordinary people ridicule or ostracise. And knowing this, we modify our behaviour and appearance accordingly. In women’s magazines in particular, and in fashion more widely, this gentle but constant enforcement is explicit.

Vogue, Grazia, Marie Claire and their ilk are full of condescension dressed up as friendly advice. Articles include “20 things no one over 30 should wear”; “how to be the perfect lover”/ “housewife”/ “employee” / “parent.” All of this reinforces highly conservative gender and age-based norms, gently and subtly steering us towards the economically ‘useful’ roles of worker and consumer. This is the genius of modern capitalism, as predicted by Aldous Huxley in ‘Brave New World.’ Through the promise of eternal youth, a ready supply of casual sex, abundant leisure time and easy, shallow happiness, we don’t need to be coerced to sacrifice our identity, we do it willingly. JG Ballard, in ‘High Rise’, described the sort of citizen who falls into this easily as someone who “was content to do nothing but sit in his over-priced apartment, watch television with the sound turned down, and wait for his neighbours to make a mistake.” The Vogue articles delight as much in pointing out those who have made a mistake as celebrating the Nordbergs who’ve successfully played the game. The rest of us fall in line more unhappily, like Brave New World’s John the Savage, alternately attracted then repulsed.

Image: Foucault by Rinaldo Hopf

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As skateboarding is subsumed within the mainstream, as Vogue’s unwanted certification surely indicates, our lives become easier on a surface level. It is now normal to be a skateboarder at school or college. Regular folk rarely shout abuse or try and assault you. But the cost is that you’ve walked willingly into the Panopticon, accepting its norms. Skateboarding is a sport. It is done exclusively by young men. Skateboarders are athletes. Their look is just so hot right now. But just as easily: skateboarding is last season, do something else. You’re too old. You’re not good enough. It’s not for women and girls. These are the real reasons why skateboarding’s journey from counter-culture to mainstream represents a loss – in a world where few people actually ‘do’ anything for any sustained length of time, they ‘like’ rather than ‘love’, being a fan is much easier than being a fanatic.

But one of the wonderful things about human identity is its capacity for reinvention. We might bemoan the current trend for nostalgia in skateboarding, but it celebrates a simpler time when skateboarding was both tiny and outside the mainstream. By keeping this alive, the Mad Max style lawlessness of EMB and Love, Fairfields, the Shell Centre and the Gasworks, their fashions and attitudes become newly relevant to new generations. By re-telling our own story, rather than borrowing from the mainstream, we keep a little bit of power and protect the soul of this thing.

In an interview with Transworld, Dear Skateboarding’s Chris Lipomi enthused, “what’s exciting to me about it is that for the first time in the longest time, skateboarding is referencing itself. And that’s really awesome. I think for so long, skateboarding has sort of looked to something outside, and then brought that into its own world. Which can be interesting but then can also lead to this idea that what we’re doing sort of isn’t good enough.” And more fundamentally, the soul of the thing is maintained by the constant doing of it. Skateboarding can never be truly mainstream in a risk-averse, passive culture because it will always really hurt.

Words: Chris Lawton
Lead Illustration: Steve Larder

If you’d like to write some stuff on Crossfire, contact us.

True Stories – Fabian Alomar and the Stiffy Bouquet

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Take a good look at this crew photo shot by Canadian photographer Jody Morris from his 20 Plus book. It captures Fabian Alomar, Keenan Milton (RIP), Mike Crum, Gino Ianucci, Jason Dill, Eric Pupecki (and tour driver) in the midst of a banging era of skateboarding whilst on tour in Nottingham, England, 1994. Steve Rocco’s anarchic revolution was well under way by then, Big Brother was the best mag on the shelf, Sidewalk Surfer was just starting up, DC Shoes and Chocolate Skateboards were also just launching and Gator had already served two of his 31 years in the slammer for murdering his girlfriend and burying her in the desert.

“I was working for World Industries and being very lean times in skateboarding the European distributors had pooled together to do a collective tour with all the World brands traveling together,” remembers Morris. “For many of us it was our first trip overseas, and quite possibly one of the best.”

