(Liquid) Fire Walk with Me - a history of Neon
America’s long fascination with illumination, - neon and otherwise - finds genesis within that outstretched, verdigris-hued hand of Ms. Liberty herself. Gazing omniscient down across New York Harbour, and up from on-high over numerous questionable commemorations, Liberty Enlightening the World - her torch grasped aloft forever before the nation - illuminates for all, America’s unassailable independence and freedom.
Yet Neon herself did not originate upon these gilded shores, despite America’s affection for colossal luminescence. Rather, two knowledgeable British chemists, Sir William Ramsay and one Morris W. Travers, discovered Neon gas, named for the Greek νέον, meaning new, in London’s late nineteenth century. Neon alighted in the land of the free and the City Of Angels in 1923, by way of a Parisian, Georges Claude, and a Californian Packard automobile dealership. America’s first ever neon signage in fact read Packard, fusing inextricably together the nation’s fixation with the automobile, with advertising and consumerism, and with Neon herself, termed by the day - liquid fire...
Radiating forth across the nation, from coast to gilded coast, adopted with uncurbed enthusiasm by every state from Oregon to Maryland, Neon made her incandescent way at last to Broadway and 7th Avenue – ‘The Crossroads Of The World’, New York’s Times Square. And there she has remained ever since, her seductive neon wares known as ‘spectaculars’ and ‘jumbotrons’ transfixing millions of bedazzled tourists and passersby. Times Square now rivals in density even that all-American desert Mecca of excess and luminescence, victory and spectacular decline, the world’s consummate Sin City and The Entertainment Capital Of The World, Las Vegas.
Las Vegas: an expansive metropolis of entrancing neon lights, express marriage ceremonies and rapacious casinos. Las Vegas: a city largely constructed by Chicago and New York’s organised crime syndicates. Las Vegas: the brightest city on earth when viewed from outer space, a luminous Xanadu that Tom Wolf immortalised as “the only city in the world whose skyline is made neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs … But such signs! They tower. They revolve, they oscillate, they soar in shapes before which the existing vocabulary of art history is helpless."
Long synonymous of course with luck’s wayward hand, Las Vegas’ neon brilliance might also be viewed as emblematic of fated American ascendancy, of triumph and redemption, rewarded daring and greatest downfall, of providence wholly seized. And Las Vegas, blazing fiercely forever on, deep within the Mojave Desert, alongside New York’s Times Square and Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, possesses a symbolic pre-eminence, in America’s collective cultural consciousness.
Icarus arcing inevitably higher towards the sun, gosling daydreamers drawn to the fireside, neon is deeply entwined with the nation’s mythologies, ideologies, and cosmologies. Her lanterns gathering Kerouac’s mad ones, ‘the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars’ from every highway and laneway, town, city and county in the land.
Proclaiming vice and immortality, aspiration and dream, those neon bathed theatres and diners, that proffered leisure and refreshment, flesh and fortune found across the vast American night, all serve as constellations for those longing wayfarers seeking reward and redemption, fame, and even deification. Seize these, and seize yourself. See one’s name in lights and possess that greatest expression of all-American cultural iconography. For you too shall have Warhol’s fifteen minutes. You too will join the luminous Sunset pantheon. You too, may be President one day.
Sweetest Neon is however, more often than not, the cruellest vixen. And despite all Daedalus’ implorations, courting those favours she so archly proffers is too often, a quixotic endeavour. For Neon’s brilliant incandescence remains forever amnesic; fame and adulation sear themselves brilliantly across heaven and memory and consciousness, before inevitably expiring spectacularly once more. Faded supernovas, broken dreams, ebbing northern stars… courting neon demands caution, should you wish to possess her for more than a solitary luminous evening.
For all that glitters is not gold, after all.
Read more from Kingston Trinder.
Introduction to Fall 2014
It’s been almost twenty-five years since David Lynch’s eerie cult drama Twin Peaks first aired and pulled an entire generation into the depths of its bizarre world. Reflecting a career-long fascination with the darkness concealed behind a facade of the banal, the sleepy town was a fictional realm where nothing was as it seemed. Lynch put it best himself on the poster of his 1992 film Fire Walk With Me (a prologue to the series) with the headline: “In a town like Twin Peaks, no one is innocent.”
Whether it was Agent Cooper’s pristine suits or Audrey Horne’s black and white brogues, for many of us, Twin Peaks left a lasting impression on our collective fashion psyche. Apparently we’re not the only ones, as KENZO’s Pre-Fall 2014 collection is very much a love letter to the warped dualities and complexities that drew us into Lynch's fantastical world. But Carol and Humberto have never been too literal or singular with their references. This pre-collection, which was followed by an artistic collaboration on the set and soundtrack with David Lynch for the Fall/Winter 2014 show, draws on the motifs and codes of Lynch’s Pacific North-West but is re-mixed for today’s digital generation.
Plaid – which holds its own position in American folklore and made oh so many appearances on Lynch’s oddball characters - is twisted and re-worked with bold neon accents (imagine stark ‘90s fluorescent beam lighting via the 20th century artist Dan Flavin – a favourite of the design duo). Further skewing the familiar, the plaid prints of the collection infused with neon, with jagged lines that dart their way across skirts, jumpers and dresses like the eerie visuals of TV static. Shoes and belts are made up from hypnotic prints and serve as optical illusions – a nod to the fact that in Twin Peaks you can’t ever trust the ground you stand on.
