Slam Jam’s Arty Ambitions
The enterprise founded by Luca Benini has become something of a case study. Not quite a traditional retailer, much more than a mere distribution network, boasting a cult following akin to that of a rock band and with ties to both luxury and pop culture, it has become – in its 28 years of existence – the holy grail of European streetwear. And now, the company has another notch to add to its belt: a brand new 1000 square-meter venue in the heart of Milan. Spazio Maiocchi, as it is called, is a hub (created in collaboration with Carhartt WIP, one of Slam Jam’s closest longtime allies) where art, fashion, and design are brought together for the community of Slam Jam fans.
Picture courtesy of Slam Jam.
When I visit it on opening night, I am struck not just by the pristine white walls and glass that composes the space, but also by all the different art demonstrations that are taking place at the same time under one roof. Running through November 25, the inaugural projects include an exhibition by KALEIDOSCOPE – a contemporary art magazine and studio based in Milan – featuring works by New York-based artist Darja Bajagić and Japanese airbrush painter Harumi Yamaguchi. Another exhibition is “Rug Trip,” a Moroccan rug collection curated by Misha Hollenbach of P.A.M. “The idea for this space was born a couple of years ago,” explains Gabriele Casaccia, Slam Jam’s Art Director. “For us, art has been linked to fashion – and, particularly, streetwear – ever since we started distributing Stüssy in 1989.” The company was, famously, the first to sell the Californian brand in Europe. “It’s all about the way in which both disciplines connect, especially when it draws inspiration from the reality around us, which is larger than just this community, or Milan, and can be translated to any city, any community,” he adds. Proof is out there, in the several cultural milestones Slam Jam has been creating in the recent past, such as the “Beautiful Losers” street art exhibition from 2006 which they sponsored, or the creation of the Slam Trick international skateboard contest.
Picture courtesy of Slam Jam.
All these projects are the reflection of a changing fashion industry in which all sorts of boundaries get more and more blurred. “Slam Jam has changed in a very natural, organic way, just like fashion,” says Gabriele. Does he think streetwear is nowadays being appropriated by luxury brands? “Not really,” he says reflectively. “Luxury brands are trying to connect with younger generations, and you do that through much more than just the product. It’s all about the communication and the storytelling… and right now, that’s in the street.” Which is something Luca Benini understood way before most of the luxury labels that are now cashing in thanks to streetwear. In an interview with Angelo Flaccavento for Business of Fashion last May, the Slam Jam founder simply stated: “I think that what we sell is way more than just T-shirts. It is the intangible but defining world that exists around each and every product that makes it special. And that is attained through a mix of activities that are artistic as well as commercial.” Voilà, in a nutshell, the reasons and motivations behind an art space that, on top of the temporary exhibitions, is set to host a range of curated events during fashion week. Not to forget that creating a cultural and artistic context to give value to the down-to-earth clothes that make up streetwear is not only a rare talent, but also an art form in itself.
Opening picture: Portrait of Gabriele Casaccia, courtesy of Slam Jam.