The influx of American teams over the next couple of years lead to the Generation 97 comp at Wembley Arena in London. This mammoth skate event featured an old Jag dumped in the middle the street course and saw the likes of the Gonz, Creager, Rowley, Senn, Wainwright, Koston, Duffy, Brauch, Vallely, Daewon, Templeton, Reynolds and many more sign a page in the UKs skate history book. To this day, G97 still puts the likes of Street League to shame, which isn’t hard, it was all about skateboarding.

Menace pro Fabian Alomar remembers G97 well and delved into his memory banks for a quick story from behind the scenes. What goes on tour, stays on tour…well, for at least two decades.

Fabian Alomar – Lausanne, Switzerland 1995.

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“OK, so back in 1997 we were in London to compete in a comp there at Wembley, and well, it started off good. I was skating, getting my run down and the rest of the Menace, Girl, Chocolate, World Industries heads were on the course and we were doing our thing. I remember approaching another pro skater who was talking shit about “skaters in LA all wearing gold chains and driving Honda Civics and sagging and shit” in an interview he had done in one of the mags. Of course, me being the person I am, once I laid eyes on him I dropped in from one side of the course to where he was. We won’t mention his name for his safety cause he couldn’t bust a grape then and I’m pretty sure he’s still peeing his pants when he gets confronted. Talk about ‘Turnt Down’.

Anyway, back to the story…

So, I took a break from skating and went outside to grab a hot dog from this truck that was parked out in front and flirted with the Hot Dog Girl who was serving up and let me just say this…by the time I smashed on them two hot dogs with a vengeance, I knew I’d be smashing Hot Dog Girl’s ass with fury. Yeah, I bagged that broad in no time.

So later that night we went to a wack-ass place to drink and smoke. I still remember the FUCKEN MUSIC! There was techno and fucken lazers everywhere! I was over it and remember talking to Hot Dog Girl again, grabbed her and said “let’s go to my hotel” and she followed.

OK, here’s were shit gets kinda fucking weird. I was piping Hot Dog Girl in my room – and believe me, I was really giving it to her “FRANK HURTS STYLE” with the kids in the room (Javier Nunez and Lee Smith) acting like they were asleep. They were too young to go out so they hung out in the hotel, smoked blunts, drank beer and jerked off to porn. Now in the middle of my sesh with this broad, I hear frantic banging on the door to my room, so naturally I pulled out, ran to the door with a stiffy, opened the door, and it’s Guy Mariano standing there.

My lil’ buddy is scared outta his mind (and fucked up wasted of course) and there’s this older, big ass dude right behind him yelling shit out and he looks like he wants to hurt Guy. So Guy gets behind me and throws a fly punch on him from the right and said “fuck him up Fabes”, so I threw a punch too. Naked.

This fucker got nailed twice and that was enough for him. So now Guy’s telling the story and it turns out that Guy stole the bouquet from a wedding reception in the hotel lobby, all drunk and shit. I was like “of course everyone from the wedding is gonna be pissed Guy! I mean fuck dude, you stole THE fucken bouquet of flowers and you still have it in your hand?! Give it back so all these people can get the fuck away from my door, can continue with their wedding, and I can continue penetrating Hot Dog Girl!”

So I threw it back at these fools, and by the way, I am still in my birthday suit (minus the stiffy) but I still wanna bang this broad so bad. So now Guy notices something that I totally missed. Hot Dog Girl has 666 and some Devil shit Pentagram and crazy bat shit tattoos all around her snatch. So now I’m like WTF?! I’m a firm believer in God bro, I ain’t trying to bone the Devil homie. Now me, Guy, Jav’s and Lee are trippin on her tats and this Devil / Hot Dog Girl is spread eagled telling us the story on how and why she got her crazy ass tats around her pie hole.

To make a long story short, at the end of the night I banged her with the lights on with everyone watching and making comments, and I was doing all the positions I loved in porn, even taking requests from the homies too. Yeah, those were the days. The making of FRANK HURTS. Good times!”

Words by Fabian Alomar.

If you have a True Story you want to share, write to us.

