There are many moving parts to the world of streetwear. There are the brands like Stampd that conceive of a unified lifestyle based on clothing, the designers like Ronnie Fieg who create the clothing, tastemaking celebrities like Ian Connor who endorse the clothing, publications like SlamXHype who tell the Internet about the clothing, stores like Dover Street Market who curate and sell the clothing and finally consumers who buy the clothing and wear it on their bodies.
But if you don’t know Coltrane Curtis, you don’t know one of the few men or women who are at the heart of the most important part of this process, the most important collaboration in streetwear and street culture: the connection between brands and consumers.
Who is Coltrane Curtis? Well, he’s BEEN many things. He cut his teeth interning at his father’s Manhattan marketing agency, J Curtis and Company. He got his first marketing gig at Ecko Unlimited where he served as vice president of marketing while also taking on an editorship at Complex. He then made a (public) name for himself as a “Style VJ” and personality for MTV. Today, he’s managing director at Team Epiphany, a brand management and communications outfit in NYC. And this is the pedestal from which Coltrane has had such a profound impact.
Do you know Heineken, Hennessy, Nike, Pepsi, Moët & Chandon, Yahoo!, Def Jam and EA Sports? Though the answer to this question is an obvious, emphatic yes, the reason why you know them as you do — as important players in the streetwear world — has a lot to do with Coltrane and his Team Epiphany.
In 2004, Coltrane and his wife, Lisa Chu, founded Team Epiphany (adding Sky Gellatly as a managing partner in 2012) and, though it’s grown from a “mom-and-pop” sized company into a 40+ employee powerhouse, what it has offered to its clients has remained pretty much the same since its inception. Team Epiphany’s website explains, “We are a brand solutions agency that doesn’t just define culture – We create it.” But Coltrane goes a step further in explaining Team Epiphany in an interview with Freunde von Freunden,
TE was created from a need. The need was that brands were having a very hard time communicating with me effectively. And I knew that many of them were having the same challenge. What we do is allow big brands to communicate with consumers in a meaningful way. We started from special events. We proved the power of special events and grew PR and social media. Everything sat on a firm bed of strategy. Now we do strategy for brands like Ralph Lauren Fragrances, and Pepsi, and Heineken, and Hennessy. But we also produce experiences and amplify those experiences.
Simply put, Team Epiphany teaches brands how to talk authentically with their customers.
#Heineken100, Kobe 9 Launch and Nike Football Society AFC/NFC Championship Viewing Party
Heineken: By now, you’ve heard of the #Heineken100 program through which Team Epiphany and Union’s Chris Gibbs curate a series of co-branded products with the likes of NEIGHBORHOOD, KILLSPENCER and Mark McNairy and seeds then with tastemakers in the streetwear industry. The collaborative series is the perfect companion to a series of interviews entitled #Dropped in which Heineken accesses the minds of movers-and-shakers such as Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow, Jon Buscemi, Marcus Troy and more.
Nike: In early 2014, Nike tapped Team Epiphany to help launch the Kobe 9, which you’ll remember was the first non-running shoe to feature the Flyknit material. So, what did Team Epiphany do? It took over Avenues’ basketball court, backpacked it with tastemakers — all outfitted with the Kobe 9s — and put said tastemakers though a work out with Tim Grover, Kobe’s legendary coach in the gym.
Also earlier this year, Team Epiphany and The Nike Football Society, “a private club of influencers and soccer aficionados based in NYC” took over Marquee Nightclub to host an experimental interactive event and AFC/NFC Championship screening. There were carnival games, oversized pong, DJs, prizes — basically like a much more fun form of Dave & Busters, filled with people you’d actually want to hang out with.
Other Team Epiphany projects involve redirecting the WSJ for a digital audience, running Moet Rose Lounge events for Moet Chandon, JBL’s Dare To Listen event series, and Pepsi’s Refresh events such as Rihanna’s Super Bowl party. The list obviously goes on and reading Team Epiphany’s “Work” webpage is like experiencing a masterclass in how modern marketing is done.
The Coltrane Family
What’s next for Coltrane? In a world of people hungry for money, women and excitement, Coltrane is exceptional. The About Me blurb on his Instagram is a perfect encapsulation of what is most important to him. It reads, “Son of John. Father of Ellington. Husband to Lisa Son of Gail. Team Epiphany Managing Partner (NYC & Portland).” Coltrane has said that one of the driving factors in his daily work with Team Epiphany is to get his company working as efficiently as possible so that he can spend as much time with his family as possible.
This is as good a driving force as any and he’ll need something to keep him grinding away because with the ever increasing importance of street culture in the broader apparel landscape, you can bet that more brands will be seeking Team Epiphany’s help in connecting them with the streetwear end user, the all-important consumer. But regardless of what the future holds, being at the heart of the most important collaboration in street culture isn’t a bad place for Coltrane to find himself today.
[Images: Freunde von Freunden/David Engelhardt]