slam jam’s luca benini on why the fashion world dances to his streetwear beat
As Slam Jam launches a pop-up in Tokyo filled with coveted collaborative items and rare product drops, we speak to one of streetwear’s founding fathers.
“I’ve always trusted my intuition more than manifestos or labels, and supported ideas and projects that Slam Jam and I could truly relate to,” Luca Benini explained to i-D when we spoke last year for the launch of Planet Aries in London. From its headquarters in the Italian city of Ferrara, far from the European fashion establishment, Slam Jam has honed its unique, highly distinctive style, using art, music and clubbing, as well as its founder’s gut, to connect tribes of like-minded people across the world. On its 30th anniversary, Slam Jam has, and always will be, more than a streetwear company. What began as a clothing distribution company in the late 80s and early 90s, serving the Italian underground, has since evolved beyond its distribution business to function as a cultural hub of hype that continually pushes fashion forward. Today, we’re used to the cross-pollination of fashion and streetwear, but Slam Jam has been doing that for over three decades.
“When I was young, I had two dreams of what I wanted to be: a DJ and to sell clothing,” Luca told us during Slam Jam’s takeover of the Marino Marini museum in Florence back in January. In the end, he combined both with Slam Jam. “In the 80s, my main business was DJing but the clothing became increasingly important to me and music has always pushed me. When I went to New York for the first time both Stüssy and Carhartt were huge in the hip hop scene -- that excited me. Today, music is not my job but it’s important. It helps me.”
After working with Fiorucci, the music obsessed Luca became an agent for Italian brands before Slam Jam was born out of a desire to bring the energy -- and fashion -- of the New York hip hop scene to Italy. “From the beginning, I tried to work with brands that enabled us to talk about culture, not only sell clothing, so I chased Stüssy as if it were the love of my life I wanted to marry,” he explained with a smile. “I always say that Stüssy is our gold card because when I started working with them, it opened doors that were previously closed to me. It was the real beginning of Slam Jam.” This happy marriage, now entering its third decade, has seen them conquer the streetwear world.
After the success of retail experiences in New York and Paris last year, the Slam Jam global tour travels to Tokyo with a new tailor made concept for March 2019. This week, Slam Jam are hosting a pop-up shop at the Harajuku hotspot Gallery Common. As we’ve all come to expect from Slam Jam’s unique blend of commerce and culture, the space will offer highly coveted collaborative items including 77 pairs of the Nike Blazer Class 1977 and a limited-edition cassette by ONYX Collective, alongside rare exclusive drops from the Slam Jam family of Alyx (co-owned by Luca and Matthew Williams), Nike, Carhartt WIP, Suicoke, Wacko Maria, Brain Dead and more. Of course, it wouldn’t be a full Slam Jam experience without a club night so, for the opening last night, they took over Shibuya-based Studio Freedom with a line-up that unites Italian house music godfather Claudio Coccoluto with Sam Fitzgerald and Fraser Cooke, and Slam Jam’s very own DJ Hendrix. Now that’s a party fit for a 30th anniversary.
As Slam Jam celebrates, you’d forgive Luca for losing himself in hype but that’s not his style. So much of what Slam Jam does is under the radar, Luca's soft power movement that has brought streetwear to the masses is much more interested in nurturing the culture of its communities over any cult of personality. “Over the years, people have questioned why we don’t have a Slam Jam line, and it’s because I realised that I’m a selector, not a producer," he says. "For that reason, I work with other companies, rather than make our own product.
"I’ve just always tried to do what I feel, rather that what’s expected or asked of me, or what the market dictates,” he explained. It’s a simple business plan that has helped pave the way for today’s radical visionaries reshaping the fashion landscape. “I come from a small town in the Italian countryside, I’m an outsider to fashion and I didn’t have any expectations when we launched Slam Jam, there wasn’t this big dream of what we would become,” he added. “It’s all based on intuition rather than careful planning. I learned everything I know through experience, not with schooling and the greatest lesson has been the power of following instinct. Not everything we’ve done has worked or been perfect, but that’s part of the experience. We are what we are because of it.”
Over the last thirty years, Slam Jam has, and always will, followed its own beat. In this age of content and product homogenisation, it’s a possibility pushing reminder that brand authenticity is everything. “My advice to anyone entering this industry is to stay true to yourself, stay authentic," Luca says. "There are so many distractions, so many influences, so much noise that it’s not easy to listen to yourself and to follow what you feel but you have to.”
From 20 to 24 March 2019, Slam Jam will host its pop-up shop at Gallery Common, in Tokyo.