Fashion

“The Godfather” of Streetwear Is Just Doing His Best

Streetwear is a world populated with uncompromising egos, but Michael Kopelman, who founded the influential distributor and agency Gimme 5 in London in 1989 is modest—disarmingly so. “I always do my best,” says Kopelman, who, as an original member of the Stüssy Tribe, helped make that label an international brand, brought lines like Hysteric Glamour and A Bathing Ape to the United Kingdom, and collaborated with fashion icons like Judy Blame and James Lebon. “I’m still making mistakes.”

But Jean Touitou, the A.P.C. founder, has a different way of characterizing Kopelman and his influence on streetwear: “Simply, the godfather,” he explains. And his modesty is what Touitou loves about him: “I’m pretty good at not publicizing my own work, but he’s even better than me. He’s so discreet. His voice is quiet. I really like that. He doesn’t shout, ‘I’m a radical,’ but I think he is a radical.”

“In one word,” Touitou continues, “I think he’s very classy.”

Touitou and Kopelman are old friends—Touitou used to carry Gimme 5 in his concept shop Magasin Général, and they’ve known each other for something like 30 years. And now they’ve developed a small capsule together—one of what A.P.C. calls its “interactions”—of graphic T-shirts and a crewneck sweatshirt.

Two of the pieces from the A.P.C.-Gimme 5 “interaction.”

Courtesy of Gimme Five / Michael Kopelman / A.P.C.

Courtesy of Gimme Five / Michael Kopelman / A.P.C.

The pieces are simple, a bit of a palate cleanser at a moment when T-shirt designs can get as dense as Hieronymous Bosch panels. They picked one design from the archives—the Gimme Five logo over a motorcycle rider—and Kopelman designed a second with graphic designer Stephan Rayon, tweaking an “obscure” image from the ’60s of a buggy with the message, “FOR THOSE WHO GO THEIR OWN WAY.” He says, “I’m really into this idea of people having their own minds, and thinking for themselves,” adding, “It’s something that wasn’t made to please anyone else other than me.”

“Maybe it’s an anthem to independence,” Touitou muses. “It’s very symbolic and yet it’s very beautiful. It’s so easy to make a powerful logo with no meaning.”

The project came about organically. Touitou has an archive of personal pieces and past projects, and his kids recently dug through it and went wild for his old Gimme 5 collabs. “I was looking at them on my son and daughter,” Touitou says, “and I thought, Man, those things were so powerful.” So he called up Kopelman—they’d recently worked together when he introduced Touitou to Brain Dead, the LA-based brand that Kopelman currently works with under Gimme 5—and then cooked something up.

Courtesy of Gimme Five / Michael Kopelman / A.P.C.
Courtesy of Gimme Five / Michael Kopelman / A.P.C.

Kopelman came of age in the industry when streetwear was synonymous with subculture, and now it’s arguably the backbone of mainstream and runway fashion—what does he make of that shift? “I’m not that clever, really,” Kopelman says. “I don’t really understand it. I try never to look backwards.”

Still, what does he make of, say, customers who see certain eras of Supreme, or Stüssy, as golden ages, or view these businesses as something like legacy brands—the very instinct that drove Touitou’s kids to yank Kopelman’s original pieces out of the archive? “I’m a bit too close to everything to have a perspective,” he says. But, with deference to comedian Eddie Izzard, he paints the picture of a carousel: just as you’re getting off the ride, “you see other people just getting on and they’re really excited and keen. You carry on going round, and you keep on seeing new people getting on the merry-go-round.”

Courtesy of Gimme Five / Michael Kopelman / A.P.C.
Courtesy of Gimme Five / Michael Kopelman / A.P.C.

The fashion world is enraptured, especially of late, with channeling bygone periods, and reworking things that were once revolutionary into nostalgia trips for the present day. But Kopelman is much more interested in what’s connecting with the young streetwear customer of today. “For me, I just see Supreme connecting with young kids over here [in London], and for me, that’s perfect. It’s perfect. And we see Stüssy connecting with young kids over here, and it’s perfect. What an achievement for any of those companies.”

In addition to Brain Dead, Kopelman now works with brands including Fucking Awesome, Know Wave, and Suicoke. “I don’t want to have lunch on what I did 20 years ago,” he says. “I’m only really interested in now. That’s what I’m interested in. But that’s just for me.”

Touitou feels the same. “Guys like that? They are very precious to me.”


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