Order 20 Plus online or ask your local skate shop to get one in for you.

Enjoy this G97 footage:

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Photo: World Industries, Blind, 101, Menace, Plan B – Euro Tour – Amsterdam, 1995. Standing L to R‭: Fabian Alomar‭, ‬unknown‭, ‬Kelly Bird‭, ‬Henry Sanchez‭, ‬Keenan Milton‭, ‬Yves‭, ‬Colin Mckay‭, ‬Pat Duffy‭, ‬Chris Hensley‭,‬‭ ‬Eric Pupecki‭, ‬Kareem Campbell, Joey Suriel‭, ‬unknown‭. Front L to R‭: Ronnie Bertino‭, ‬Gino Ianucci‭, ‬Matt Hensley‭, ‬Jeremy Wray‭.

For more Fabian Alomar stuff, watch this Vice documentary.

Fourstar Koston Stretch Denim Pant

Are you that bloke that can’t tre flip perfectly because your jeans don’t allow your legs to widen that extra two inches? The solution has been out there for years with the combination of cotton and polyester but Fourstar have nailed it in their latest Spring 2013 collection. Every signature jean is made with both so that the denim is allowed to stretch slightly, meaning you can actually move and are not limited when you skate.

Eric Koston’s new signature pant was relased last week and comes in either slim jim or standard fit. I chose the black ones with a button fly but they also have zips and come in Indigo Stonewash, Indigo Rinse, Black Stonewash and Black Rinse colours. Grab some of these to get you through the summer month’s ahead and you will thank Fourstar come September.

Sean Malto interview

With 10 days to go before Pretty Sweet drops onto premiere screens across the planet, Kansas born, Girl Skateboards pro, Sean Malto spills some beans on his trips to the UK, what’s coming from Pretty Sweet and a little bit more.

How different has this year been, knowing you started 2012 wearing a pair of Nike‘s?

Man, it’s so crazy. I’m just starting a different chapter in my skate life. I’m just grateful for the opportunity that I have to skate for some of the best companies in the world. With that though, it creates much more traveling for me.

This was your second trip to London in 2 months, what’s your take on the terrain we have here to skate?

It’s tough, but I love the way footage looks in London. I’m a big fan of all of the Blueprint videos.

Have you found how rough our streets are a hindrance or a challenge?

It’s definitely a challenge. Getting stuff in London does not come easy! It’s a lot of walking and skating just to get to the spot. Then you have to deal with the weathered ground. I have a lot of fun in London though so I try and go there when I can.

Have you managed to film any footage for Pretty Sweet in London’s streets?

I got a few things in London that are in my part. Feds (Girl Filmer) and myself came out and skated around for 10 days and filmed kinda everything from skating spots to taking the tube. I’m not sure how they ended up editing my part but I’m sure some of that footage is in there.

Any particular UK spots that you enjoyed most?

The bench that turns into a flatbar is amazing. I’ve never skated anything like that in my life.

What about the culture, the people and the food. Some Americans hate our food…

I’m the least pickiest eater. I like all types of food, so that doesn’t bother me at all. The people are always nice and I definitely enjoy a good pub every once in a while!

Growing up in Kansas, did you have any knowledge about the UK skate scene at all?

I didn’t know a lot about it, other than the Blueprint videos. When I started hanging out with people that have visited the UK, everyone always mentioned that Nick Jensen was killing it.

Which UK skaters do you rate the most?

There’s so many talented people. Neil Smith, Nick Jensen, Danny Brady, Jerome Campbell, Paul Shier…..they’re all so awesome to watch skate.

Is your Pretty Sweet part finished yet?

Last day of filming was October 15th, so I’m all done!

Where was the majority of your footage for this production filmed?

Kinda a little bit of everywhere. Over the past few years I’ve spent time all over Europe, China, and the US, so it’s just a collection of everything I’ve filmed.

Which trick was the biggest pain in the ass to get down and where?

I filmed one of my last tricks a week before the deadline of the video. It was one of the scariest tricks I’ve every put myself through. It sucked so bad. When I landed it, I was more happy that I didn’t have to try it again than I was about landing it!

