The Mains Event: Skepta on Launching His Own Line—And Never Hustling Backward – Vogue.com
Dressed in a pair of black salopettes, an orange T-shirt, a pair of Vlone collaborationÂ Air Force 1s, and some Lennon-shaped Chanel sunglasses, Skepta stepped out of a black Mercedes last Friday and made for the door of Le Pompom. We had only spent a minute or two on the Rue de Richelieu, but in that time three fans spotted him and asked for selfies or just a handshake. Silently but unfussily he obliged. Then the door opened. The British grime artist and his small retinue stepped into the club, started by StÃ©phane Ashpool and his PPPÂ collective (Pain O ChoKolat, Pigalle, Pompon), to sound check for the night ahead.
Skepta was in Paris to host a night called KaiKai, an Auto-Tune karaoke party conceptÂ he first put on in London. After heâd finished setting up (and lamenting the Paris rules that prohibited him from ramping up Le Pomponâs bass levels for fear of riling the neighbors) he sat down to discuss another new project.
Entitled Mains, Skeptaâs clothing line debuts today at Selfridges in London. A compactÂ but much pored-over capsule (itâs been in development for 18 months) Mains includes a fine cotton drill example of that emblematic Skepta garment, the tracksuit (which comes in olive and black). Tomorrow night, Skepta will be at the store to properly launch the collection. But before doing so, he invited Vogue to discuss the Mains event. This is what he had to say.
Hi Skepta, good to meet you! Letâs start with the main event, your new collection.Â Why have you called it Mains?
You know what? There are so many different reasons. I wouldnât want to say justÂ one of them. The word Mains has a lot of different ways that you could look at it. So, in the same way that Iâm leaving the clothes open for people to wear, Iâm leaving the meaning open, too. Because as my dad always used to say to me, âClothes donât makeÂ the man; the man makes the clothes.â
Thatâs a good upgrade on the old adage. Whatâs your fatherâs name?
Joseph, same as me. Iâm Joseph Junior. So, I want to leave it open for people to wear it how they want and think what they want about it. But Mains. I love that name. And in fact, when I thought of it, it was killing me to wait and to go around and not announce the name for so long. It was frustrating, and I was scared somebody else wasÂ going to have it.Â
How has your relationship with clothes evolved, do you think?
I suppose when I was growing up, it was all about fitting into a box or fitting into a category. You know, looking like I listened to hip-hop, or looking like I listened to grime. Youâd see someone and go, âOh, look at that person. Heâs wearing that or that; he listens to punk rock.â You know what Iâm saying? When I was growing up, it was a lot to do with that. But nowadays, some days I feel a bit grime-y, some days I feel very punk. Some days I feel reggae, or Afrobeat. They have all different styles, but in the same breath I can dress punk and listen to grime. Do you get what Iâm saying? So, I wouldnâtÂ really say I have a style. But that when I wear something, it means something to the clothes. It becomes me thatâs wearing it. In my head itâs that Iâm wearing this, so Iâm going to live this outfit. If Iâm walking around like Iâm not sure about this outfit, then itâs not going to really look good. So, I think people who know me know Iâve got my style of living, and thatâs really my style.
Well, dressing to define yourself is quite limiting, isnât it. As your dad said . . .
You know, Iâve traveled now. Iâve traveled the world. And Iâve seen that thereÂ are different colors in different places. I travel and I respect. If you are wearing a hoodie and you are in Morocco and you meet somebodyâs family, then you take your hood off. There are different things to wear in different places, and if you want to fit inÂ and show respect, you can dress to do that, or you can dress to show that you are foreign and not from there. That can work, too. Dress is expression.
So you shot a video in Morocco to promote Mains?
Yeah! That was very special. Because Iâve been traveling a lot to so many places,Â but Iâve been looking for a haven, somewhere that felt like a haven, neutral to anything. And when you go there, the weather, the color, the people, the lifestyleâeverything about that placeâhow the kids are out there, is different to what you might think, to what you see on the TV. The kids have got this charismaâitâs so sick. And thereâs a lot of family. And so real. The embroideries they have there. I went there and they were telling me about Essaouira and Jimi Hendrix. I was drawn to it. After touring and touring and touring.
You did Coachella recently, is that right? The traditional perception is that audiencesÂ in the U.S. find it hard to get the U.K. voice. Is that your experience?
You know, Iâve got to the point where all I see is people who like the music. When I was going out there, I could have easily come back and said, âYou know, Iâm trying but their ears arenât getting around to it.â But I never said that. Everybody always says Iâm going to try and break America. We broke America, we broke it. We sold out everyÂ show when we went there, and every show we play there itâs love. People go crazy. We concentrated on the greatness. You know, if I say their ears arenât getting around it, they are going to hear that and they arenât going to listen.
Youâve talked about fashion in your lyrics. âShutdownâ talks about going to aÂ show in your tracksuit. And I saw you went to a Chanel show, the rocket show . . .
Â That show was another level!
You travel to all these different countries. Fashion is a kind of country.Â What do you think when you visit it? What is fashion to you?
I did âThatâs Not Me,â a song about throwing my Gucci and my Louis in the bin. MetaphoricallyÂ speaking, where I grew up emceeing, all the kids, all the boys, were standing around with long faces in their Gucci belts and Louis belts and complaining about how shit ainât going their way. There would be weeks when Iâd just go to Paris on a cheap ticket,Â sleep on my friendâs floor, and just do a show because I knew I was going to do a show. Do it, get home, see it on my timeline, and be happy that I was just working. You know, I was getting frustrated that none of those brands or labels was putting none of theseÂ street kids that I am looking at in any of their ads or promotion. So, Iâd said that metaphorically speaking to say I can still wear a tracksuit and do good things. