Even before the emergence of the internet and its effects on streetwear, the culture was always a worldwide phenomenon. I was able to sit down with Greg, one of the co-founders of Triiad and the street culture web-based magazine BKRW. Greg was in at the beginning of the street culture scene in France and Europe, and some of the things he created years ago with his brand Triiad are concepts that many of the current brands are just starting to catch up with. Today his website BKRW has quickly become a solid reference tool documenting street culture’s history and current trends. Interview by Elijah
For people who have never heard of Triiad, can you describe its beginnings and what it was, and about the store?
Triiad at the beginning was one of the first streetwear brands in France. The concept of Triiad was really simple. We tried to introduce some new influences in the streetwear scene in Europe, so we chose to concentrate all our designs on Chinese-inspired themes. So, for almost 2-3 years, we only used Chinese and Japanese designs.Two years later we started to introduce more US-inspired street designs. One more point which was really important to us was that since the beginning we did cut and sew, so we started directly with pants, shirts and jackets. I think streetwear is not only about t-shirts with graphics. I think streetwear is somewhat like regular fashion. If you look on the street, almost all the people are wearing the same clothing. But you can mix regular fashion with skateboarding, rock and roll and hiphop. All the people are thinking streetwear is hiphop-wear. That’s why for me it was really important to show the influence of streetwear. We started the brand in ‘96 and we opened the first store in ‘98. When we opened the store, it was directly a success, not because the brand was really famous, but because we showed people some new designs, some new fashion. When we started, one of the most popular pants was pants with the elastic on the bottom. We chose jogging pants and we used denim fabric. We mixed both and it became streetwear pants. When we decided to do a shirt, we chose the polo shirt, but with t-shirt fabric. After that, it was really simple to continue this way and put graphic designs on this kind of clothes. You just have to change two or three buttons and these kinds of things and you have the streetwear look. So this was really what Triiad tried to do. For sure, t-shirts were really important in our business. There were three really big name brands in France within streetwear. All the new generations coming up said, “Okay, this is for us. We don’t want to wear Levis or Chevignon or these kinds of things.” And they didn’t have enough money to go to Dior or Louis Vuitton. So they said, okay we have to find something between the two. That’s why they chose these kinds of brands. Triiad was one of the new brands that famous people were wearing. This kind of exposure pushed the brand all over Europe. We didn’t really enter the US market, because the US market is different. They have more of the culture like t-shirt and baggy pants and hoodies, but not really cut and sew. We tried to do some business with a few people, but they were not really interested.
What about the graffiti inspiration in Triiad?
The graffiti inspiration was simple. First things for me, first touch of hiphop, it was ‘81, with breakdancing and hiphop. But I was really too young. I was only 11 years old. In ‘85 I met one of the most famous graffiti artists in France, Bando. I went to the Spot in Paris, where everyone was painting and everything. And I said, okay, this is my life. I don’t know why, but that changed my life. I saw the first graffiti mural, but not only murals. I saw all kinds of things, because in France in ‘86 The Spot was the only place where you could meet everyone. Break dancers, graffiti artists, DJs; everyone was in the same place. When I arrived in this area for the first time, it was like a new family in some way. This was in Paris, Stalingrad [a neighborhood], and the spot was La Chapelle. I went to New York in ‘86. I saw the trains, the street, the clothing. Everything was beginning for me; this was what influenced me. That’s why I know a lot of people in the graffiti world, and that’s why in Triiad we started all the co-branding. It’s funny because today you can see co-branding with artists everywhere. Triias’s first co-branding was in ’99. When we opened the store, we did the opening with Futura 2000. Since the beginning, we did in-store art shows. We did shows with Crash, She-one, Futura , Stash, Jonone, A-One, a lot of people. Even now, graffiti is in my blood. This is really a big influence on me. I come from the old school, so it’s true that I’m not so familiar with the new school. But I’ve always got one eye on it.
Can you talk about the early days of streetwear in France? What was there before Triiad?
Before Triiad? The first brand in France was Homecore. It was in ’91. It had only two stores in France, one in the South of France and one in Paris. I think one in London also. The real beginning was just the follow-up of hiphop wear. I started my business with importation. I started with sneakers, with Troops, Double Move and these kinds of things. I met people like Stash and Futura when they started their first brand, called GSS. And I met the guys that did the brands called King Ping and PNB. It was really the beginning of streetwear in the US also. With Russell, SSUR, you had Chic Wear in LA, Eggs in LA, all these kind of brands like Fuct. So for us, nice, we had some new influences, so let’s open a store. A friend of mine, Alex, the creator of Homecore and Kbond, is still my partner today. He opened a store, Ballistic, in the South of France. They started to introduce these kinds of brands in France. Within two or three years, it was the beginning of streetwear. After three years, we said, okay, it’s nice, but this is the US market, it’s only t-shirts and nothing else. We need different things. In Europe, fashion is really respected. We need more things than t-shirts. So we said, let’s try to do a brand. Homecore started a few years later with jackets, with shirts, with pants, and Triiad also started in the same way. So the real beginning was with the US market, and after that we followed, and it’s the same today.
Why did you choose the name Black Rainbow/BKRW?
We have many reasons for Black Rainbow. At the beginning, one of the graphic designers that did our website, Sebastian, did a lot of designs with rainbows. The first thing we said was it would be crazy to do the background with all these kinds of rainbows. We tried to think about the concept more than just graphics. My partner Jess said, okay, we can use the name of Black Rainbow. I said okay, but if we choose the name we have say why we called it Black Rainbow. At this time, when we started to do the concept of the website, it was really “black.” The street culture was really down; nothing was really happening. It was not dead, but it was really quiet in Europe. It was the beginning, about three years ago in the US, with the new brands. But in France, Belgium or even in Germany and England, it was really quiet. For ten years, it was the same brands everywhere, same market everywhere, same music everywhere. It was really a dark market. That’s why we said okay, but black is not really funny, so let’s make it Black Rainbow. A rainbow is between the sun and the clouds, so we are in the mix of the culture. We change the generation, so we are between two generations. We are the cloud and the sun, so we come from the cloud and we go to the sun; so that’s the Black Rainbow.
What are some of the goals behind BKRW.com?
I want to explain to people what this culture is. I think t-shirts are not enough. Street culture is really a big family, and is really a big influence in the world. Today you can see that graffiti is everywhere, in the music, in the advertising, even in the fashion industry. Streetwear is not only for young teenagers who’re wearing baggy clothes in the street that don’t understand what they are doing. You have some really smart and really interesting people who do a lot of things. I think the people that go into this industry, go into this culture, have to know where they come from and where they are going. You can see what Stussy is doing today. You can see what [Hiroshi] Fujiwara is doing for this culture today, but not only in the streetwear, even in the fashion industry, even in the car industry, everywhere. That’s why I try with the website to show people all the capacity of the street culture. I don’t want to say it’s just fashion. It’s not for only one year; it’s not for only two years. I remember when I was young, people would say that in two years we won’t hear about graffiti anymore. Now, more than 20 years later, it’s still here and strong. For streetwear, it’s now more than 15 years later and we’re still here and strong. I’m 37 years old, and the young people from 13 years ago are still here and they are still pushing. That’s why I say it’s not just a fad. It’s a culture. We have codes, we have some artists, we have some influences from everywhere, and we have some business too. We have a lot of things inside this culture. That’s the first part of the website.
But also on the website we want to show people what street culture is. I want to talk to the clients, to the people that come to see and that have bought these kinds of clothes. You’re not part of the street culture just because you’re wearing a Hundreds t-shirt or a Stussy t-shirt. You’re in the street culture because you live and think street culture. We don’t care if you wear baggy clothes. We don’t care if you wear a suit. We care what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, what you do for this culture. It’s not so easy to be in the street culture. Too many people want to be there, but they are not. Like, “I got my New Era cap.” Yeah, bullshit, what’s that? You can wear a New Era cap if you come from rock and roll or you’re a truck driver. We don’t think that because you’re wearing something that you’re part of this culture. That’s why we try to show people what street culture is. That’s why you can see on the website some photo shoots. You can see some graffiti, but not only graffiti. Also some artists’ portfolios. It could be graphic design, it could be pictures, it could be canvas, it could be whatever. Street culture comes from the street, and the street is big. It’s not a small world. So this is what we try to do with the website.
Explain about the “Encyclopedia” section and some of the features you’ve done on the website.
This part of the website, the encyclopedia, is important for us for two reasons: first because everybody has to know about the beginning of streetwear. It’s also important to know who started streetwear, when they started their brand, with who and with what. Encyclopedia can talk about the old streetwear brands and the new streetwear brands. Everybody knows everybody and everybody influences everybody. If you don’t go on the encyclopedia, you don’t understand anything. You can take a look at Haze. Everybody knows two logos of Haze, but not everybody knows what he did, with the link from hiphop to streetwear. You can also go to see Fujiwara. Fujiwara doesn’t come from hiphop. You can go to see Leilow from Hawaii; he doesn’t come from hiphop either. With the encyclopedia you can see streetwear comes from the street, but it also comes from rock and roll, from punk, from hiphop, from funk. There are many influences. If you don’t look in the Encyclopedia, you don’t understand the beginning of this culture. Today, with the new generation, you can see it’s not only hiphop, it’s not only metal, it’s not only funky, it’s more than that. If we don’t explain the links of the creator of the brand, of the manager or the designer, or director of the brand, you don’t know where he comes from, so you cannot understand what street culture is. So this is what we try to do with BKRW. We try to explain to people, we try to show people, that streetwear is really large. You can come from anywhere, even from country music. You’ll see all the facets of streetwear.
What do you think about the current streetwear scene in France and Europe in comparison to the US market?
We just rebuilt streetwear; we just turned a new page like two years ago with the new streetwear. I think today we have three totally different streetwear markets. You have European streetwear, US streetwear and Asian streetwear. In Europe, today, streetwear is dead in some ways. It doesn’t really exist. It’s the beginning of the new generation. You have a few clients that know the brands from the US and Asia, but not so many. You can see the difference from five years ago when streetwear in France was so big, with so many European brands. Today all the European brands are dead. No one is really strong anymore. So it’s the beginning of something new. In the US it’s exactly the same as it was two years ago. It started to be really big, and a year ago streetwear became really big. Two years ago it was really hiphop. But now with Bathing Ape and Pharell, with the new store in New York, everything exploded. Everything changed because of Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Pharell. They changed the fashion industry within the hiphop culture. So it’s pretty new. But in Asia, the streetwear market is always the same. It’s stronger every day, stronger, stronger, stronger. For me, it’s one of the most interesting parts of the world. China, Singapore, Japan not so much, not so many new brands from Japan. But many new things are coming from Singapore, from Hong Kong, from Shanghai, from Saigon. I think for my part today the big, big market is really in Asia. Now all the new brands come from the US. All the stronger brands coming up, like Crooks and 10 Deep, are coming from the US. Then you have some good brands like Alife and The Hundreds. They do a lot of good work with image and influence, but it’s different. If you talk about The Hundreds or Alife in France, nobody knows them. Even in Italy or Germany nobody knows about these kinds of brands. So it’s the beginning. I think the market will be really, really different in two or three years. In two or three years it will be really, really strong. Today, you have some new brands from London and from France that are coming up. I think we have to be patient for that.
What do you think of the globalization of streetwear and the influence of the Internet on the culture?
