"Turn up. Turn up," Tunde Ogunnoiki deadpans, mindlessly pointing his index fingers in the air while rocking back and forth to A$AP Ferg's "Shabba."
Ogunnoiki, along with Onisha "Oni" Roman and C.Will, the principals behind art and streetwear-inspired brand +Fresh.i.Am+, have finally unmasked. It's about two and a half hours into their Creative Loafing cover shoot and they've just removed the black-on-black T-shirts and FUKK scarves concealing their faces. The on-camera look they want to convey now is "somber and introspective," Ogunnoiki explains to the photographer, "like we care so much, we don't care." The only problem is they can't stop joking and dancing and laughing.
C.Will starts to mock Ogunnoiki's go-to dance move, "the Tunde," as he calls it.
Ogunnoiki corrects him: "There is no 'Tunde.' There's only, 'the shoulder,'" he says, pausing for effect before proceeding to duck walk across the floor of their recently acquired 2,000-square-feet studio space while shimmying his shoulder and suppressing a smile.
All three bust out laughing along with in-house stylist Brick, friend and collaborator Daniel Disaster of Heroes x Villains, and apprentice Vincent Braddock.
"+Fresh.i.Am+ is about not having fun," C.Will says defiantly. His inside joke, full of intended irony, needs no interpretation in this room.
For six and a half years, +Fresh.i.Am+ has been a quiet storm within Atlanta's creative underground. What began as a sideline graphic design company for Ogunnoiki and C.Will to supplement their day hustles and a blog to curate their cultural predilections has slowly morphed into an international streetwear brand — something that has surprised even them. With +Fresh.i.Am+, they've successfully fused their interests in art, music, and culture into one incredulous fashion label that has come to epitomize streetwear's global underground, even as their movement goes largely unnoticed in Atlanta.
"Part of the reason why we've done so well is because we're more popular in New York and Japan than we are in Atlanta," says Ogunnoiki.
The story of +Fresh.i.Am+'s stealthy rise to prominence is indicative of both streetwear in general and Atlanta's burgeoning role in that multibillion-dollar worldwide market. The local players consist of a growing number of infant brands that take fashion cues from the likes of Versace, Givenchy, and Alexander McQueen while mining cultural influence from Kanye West, Andre 3000, and even Malcolm X. It's resulted in a far-flung mix: custom-designed graphic tees with neoclassical artwork and religious overtones; skater/BMX-inspired labels with an anti-fashion middle-finger attitude; street gothic prints that mesh hipster irony with hip-hop style; luxury street apparel that borrows from the world of high fashion; art-influenced designers that consider themselves auteurs more than entrepreneurs; labels with politically minded messaging; and sometimes all of the above.
What often sets these emerging brands apart from high-fashion labels, however, is their DIY ethos. Atlanta's streetwear labels, like their more established peers in New York and Los Angeles, tend to epitomize lifestyles more than mere style. They represent various aspects of the street, the club, and urban culture in general — whether aspirational or radical.
But achieving cult status is still a rarity, which is what makes +Fresh.i.Am+ the anomaly among Atlanta brands. Equally embraced by pop's reigning bad girl Rihanna and such subversive figures as the ATL Twins, the brand conveys just the right amount of cool rebellion. +Fresh.i.Am+'s signature piece, a $75 black snapback cap with the letters F-U-K-K in bold white letters sewn across the front, seems about as loud and obnoxious as fashion statements come. But behind +Fresh.i.Am+'s provocative product line lies something profound: a committed group of young creatives who genuinely give a fuck about the culture and the city they represent.
Like most artists, Ogunnoiki and company stress the messages behind their creations. But they also revel in the potential they're creating for cultural chaos: "We don't sell clothes," he says, "we sell ideas."
"Atlanta fashion sucks. Period," says Ogunnoiki. Like many things in Atlanta, the sharp divide between the attention-grabbing mainstream and the less acknowledged underbelly can leave a lot to be desired. What typically passes for the city's predominant fashion scene nowadays amounts to little more than reality-show spectacle and pseudo-celebrity vanity lines.
"I feel like Atlanta fashion is more based on how rich you are and how big your pull is than it is about the product you're actually putting out there. It just sucks, man," he says.
When Ogunnoiki and C.Will started the blog in 2008, they envisioned it as a forum for their eclectic interests or, simply put, "shit that we thought was cool," C.Will says. "Atlanta always was shown as mad hood, you never got to see the cool part of Atlanta." A Jamaican native who spent time as a strip club DJ while attending high school in Columbus, Ga., C.Will eventually studied art history at Oxford University in England for two years before meeting Ogunnoiki at the original Sloppy Seconds parties held at the now-defunct Downtown club the Royal.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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