It’s kind of hard to introduce King ADZ or Wilma Stone at a party because what they do is totally nebulous yet precisely productive. Plus, they are the “needs no introduction” type of people; either you’ve heard of them or you haven’t—and unless you live in a cave with no wifi, you certainly do know their work. King ADZ is technically a documentarian and maybe Stone could be called a visual artist. This husband and wife team works across genres, mediums, and continents to produce some of the best work in a most strangely contradictory field: they shape brand identities and global stories that defy and resist the status quo. And no, they’re not millennials, but no strategic partnership understands millennials better.
King ADZ has written other books, most notably, The Stuff You Can’t Bottle: Advertising for the Global Youth Market. He is full of street knowledge and moves with shocking ease between the corporate, bureaucratic world of marketing and the free, wild world of youth culture. Some of his past work includes projects for Adidas, Diesel, Guinness, and Vice. Wilma Stone works out of a studio in Leeds, cranking out prints, ceramics, films and other works that cross any high/low, traditional/modern boundary put in front of her for a truly transdisciplinary message. They have been collaborating for decades, and there’s finally a book to showcase some of what they have been thinking about all this time.
Above all, they have an incredible way of making complex subjects clear through their direct, plainspoken style. This begins with the title, This Is Not Fashion: Streetwear Past, Present and Future. It’s a valuable and gorgeous 300 pages, but they could easily have gone to 600 or a 1,000. Finding a book on a specific style of dress—whether it be preppy, punk, skater, surfer—isn’t that difficult. But drawing together the disparate strands of street style to provide a comprehensive guide is quite an undertaking. King ADZ and Stone are easily the most qualified people to do it, yet it’s still ridiculous how great the book turned out because the degree of difficulty in collecting the right bullet points is just that fierce.
The historical angle of the work is thorough and diverse. Lesser collections would cherry pick glossies from lifestyle magazines and iconic advertising campaigns that adequately showcase the concepts without bothering to present anything new to those who would pick up such a book hoping for a deep dive. Their project is certainly suited to readers with zero knowledge of streetwear, but it’s equally suited to lifelong devotees and those with more substantive background knowledge because many of the photographs are one-offs or at least more obscurely sourced than mainstream imagery. There are candid shots from clubs, behind the scenes pictures of well-known design house hotspots, and even photos from the authors’ personal collection of memorabilia.
These images show the clothes in action, because streetwear is in large part comprised of types of clothes that were designed for action—for work, for sport, for warfare. Board shorts and bomber jackets are equal parts function and style. Beyond utility and good looks, perhaps the most essential feature of streetwear is that it always says something. It’s in this area of ideology that King ADZ and Stone really excel, and also why readers will feel comfortable with the authors’ position of relative prestige in their industry. Put plainly: they know about the money and they don’t like it any more than we do. Creating a brand is fundamentally a capitalist enterprise, presided over by businesspeople who would be only too happy to manufacture total garbage as long as people are willing to fork over their hard-earned dollars to have it.
Streetwear has a foundation that is antithetical to corporate greed, at its roots often relying upon one-of-a-kind customization, small-batch basement productions, and free promotion via the internet. Yet as interest in streetwear continues to grow and communities begin to coalesce around it, what was once the passion project of a few pioneering souls is at substantial risk of co-option by the very forces of greed against which it was originally deployed as protest. Nowadays, it’s easy to find PacSun or Stussy in the local shopping mall. Nowadays, any rich jerk can collect the complete series of Jordans with a few clicks through eBay.
This is Not Fashion is a must-have for anyone with even a passing interest in streetwear. As a coffee table book, it’s fabulously laid out. As a mission statement, it’s on point about the problem of selling out. People interested in design should read it and continue to consult it as needed. People in advertising and publicity should read it and gift it to their CEOs for the holidays. People who like to speculate on what the internet is for should read it and feel inspired about the potential of globalization. People who think they are too old for streetwear or who think they don’t care about trends in clothing should read it, in order to discover how deep the influence of streetwear on their own wardrobe has truly been, right down to their Brooks Brothers suits and their red stripe ties. Pretty much all people can make use of this book—just like streetwear itself.