The Internet: that’s the screen culture, screen costumer, screen everything. You have positive things and negative things. It’s really hard to say because I have my own online magazine. The problem with the Internet today is no culture, no culture anymore. Just buy, buy, buy. Consumerism, we only have consumerism now. We don’t talk about any influences or any culture. We just talk about, this new product—I want it; this is the limited edition—I want it. People don’t care if it’s nice or not, or where it comes from. Sometimes it’s something they don’t like. It’s not your lifestyle. It’s fashion, so you buy it. You buy sneakers because it’s a limited edition by a graphic designer. Do you know the background of this guy? Do you know what this guy did? It’s okay because in two weeks it will have a higher price tag on eBay, so you buy it. This is what I don’t like about today. I like the expression you used before the interview: “Blind Consumerism.” People with this kind of mentality become blind in some way.
Now for the good things: no more borders around the world. That’s crazy; that’s an amazing thing. You can be in connection with the whole world, everyday and anytime, with all the brands, with all the music, anything you want. So this is a really good thing within street culture. And the whole industry, not only in street culture, even for information and everything. It’s just like a new weapon. Now you have one more weapon in your pocket, but if you can’t use it very well, it can hurt you. I think this is the thing today. New consumers hurt themselves. They think they are really stylish, really hype, but really they know nothing. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I can speak for France, for my country. The young people know what they see, but they don’t know anything else. That’s the problem. They have to push the research; they have to try to see what’s behind the screen. The screen only gives you one part of the culture. What gets you behind that could be a book or an art show. With all the websites, like Highsnob and SlamxHype, you have all the information, so you can know when there are big shows. You can go to the shows. I remember there was a great show in Paris at Agnes B gallery, with Obey and WK. It was the first time they did a show together. It was a really interesting show, but nobody came, even though everybody knew about it because it was on the screen everywhere. Sometimes they use the information to buy 50 pairs of Nikes. Okay, not bad, why not? But it’s not enough. Today you have to push the limits sometimes. For me, the real thing is to get the information in real time, all the time. This is what I like in this new culture, to get the information. You don’t miss anything, but you really need to concentrate, and you have to open your mind. Sometimes you can learn about some new brand, but if you just check the t-shirt and you don’t check the website of this brand and what they did and everything…sometimes the brand, the designer and the background are really strong, and this is what I like. With SlamxHype, with HypeBeast and these kind of websites, I’ve met new people, I’ve found some new brands I didn’t know, and it’s really enriching to me. I think this is the real point of this new generation; if you use the Internet really well, you can get so much.
Where do you see the current scene heading as it’s growing and what do you think that will lead to in the future?
Today we think we are getting really big. I’m not talking about BKRW, I’m talking about the whole industry. Everything we think is really big is really small. Even Hypebeast is really, really small. When we see how many people there are in the world, how many connections we have is nothing. So yeah, for sure, in the future we will be even bigger. We aren’t that many people today; it’s still underground. For us, it’s not really underground anymore, because it’s already more than three years old, but it’s all still underground. I think that in like 3-5 years a big company from advertising or from a magazine will do like what we’re doing, but not exactly the same. They will pick up the best things from SlamxHype, the best things from BKRW, and say let’s put it in our web magazine. Today if you look at Vogue magazine, their website is bullshit. Vogue is one of the stronger magazines in the world in the fashion industry, but their website is no good. So let people grow up. Then there will be new graphic designers, new web designers, and they will come to this kind of industry and say, it’s over, let me do something new. And it will be new. In five, ten years probably, I think with the Internet it will be really quick, so in five years, there will be an explosion.
Do you think that with the current growth of street culture, will it ever become so big that it will take away from the original roots that the culture is founded on?
