the anti-brand fashion brand that never sold out
An exhibition of the decade-spanning work of cult-yet-influential artist-designer JJ Hudson is on show during London Fashion Week. Those who remember it most fondly discuss the designer’s impact.
Noki in The Kinetic Issue. Photography Fredderike Helwig, Styling Soraya Dayani
NOKI is the subversive, 'mash-up' fashion label originally founded by designer and artist JJ Hudson, and bursting out of late 90s Shoreditch. Key to its success was his talent for orchestrating covetable one-off pieces from cast-offs, his witty subversion of logos and his cleverly-collaged knack for disrupting the very nature of branding (he has been described as a 'brandalist') in particular that of mega sportswear labels, famous bands, or high profile corporations such as Disney. These mischievous tendencies have since filtered down, and can now be seen all over the fashion landscape, from Supreme to Vetements. Hence, the famous 1998 i-D shot of the model Gisele wearing a NOKI customised Champion sweatshirt, photographed by David Sims and styled by Anna Cockburn, still looks remarkably modern.
JJ's talent for customisation and his refusal to mass produce NOKI designs -- despite a myriad of opportunities to do so -- also places him at the forefront of sustainability, recycling and ethical fashion, all of which have subsequently become hotly debated topics within the fashion media and beyond.
Operating somewhat outside of the fashion industry (and refusing to be photographed unless wearing one of his many distinctive NOKI masks), Aberdeen-born JJ was firmly embraced by it. Across the ensuing years, his work has been celebrated within endless style magazines, stocked in legendary boutiques such as the Pineal Eye in Soho, worn by club kids, pop icons and celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Kylie Minogue and Nicki Minaj, showcased in museums including the V&A, and thundered down the catwalk at London Fashion Week. His notorious 2008 collection was described by a startled Vogue reporter at the time as a cacophony of “shredded heavy metal Ts, striped socks worn over spiked heels and pulled up to mid-thigh, pink, blonde and orange nylon wigs that had hardly survived a fight with a tumble dryer, false eyelashes attached to eyebrows, cartoon monster masks, hip hop screeching out of the speakers.” JJ has also taught on many fashion degree courses at universities throughout the UK, encouraging a younger generation of designers to similarly promote authenticity and sustainability.
A 'Greatest Hits' selection of NOKI creations, including newer pieces and collage works, are now gathered together to form a full blown eye-popping exhibition at the The Subculture Archives on Carnaby Street. Running throughout London Fashion Week, the launch party/private view will be held on the evening of the 15th and is set to feature original DJs from the late-90s Shoreditch warehouse party scene. With performances from Killa Kela, Feral is Kinky, Anne McCloy and Kirsty Allison, related input from Cold Lips zine and curation by OllyStudio, it's likely to be a much wilder affair than the average fashion week bash… Before the hangover, i-D asked a mix of JJ's supporters, collaborators and pals -- from stylists, writers photographers and artists, to DJs, college professors and retailers -- to sum up the enduring appeal of NOKI which, fittingly enough, is IKON spelt backwards.
Neneh Cherry, singer and songwriter
“Judy Blame introduced me to JJ. He’d talked about him so much and about how he really could see me in the clothes. As usual, Judy was right! My NOKI pieces are my friends, fitting different moods and energies, places, stages... always timeless, always in time. Noki is an artist, a truly creative G. Each piece is a one-off, not restricted by the limitations of dreaded fashion trends. Noki remains a step ahead -- freestyle and political, loving and humorous. I love my NOKI Pocahontas dress made out of cotton dish-cloths and black shoelace tassels. Another big hit -- a baseball jacket with lumberjack shirt sleeves. One time when I was wearing it, a young road man turned to me and said, ‘that jacket is shabby, man!’ Best compliment ever! Well... I think it was a compliment, ha ha!'”
Anna Trevelyan, stylist
“He is so creative and conceptual with his sustainable fashion and, most importantly, it looks amazing. wearable and desirable. His work is iconic.”
Caryn Franklin, fashion commentator, professor of Diversity in Fashion and former Co-Editor of i-D
“At a point where green was branded wholesome and earnest NOKI injected a vitally disruptive rock and roll narrative. Fashion is drawn to statements that resonate emotionally, that open up the conversation. NOKI came in shouting his head off. We had a great time planning an idea in a wardrobe in the Canadian embassy!”
Paul Tierney, journalist
“I remember David Sims showing me the photos he took of Gisele Bundchen wearing NOKI for i-D. Anna Cockburn styled the story and was very quick to recognise what NOKI was doing was special and unique. The clothes were simple but compelling. I wrote a big feature on him for Pop magazine and set up a collaboration with Luella Bartley. It was clear he was dazzlingly talented. JJ is obsessed with anti corporate gestures and the demise of fashion mediocrity. He is so principled about not selling out and reproducing what he does, because everything is a one-off. And therein lies its beauty.”
Yuko Yabiku, former owner of Pineal Eye, the legendary 90s/00s fashion boutique.
“Nicola Formichetti was working for me in the shop at that time and one day he said, “This cool guy is making some cool clothes, let’s go and see him”. And so we went to see JJ at his studio. NOKI was an immediate big hit, not just to the customers, but also to the stylists who put it into so many magazines. High fashion, street fashion, even high street commercial brands copied his style afterwards. Noki pieces were very popular -- often being nicked from the shop by customers!”
Kim Howells, stylist (worked on the NOKI LFW show for spring/summer 08)
“When we worked on the show for Fashion East, we giggled and danced the whole time. We lived and breathed the collection until it went down the catwalk. JJ never stopped creating -- looks were always evolving, new cuts, ties, slashes, pen work, changing necklines, hems, sleeves. Seeing an artist work this way was so inspiring and energetic - models, friends, musicians, we would just all hang out, it was infectious.”