Then comes fire. Now, if you’ve ever seen the creation of a Cai Guo-Qiang gunpowder painting then you will understand its parallel state between beauty and destruction. In Twin Peaks, the line “Fire Walk with Me” is ambiguous invitation to the unknown. Carol and Humberto quite literally play with fire in this collection, emblazoning the words as a slogan on knitwear and allowing yellow flames to creep up the back of garments. In their hands, it’s a fearless force of great power.
The interplay of contrasting elements is very much at the core of this collection. Carol and Humberto might have grown up on the West coast, but here they explore the mystery and strangeness of the American Northwest. Silhouettes of mountain peaks adorn garments alongside prints of doors that ultimately lead to nowhere. Just as Lynch sought to explore the human instability that lurks underneath the everyday, Carol and Humberto remind us that modern life is far more exciting when you get to push the limitations of reality.
The Best Coast is the West Coast
The raw energy of ‘80s American Punk - bands like Black Flag and Circle Jerks and the underground artist Raymond Pettibon - were among the native Californian inspirations that influenced Carol and Humberto for the KENZO Spring/Summer 2014 collection. From psychadelic rock to ska, grunge and hip hop, what makes California such a hive for counterculture music? Kenzine asked former i-D magazine music editor Milly McMahon to dive deep into the music culture of Los Angeles and environs; the harvest of which is an epic journey of the West Coast underground from then to now…
Ask any sunkissed CA resident their favourite destination in the world and their immediate answer will be 'the best coast is the West Coast.' Culturally, linguistically and ecologically rich, L.A. lifestyle rules dictate “just vibe and chill”. The world-famous trippy nightlife scene truly ignites in the AM, when the sun rises and industrial warehouse spaces light up. A true melting pot of culture, anyone and everyone is a beckoning 30 minute drive from either the crashing surf of the ocean or the peace of the mountains. No matter how crazy and warped a weekend will become, the heavenly L.A. sun and sand rejuvenates you from the outside in; the sunshine state is a multi-sensory pleasure centre.
Giving rise to a host of the most successful musical icons of generations past and present, California’s litany of success stories reads like a who's who of cool. The legacy of L.A.s flamboyant roots are secured within the diverse history of the area’s open-minded relationship with music and the sub cultures that have kindled their own genres. Crafting timeless grooves, accepting of the fashions that have influenced different sounds - no matter how extreme – L.A.s creative diversity is boundless. From surf and psychedelic rock to techno, soul to house and hardcore to DnB breaks, L.A. can take credit for a colourful roster of the world’s best musical acts: The Beachboys; Jefferson Airplane; Santana; The Byrds; The Grateful Dead; Frank Zappa; The Eagles; Janis Joplin; Motley Crew; Korn, Metallica. These bands typify historically significant musical movements of their time, while the inheritors of the West Coast - Madlib, Dam-Funk, Kendrick Lamar, Inc., Delroy Edwards, Dr Dre, SFV Acid, Ariel Pink, Shlohmo, Baths, Daedelus, Flying Lotus, Snoop Dogg - all represent the breaking homegrown talent of tomorrow.
In translating L.A.'s famously gritty, post-punk, hardcore energy into an electronic setting, techno, house, drum and bass and every dance subgenre in between currently dominate the emerging music scene on the West Coast. Recorded in the same studios that original rock records were created, Californian dance music tracks sound worn, raw and dirty. The electronic vibe is aggressive and loud; the original L.A. rock form continues to inform the evolution of house and techno. Noise bands Sun Araw and DJ Punisher write modern rock, translating the previously influential sensibilities of Black Flag and Wasted Youth into their own current thrash productions. The originators are spawning a tribe of brand new originals. Delroy Edwards raw, Southern L.A. label 'Club Resource' is a perfect example of 'noise' infiltrating a whole scope of genres. The famous L.A. riots of 1992 still feel prevalent in non-conformist, niche anti-surf rock circles (No Age and Wives), which exist in contrast to more placid surf pop acts (Wavves and Best Coast).
Converting unconventional spaces into house raves and parties, TOP 40 is the city’s number one go-to live music venue for breaking talent. A large, open space where all forms of art and life can come and share freely with one another and run by Meghan Edwards aka MISS ME MISS, TOP 40 is a multidisciplinary art show and music hall. Thinking outside of the box and encouraging the survival of good music in the city, producers in the state are focused on maintaining the feel-good vibes popularly on rotation at illegal warehouse gatherings. With a significant shift in live music events taking place in obscure venues, most live shows are now staged outside of the club and bar paradigm. Being re-appropriated to a re-purposed or altered space has helped to alter the mood and experience of artists’ sets. Record store Mount Analog is a perfect example of an impromptu, makeshift venue that has developed a reputation for staging must-attend, one off events.