Did you have to go back to any spots to re-shoot tricks you didn’t particularly like?

There were a few things I had to go back to. Towards the end, it was more about trying to do tricks I’d been putting off until the deadline.

Did you manage to get any NBD’s down in this section?

Haha! I’m not sure. I’m not the best at skate history. I’m sure there’s a couple tricks that seem to be NBD’s, but someone probably did it at EMB 20 years ago.

We always discuss the skateboarders, but the filmers are equally important to mention when it comes to film productions. Out of Ty Evans, Federico, Ryan Lovell, Sam Newman and Roger Bagley, which one person gets the very best out of the team for their parts on the day, which filmers do you like working with mostly, and who filmed the majority of your part?

I love all those guys. Ty Evans, Ryan Lovell, and Feds filmed the majority. To be able to work with all those guys has been an amazing experience. I did work with Ty Evans a lot for Pretty Sweet. He’s so motivated, and knows what it takes to get a video done. I’ve never been on more productive trips than Ty Evans’ trips.

Sean hits up a bs nose blunt at the Ladbroke Grove rail, poached by Matt Anderson’s phone cam.

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Do you know what other names came up first before they chose the title Pretty Sweet?

There was one other name that I really liked, inspired by Keenan Milton. I don’t know if I should say it, because I think it could be used for another video somewhere down the road!

Brandon Biebel mentioned in a recent interview that Guy Mariano’s part is going to blow minds. Have you been on any filming missions with him for this production?

I’ve seen a few things on trips, but Guy is a very talented and motivated person. His part is going to exceed any expectations. To me, his part is going to be one of the best parts ever in skateboarding.

Who is everyone hyped on for this video from the Chocolate camp?

Obviously MJ is the man. All the new guys on the team killed it as well though! Stevie Perez, Elijah, Raven, and Vincent took this video to a whole new level!

Any words on Gino, Koston and Howard?

Watching Gino is, and always will be amazing. No one makes it look better than him. Rick Howard is a big reason why Girl is so awesome, and why this video is even happening. I have so much respect for Rick and always have such a great time hanging out with him. Koston’s the best skater in the world! But you guys already knew that right?

For all the new skaters out there who may not have seen classic Girl Skateboards videos, Mouse or Goldfish. If you had to choose a section from each film, which ones would you choose

Koston in Mouse and Jeron’s section in Goldfish.

Tell us something about Pretty Sweet that we don’t know?

Trunk Boyz are always fun and funny to hang out with. If anyone from London wants a dose of the Trunk Boyz, I would suggest going to the premiere in the UK! They’ll be there, and in full force!

Last words….

Don’t piss into the wind.

Pretty Sweet premiere’s in the UK at the Richmix Cinema, London on Monday November 19th. Girl and Chocolate team riders Raven Tershy, Elijah Berle, Rick Howard, Cory Kennedy, Vincent Alvarez and Stevie Perez will be in attendance on the night. Pre-order the deluxe DVD boxset from your local skate shop this week.

Watch Sean’s latest footage for Kansas City skate shop Escapist, whose latest video ‘Red and Yellow’ just dropped this weekend. This part also features footage of Tyshaun Johnson.

Watch this clip of how Sean was sponsored by Girl too.

Girl Skateboards Real Big Deck Series

Girl Skateboards have a brand new deck series about to hit your local skater owned shop this Autumn. The Real Big series has decks from their full pro team ahead of the ‘Pretty Sweet‘ video that will drop on November 16th.

If you ride wide then Brian Anderson has the 8.25 and if you you blaze like Biebel then his 7.875 should do the trick. Look out for them.

Swansea Skatepark footage 1997-2002

swansea_skateparkLook back in time today to the Swansea skate scene throughout the years of 1997-2002. This recent archived footage features Pritchard and the globe crew when Globe were fully active in the UK, an eS demo with Koston, McCrank, Wainwright, Gayle, Wileman plus many more Swansea and Bristol boyo’s.

The new skatepark that was scheduled to be open this weekend has been delayed so check the local updates from www.existskatepark.com about the new dates.