To understand streetwear you must understand the culture of the street, particularly Lower East Side.
In the 70s, pimps, drug dealers and a generation of young Black and Latin tastemakers that would eventually help form what is hip hop were flaunting leather jackets, most often acquired from shops on Orchard St- some of which still exist today.
Although hip hop is synonymous with The Bronx, much of a movement was also brewing in LES in the 80s. East River Park played host to the finale of the highly influential film, Wild Style, documenting early days of rap, breakdancing and graffiti. The Beastie Boys’ album cover for Paul’s Boutique was a photo of the corner of Rivington & Ludlow where there was once Lee’s Sportswear and Ben’s shoes- both of which the Beasties would frequent to acquire their signature downtown style.
Consider how LES was also home to many punk and hardcore bands, which became the soundtrack for early skaters in New York.
Socialites were breathing in “street culture” at punk and hip hop shows in underground spots of LES, some would eventual become actual nightlight establishments. As skate culture crew, spots like Max Fish and Arlene’s Grocery would become go-to’s.
In the 80s and 90s, LES became the stomping grounds of many legendary street artists during their early years, including Basquiat, Keith Haring, Stash, Futura, KAWS and Claw Money.
When you think of early years of sneaker culture, many of the very first collabs were with graffiti artists- because brands were paying attention to the artistry that was taking over the streets.
And then in the late 90s and early 2000s is when you started to see the surge of streetwear focused boutiques. Lower East Side became the home of Prohibit, Reed Space, Alife, Daves Quality Meats, Orchard St (creators of the one of the most notoriously forgotten f&f Dunks). Not technically LES but other shops opened in more retail friendly locations of SoHo like Union (misconception it started in LA), Clientele, NORT/Recon, Classic Kicks and Opening Ceremony.
More of this interview available in print Jai Street Vol. 1 Magazine