Yeah, we always take away from the roots. Who can say that Echo is bad for the market? Nobody can say that. Who can say that LRG is bad for the market? Who can say that? It’s bad for the background; it’s bad for the roots. But in some ways it pushes the new generation to create something new. If the young generation doesn’t try to do something new, it will be bad, because it will be the end of street culture. But that will never happen. For my generation, the big examples are Echo or Triple 5 Soul. When we started in around 1990, it was really the beginning of streetwear, even in the US. It was ’90; it was the beginning of Echo. I met Mark Echo in his house in New Jersey. It was young guys. They did drawings in their parents’ garage, blah blah blah, really young. Five years after that, he sold the company and became what he is today. You can say he sold out or whatever, but street culture is still there, the background is still there, the roots from the beginning are still there. We have some new people in this new culture, so it would be the same if Crooks or 10 Deep became really huge. I think we will have people that are now ten years old who in 5-8 years will come out with new things, new ideas, new designs, new concepts. This is what I’ve come to accept in someways. I’m 37 years old. I started this business 20 years ago and it’s still not dead. It’s good to show people that you can start with something small and you can explode. Today Fujiwara is one the godfathers of streetwear, but three years ago who knew about him, except for the real underground people? But Fujiwara, how much money does he make? Nobody cares. We respect him. I have a lot respect for Echo; I’ve got a lot of respect for Fujiwara; I’ve got a lot of respect for Camella from Triple 5 Soul. I met her a long, long time ago.
But I also have a lot of respect for the people who started in this industry with the real roots and ten years after, they decide to do some business. You start the business when you’re 15 years old, then, after you are 20, after you are 25, one day you want to do [real] money. It’s not your role to always be authentic. I’ve got kids today, so in some way I need to make money. I try to be always in the middle between business and culture. But I have to make a living. I have to pay the rent, I have to pay the school, I have to pay for everything. But in some ways I don’t sell [out] my culture. I use my background to make some money. When I did the Bearbrick for Chanel, I didn’t sell [out] the culture of street toys. I just mixed two things, my culture with toys and my connection with Chanel. I do both and a little business. What can I say? It’s not good? I don’t care what people think. I know everybody was really crazy about the Chanel x Bearbrick. But in a way, it’s just business; it’s not underground. Who can say that Chanel is underground? It’s just respectable because it’s high fashion. But we don’t care; it’s just money. So this is what I say: you can respect your culture and your role and you can do money. Besides that, you have a few brands, like SSUR, Russell, which has always been a small brand, but he also does some design work. He keeps his culture in this way. It depends on what you want. For sure, I’m not crazy about Echo or LRG, but I can understand them and I can respect that. I can’t say these guys don’t come from my culture; they come from my culture, but he sold his company and took another way. I think all the new brands that are coming up would love to be there. Even if people want to stay really underground, they want to become like Supreme, and Supreme, who can say they don’t want to do money? Like Stussy, they don’t do money? Haha. But Supreme is underground. It’s underground, but how much money do they make? I think it’s not bad. I think it’s really good if some people don’t like this, because it pushes them to do new things.
Do you want to mention any of your current projects and maybe some future ones?
The first thing is our first anniversary. We came out with some sunglasses in September. After that we will be coming out with some co-branding. I don’t really like using the word co-branding. We want to push a new connection. We want to do a new design with a new designer; we want to do a cap with a new company; we have some clothing that will be coming. We have a lot of projects on the way. We have a book coming out for BKRW. The really big project that we’re working on for BKRW is the Encyclopedia. We want to put on paper all the things we’ve done over the years, with all the brands, with all the interviews, and we’ll also have some new things, new interviews and some surprises. Other than that, we really want to keep control. That’s really important for us. We try to build a strong company, but it’s not so easy because we are a young company and we are only two or three people working on it. BKRW isn’t a very big website today, but it’s a big influence on the streetwear culture. I think a lot of people can see some interesting things on the website, so that’s what we want to keep. We don’t care about how many people come to see us. This is not what we focus on. We don’t care if we make money on it or not; we don’t do it for the money. We would like to keep it this way. If we can’t, well we’ll see. But we know we can do it. It’s been one year now and everything’s fine. Everyone is happy and a lot of people want to work with us on new creative projects. So we are really happy about that.
Is there anything else you would like to mention? Any closing comments?
Nothing special. I would just like to say to people to stay real. They have to be themselves. It’s really important. Don’t care what people think about you or what they think about your look. This is not your personality. You have to be real. Just be real and try to live your dream. Follow your dream. If you follow your dream, you can follow your life. That’s it, nothing special. To be true…that’s it.