Boiler Room, the world’s leading underground live music stream, now hosts amongst the most prestigious and groundbreaking shows direct from L.A.'s disused, unofficial industrial areas. Music is being created to be laid down live on a wider scale to fill vaster spaces not originally constructed to contain sound professionally. Chopped, skewered and sampled beats form the basis of DJ's sets; artists Rare Times and Inc. typify this perfume style of sexy, R&B blended song structure. The vibe is quietly rebellious, catering to the needs of audiences looking to chill, chat and just get down. Every musician, producer or DJ works alongside fellow artists who create a variety of different kinds of music; funk, techno and house crowds all attend each other’s parties. The subsequent musical cross pollination that then follows is crucial to the melodic mix of blended genres getting laid down on record.
G-Funk will always and forever be an integral part of Los Angeles musical heritage. Originally coined as ‘West Coast gangster rap’ in the ‘90s, G-Funk is a subgenre of hip hop which samples P-Funk, blended with an artificially lowered tempo. Tupac and Nate Dogg famously went on to adopt the signature laid back melodic G-Funk groove in the context of their own flow. Playing out any song by Dr. Dre -the number one pioneer of G-Funk - specifically “XXXplosive”, is the fail safe way to set any L.A. party popping. Artist Dam-Funk is a true ambassador of G-Funk spin off genre “Modern Funk” and artists Rare Times, Inc., and P. Morris continue the tradition with their own breed of Balearic funk summer sounds. Soul, jazz, funk, house, techno, and hip-hop all equally and universally relate their foundations back to black culture. Given the fact both Godfathers of rap, Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre both hail from the West Coast, the legacy that respectfully proceeds them reiterates the importance of their influence on all music created from then to now.
L.A. is home to some of the rarest and revered record labels in the world: niche imprints Friends of Friends, L.A. Club Resource and Stones Throw push forward independently, alongside major imprints Capitol Records & Warner Brothers. Former member of Friends of Friends and now independent manager and Boiler Room rep., Julian Schoen is based in hispanic Highland Park and describes his perfect evening in L.A. as typically laid back: "My ideal night out would involve a dinner, ideally KBBQ in Koreatown Ramen or Pho and then a friend’s house to hang out, drink and get ready for a party around 11 or 12. From there, we usually go to some obscure secret space either downtown or worse and party till the sun comes up." After relocating from London to L.A., Partisan signed young filmmaker Dexter Navy’s career soared when he began shooting hip hop innovators, prevalent on the West Coast scene: "In L.A. l feel the rawness of the youth working together, they're all young, wild and free with no reservations about what's cool in the city. Los Angie is always alive dusk to dawn, they love my London accent… they love us!" The city itself has becomes an enabler, an inspiring subject to the young talent it is able to nurture.
With the underground, industrial currents of the L.A. music scene proving so influential on the mainstream, California is harnessing the energies guiding the future and defining the trends of tomorrow for the rest of the world through rose tinted spectacles. Drenched in vitamin D, the sunshine state encourages all forms of eccentricity, promoting a health first culture, whilst facilitating hedonistic behaviour through a healthy haven of rave induced escapism. The future of new music is bright, the West Coast truly is the best coast.
In the second part of "The Best Coast is the West Coast", Milly speaks to L.A. electronic acts Rare Times, P. Morris and Inc. to hear their take on the climate of new music and how hot temperatures keep their audiences the coolest. Read it here.
The Life Aquatic - Marine influences in the SS14 collection
The watery depths of the world’s immense oceans have fascinated us mere mortals for centuries. Sailors went to their graves while trying to tame the wildest seas; artists have painstakingly attempted to capture the brilliant, but ever-shifting shades of blue; and divers continue to be enchanted by the world beneath the surface.
Kenzo Takada felt the lure of the ocean. He crossed countless seas on his maiden voyage to France from Japan, encountering exotic places along the way. The adventure left such an impression on him that it informed the very aesthetic of KENZO itself — that eclectic mix of cultures and influences — and also became a touchstone for many of the brand’s most important archival moments. We’ve found a men’s button-down shirt from the late 1980s that features an oversized fish print, and the wave crest logo that was used for KENZO Jeans. The denim label featured a motif that resembled Japanese artist Katushika Hokusai’s famous woodblock wave print series.
Carol and Humberto have also always been aware of the powerful pull of the ocean. Growing up in California with the immense Pacific Ocean lining the coast, they witnessed the ebb and flow of tides and the delicate world our marine life inhabits within. It’s fitting, then, that the life aquatic was the jumping off point for KENZO’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection. Vibrant blues feature throughout and a wave crest motif has been explored in a myriad of innovative ways. In a touch of irreverence, wide-legged trousers are cut in shimmery lacquered silk — a nod to the wondrous watery world that inspired the collection as a whole.
Fashion can be used as a powerful soapbox for awareness, and Carol and Humberto hope to help bring awareness to the devastating effects of overfishing, helped by a partnership with the Blue Marine Foundation. Bluefin tuna, rainbow trout, marlin and grouper are just four fish species that are currently protected by the foundation, but ongoing support is crucial. The ‘next generation’ eye-catching KENZO fish print was introduced for the Spring/Summer 2014 collection, but this time it is emboldened by an important message — “No Fish No Nothing”.