Screen-printing is like a rite of passage when it comes to making clothing, and I often feel that it is held in higher regard in streetwear than other roads of fashion because of the visceral nature of it. Take a t-shirt, make a design and print it. I sometimes feel like the big name fashion houses release these crappy t-shirt designs for the sheer purpose of selling their brand name to people who can’t afford the mainline items. With streetwear, however, the graphic t-shirt still holds as much importance as any constructed item of clothing, and the power to craft meaning is entirely the designer’s own in this one swipe of ink through a screen.
When A Bathing Ape was founded by Nigo back in 1993, it experienced a similar beginning to many of the other big-name labels of today – printing t-shirts. Collaborating with the prolific Sk8thing, the brand’s success is effectively summarised by their explosion in the western world following Soulja Boy’s ‘Crank Dat’ in 2007. Yeh, we can laugh, but if you ever needed proof that Bape is a big deal, that kind of did it. The way we behaved about Bapestas, Japan behaved about the Bathing Ape lifestyle. It all started with Sk8thing’s t-shirts, and that’s where we’re going back to now.
Sk8thing is a household name in Japanese streetwear. Aside from his work with Nigo on the Bape line, he’s also responsible for Human Made’s designs, as well as being commissioned to design for every label from WTaps to Neighborhood to Fragment. Oh, and he’s in charge of most of the visuals for Billionaire Boys’ Club (BBC) and Ice Cream also. He’s just everywhere. And nowhere. You’ll always read about Sk8thing, less will you actually see him. Even less will you learn anything about him. That’s it really, I’m trying to introduce him, but he’s so enigmatically prolific that the designs genuinely do have a larger presence than the man himself. So that’s Sk8thing, I hope you feel enlightened.
A few seasons back, we caught wind of a new project by Sk8thing under the name of C.E. or CavEmpt. As covered in The Heavy Mental’s interview with British brand development expert Toby Feltwell (who now runs the brand’s own International Development department as far as I’m aware), CavEmpt was born off the back of BBC as a response to a disillusionment with the 21st century. Feltwell summises it as being inspired by ‘the failure of all available models of modernity, the disappointing reality and ubiquity of the internet, the frustration that the reality of Tokyo is nowhere near as good as the trailer for Enter The Void, the practical impossibility of originality’. This being the case, there’s a distinctly futuristic vibe to Cavempt’s collections, while the pieces remain rooted in classic silhouettes.
I caught a glimpse of the brand’s upcoming releases at the last Jacket Required and was blown away by the construction of the pieces. Huge, fishtail parkas adorned in circuit-board patches sat alongside translucent rain macs and shirts that looked like they could be in an educational film about geometry from the 80s.
My favourite item, by far, was a seemingly simple black hoodie that was constructed from patches of heavyweight fleece with the front-pouch set into the sweater’s body (as opposed to being attached to the outside). Having studied the brand more, their approach becomes easier to understand as an acceptance of the cyclical-nature of fashion, but with a ‘rebel-before-anything’ philosophy that says, ‘Yes, we’ve seen that before, but NOBODY has done it like THIS.’ In fact, the best bit of that hoodie was effectively pointless – a large, detailed cotton patch embroidered inside, visible only to the user. Why pay high-fashion prices for features you can’t show off to the world? Hold on… why not, exactly?
A friend directed me to their Japanese website, upon which you can find their latest lookbook and a selection of items on an online store (which, strangely, appears to ship worldwide!), and it seemed a better time than ever to give an otherwise enigmatic brand a bit of spotlight. Following on from a project last season that saw the collection being modelled by the UK’s own D Double E (OWH MAI GAWWWWSH), this lookbook stars another British underground icon in Zomby, whom also provides the soundtrack to the video lookbook.
From the Tron gridding across the website’s landscape to the model’s angular golden mask, it’s a sci-fi affair with CavEmpt. The choice of materials like glossy plastics and emboss-printing on jackets brings the futuristic vibe into prominence, while brave moves like printing across shirts and placing contrasting panels on sweaters highlight their attempts to deconstruct fashion’s rules. Even the use of the European Safety ‘CE’ logo on the back of a designer jacket makes fun of concepts like modernism and couture, but you know something? It looks amazing.
Select pieces from CavEmpt are available from Couverture & The Garbstore and WellGosh. The brand is still fairly quiet in the UK, so it won’t find you unless you find it, but I’d really recommend checking the whole collection out. They’re doing things different and, for once, different might just be better.