I was talking with a friend the other week about what felt like a golden age in British streetwear, 2008-2010. To my recollection it was a moment where “streetwear” was really manifesting itself in a clear form on both sides of the pond. T-shirts. Big graphics. Sweats. Denim. Sneakers.
This was the high point of labels like The Hundreds, Diamond, Black Scale, DGK, Undercrwn and a whole wave of American brands who were embodying the essential “larger than life” identity that streetwear portrayed. This wasn’t about competing with fashion proper, or integrating, or even co-existing. It was about being cheaper, more accessible, completely on your own wave but making a big fucking scene about it. Undercrwn were a brilliant example of this. OTT caricatures of pop culture American figures, massive typographies, collegiate-style meets hip-hop attitude. Bliss.
Over in the UK you had a number of brands doing a very similar thing, but with a slightly more “British” thread running through. Second Son, MHI, King Apparel, Trapstar, and countless others whose names escape me now. Everything was very “streetwear”, but very Brit about it.
One brand in particular really caught my attention though, partly because my friend Leo constantly heralded them as the very best UK t-shirt label out there. A.IN.T — Art in Transit — were a prime example of the creativity going around at that time, seemingly born out of a burgeoning screen-printing culture. Certainly, it was a very vibrant and colourful time compared to prevailing trends in streetwear right now.
A.IN.T’s offering incorporated a number of different influences typical of streetwear; graffiti, big graphics, big logos, big everything. But where they really made an impact, in my opinion, was their layered graphic tees that blended big block typography with classic illustrations of pin-up models. Visually, they were just miles ahead of the Illustrator-esque cartoon graphics that were being banged out left, right and centre by inferior brands, and text hits like “Honour & Glory” injected a healthy dose of British flavour in a way that so many others tried to do and failed.
A.IN.T wound down rather unceremoniously a few years ago and everything just went quiet. Things went heritage beardwear and people stopped rocking graphic tees as much.
It was a nice surprise to get an update into my inbox the other day, then. This summer, A.IN.T is making a return with a new collection of t-shirts that bring back the essential concept of those pin-up tees in a tweaked configuration. 3 long-sleeve t-shirts, 5 snapback caps and a waxed bucket hat take inspiration from the “Tart Cards” found pasted in phone boxes and scattered round the streets of Soho — a timely update to the original concept considering the rapid transformation of London’s gritty “entertainment district”.
The release is accompanied by a lookbook shot on location by Tom Beard, inspired by Soho’s heyday during the days of Paul Reymond and all the other smut-peddlers. It’s a solid replication of the original idea, and ties everything together well.
The cultural transformation taking place all across London is no mystery by now — East London is pretty much completely switched up, Stratford has transformed into a strange City Boy’s paradise-meets-weekend shopping destination, Peckham is now fresh turf for the farmers’ markets and Brixton… oh, Brixton.
What makes Soho particularly strange though, is that it’s historically sold to tourists and visitors a cultural landmark of sorts. It’s an area that’s being systematically dismantled in favour of a glossier, more market-oriented model, but that new model is still being sold on an old mythology that it actively worked to remove. Kick out all the nightclubs, brothels, massage parlours and peep shows, then sell a flat to foreign investors looking for a property in “gritty, authentic” London. Adam Tickle’s “So Long Soho” was another great exploration of the Soho that is rapidly disappearing, if you manage to get hold of a copy.
That’s what makes this release appealing, to me. It’s classic A.IN.T, geared toward a very current phenomena. Welcome back, A.IN.T, good to see you.
A.IN.T London’s “Let My Peep Hole Go” collection is available now from aint.london. Enjoy the photos and take a trip to Soho while it’s still there. If you’re too late, enjoy a matcha green tea latte, sourdough sandwich and a massive fucking bowl of vanilla instead. Safe.