Slawn, Slumpy Kev and Hidji have made denim their canvas
As Slawn becomes the latest artist to collaborate with Ksubi to mark the opening of its new London store, we hear from him and past collaborators Hidji and Slumpy Kev on why the Aussie denim brand is an ideal creative partner.
Ksubi, it seems, was pretty much founded with nothing but the kitchen sink. Well, the washing machine, too; started in 1999 as collective (Tsubi, then, before the ‘T’ was TKO-ed), the Aussie brand’s first denim jeans were made by putting them on a spin cycle at home with rocks to create a unique, bashed-up look and cut with angle grinders for an actual DIY approach.
Those involved were total fashion rookies, working on instinct rather than experience, but they managed to debut a batch of items at Australia Fashion Week the same year. The rest, as they say, is history – and, for denimheads, a literally riveting one, too. Rapidly becoming a key player in the underground down under, Ksubi’s jeans started to wash up on international waters, worn by the likes of Kate Moss and Sienna Miller during the early-noughties when the UK was having, shock, an actually alright moment.
A bold, impish attitude found more fans, fuelled by mischievous stunts. In 2001, the brand’s rascals sent 200 rats down the runway and a year later, Ksubi made its UK debut with a show in a disused tube station in Aldwych. By the midpoint of the decade, Ksubi had started to link up with other brands, including a Jeremy (Scott) Loves Ksubi activation at NYFW in 2006 and, in 2007, an eyewear collaboration for LFW with Richard Nicoll. Oh, and to continue the previous thread of madcap actions, they put sunnies on dicks for quite the provocative catalogue (NSFW!).
What’s always been key is Ksubi’s keenness to dive into creative spaces outside of fashion. Music has been central to the brand’s approach, seen via shoutouts from the likes of the A$AP Mob, Lil Uzi Vert and Skepta cementing its position in rap and grime. Equally, though, the visual arts has been front and centre; including a photography book Sign of the Times taken across the globe and a giant seven foot sculpture of a sawn-off peace sign taken to Burning Man.
This interest has led to a recent thread of collaborations with cutting-edge image-makers including Hidji, Slumpy Kev and now Olaolu Slawn; the artist has applied his irreverent style to cartoonish hoodies, graphic tees and accessories, plus 50 hand-painted pairs of jeans harking back to Ksubi’s DIY beginnings. To mark the opening of Ksubi’s first UK store on Soho, London’s Carnaby Street we delve into the brand’s connection with visual arts with Slawn and Kev to see why Ksubi jeans make ideal canvases. Read, rinse and repeat…
Ksubi’s latest collaboration is with London-based street artist Slawn. The founder of skate brand Motherlan, he calls himself a “scam artist”: but he’s the real deal.
You’ve sold paintings to mega names – what’s it like getting such huge kudos? It feels nice I guess, I’m not really the one to think about mega names when it comes to my art being with people I just want people who actually like it to have it. What does Ksubi mean to you? What interests you about them graphically? Ksubi doesn’t have meaning to me, we share the same message. That’s why we’re working together, if you know me you know me, you know Ksubi you know Ksubi. When are you most creative? What gets ideas flowing? When someone disrespects me, I love it, that’s when my mind gets to ticking, or when something that isn’t in the script of “my life” happens and I have to do something to get shit back on path. Why do you call your work “scam art”? What is it a response to? It’s scam art because to the simple eye it’s a relatively simple thing to do, thick lines, but I just say it’s a scam because art for me is like walking; as I’ve said before imagine getting paid to walk, to be honest I guess some people do, like athletes…I’m a scam athlete.
In summer of this year, Ksubi joined forces with Cartoon Network’s resident artist Slumpy Kev for a limited-edition capsule. It featured a new dragon character and, referencing that rodent-filled runway, a fabric “rat tail”.
I’m so glad the rumours about Cartoon Network shutting down weren’t true – why is it so special to you? Cartoon Network is special to a lot of people because of the iconic cartoons they built up. I think getting bought out might be better for the company. You’ve achieved so much so crazy young – what’s your future looking like? I feel like starting young made me miss out on a lot of learning. Fashion is an old man’s sport so I will continue to improve, learn and create at the same time. How did working with Ksubi enable you to mix animation and fashion? The Ksubi team was like working with friends. They actually care about the process and getting the artist’s vision across. If you were a cartoon character who would you be? I felt like Chowder back then but lately I’ve been feeling like Numbuh 2.
Last September, Ksubi united with New York-based street artist Hidji for the second time for a 27-piece collection titled “Family and Friends” which reworked the denim label’s signature items into a collection which felt simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. What’s it like working with Ksubi? My connection with Ksubi is like one with a family member. Like my little big cousin. Working with Ksubi was pretty easy compared to other brands I’ve worked with. I’ve had a lot of creative freedom with the projects we’ve done together. What’s it like bringing street art into fashion? Street art and fashion are synonymous. They go hand in hand with one another. When I started realising what I was purchasing in terms of clothing, I realised street art played a big role in fashion. A lot of streetwear was incorporating street art. You do design, painting and directing, do you get a buzz from switching cup disciplines? Yeah, you could say that. Switching from different mediums of art taught me patience. I look at things from different angles. I’m able to dissect problems and come to solutions in my way.
You can check out the Slawn x Ksubi collection in Ksubi’s 10 Carnaby Street, London store or online here.