Steven Philip, owner of Rellik
“There was a real feeling of someone ripping up the rule book and making youth culture their own again.. As much as I loved the edge and anti fashion approach to the mash up, I thought it was a real moment when NOKI was embraced by the industry and featured in magazines such as Vogue. It really spread his message to the fashion world and beyond.”
Mandi Lennard, Fashion Consultant
“I just used to devour NOKI's stuff. He made a dress for me to wear to Coachella in 2010, and when it arrived it had a matching face mask which I discarded, thinking, "What on earth is this?" Then, when I got to Coachella and felt the sand in my mouth and that intense desert heat, I realised why he’d included it.”
Tara St Hill, stylist, Senior Fashion Editor at Large at 10 Magazine, former muse to Corrine Day
“I first discovered NOKI’s work back in the 90s. Corinne Day and I would spend a lot of time in Pineal Eye in Soho. I remember seeing NOKI’s pieces in there and after that I was obsessed with him! His face was masked, he was a mystery, but his aesthetic was strong -- it had a loud voice and something to say; Corinne shot a picture of me in NOKI’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre dress. A few years later, NOKI was doing an event and show at the V&A. My friend Tamara Cincik was styling it and through her JJ asked for me to model the Chainsaw Massacre dress. I met JJ that night and he’s been my friend since.”
Honey Dijon, DJ, producer, icon
“I first met JJ through a mutual friend in New York. JJ had just arrived from London and showed up at the legendary Tunnel club. He was the most handsome man in the room. I had an instant crush on him and we became immediate friends. When I went to London I would sleep on his couch in this massive loft he used to have with a group of friends in Shoreditch. JJ was so ahead of his time with sustainable fashion and DIY culture and recycling and reconceptualising clothing that already existed. It was always tongue in cheek, vibrant, sexually aggressive, twisted, and a bit off which has a beauty of his own.”
Charty Durrant, writer, designer, ex-Fashion Editor of Vogue and The Sunday Times
“One of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen was both by Noki. A cigarette burn T-shirt he made out of an old Champion T-shirt -- the burns were so beautifully placed that it made the T-shirt resemble lace, randomly placed and cut and shredded into something hauntingly beautiful -- it is one of the most epic i-D fashion images of all time, photographed for i-D on Giselle by David Sims.”
Lulu Kennedy MBE, founder of Fashion East and MAN
“Noki was a much needed pioneer. I think I first met him face to face at The Bricklayers Arms in the 90s, he had a major look on and was being hilaaaarious! But before that I had noticed his shredded T-shirts on people out at parties and thought, 'Ooh! They're good!' I loved his bridesmaid dress Disney T-shirt hybrids best. I would still totally wear that right now.”
Aroe, graffiti artist
“NOKI isn't a character or a persona -- anyone meeting JJ for the first time will quickly realise that his work and style is an extension of his personality. Rebellious, antagonistic, beautiful and unique, often his opinion is as jagged as one of his pieces. Noki is an artist first, everything else is second. His approach shares the graffiti ethic by simply rewriting established rules, appropriating and destroying what exists in order to create something new.”
Axel Hoedt, photographer
“I first met JJ when Katie Grand asked me to take some portraits of him in Brighton back in 2007. When you arrive at his studio, you don’t know what to expect -- it’s half Mickey Mouse and half the Elephant Man. I have worked with JJ on several projects since then, resulting in an awful lot of portraits. And still up to this day, I find them puzzling -- appearing to be randomly bonkers, but always spot on beautiful, refusing to age.”
Associate Professor Elinor Renfrew, Head of Fashion Department, Kingston School of Art
“NOKI has worked with BA and MA Fashion students on Sustainable Design projects that involve a strong narrative inspired by a breadth of social and historical influences, leading to installations performances and window displays. His work sits firmly in sustainable design utilising the up cycling of rag into contemporary fashion. The projects have been successful and exhibited at Esthetica at the BFC and The Glory nightclub, however my favourite was the commission by Canada House to appropriate the life and work of First Nation indigenous people into giant sketchbooks and fashion sculptures displayed in the Trafalgar Square building during LFW.’
Ligaya Salazar, curator and Director of the Fashion Space Gallery at London College of Fashion
“NOKI and his work are pretty idiosyncratic and despite the change of pace and commerce within the fashion world, he has retained his irreverent approach to issues within fashion and style. I think this is what attracts people to his work.'
Zoe Bedeaux, stylist, designer and singer
“NOKI used his cutting wit and intellect to dismantle and reconfigure corporate identity through the manipulation of text and silhouette, creating a fresh narrative within an industry that dared not. Through harnessing the art of recycling he has promoted the ethos of ethical fashion and sustainability beyond conceptual ideals, making it a viable and commercial reality. His creations are truly a tale of rags to riches! NOKI's influence and contribution to fashion has been huge... the NOKI 'Mash Up' has officially filtered it's way into high fashion. His work has been imitated by big brands, without collaboration nor credit, yet despite the imitators NOKI has continued to produce original enchanting work that is unmistakably his own. My favourite Noki designs are the knitted rag sculptural pieces.The way he manipulates materials is extraordinary. I have an incredible gaffa-taped winged T-shirt that I wore in a Self Service shoot, which I cherish. It is constructed from an Anti Nazi League T-shirt with the poignant quote by Martin Niemöller, who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.”
Dr Who? Is Noki runs from 15 to 22 February at The Subculture Archives, 3 Carnaby Street, Soho, London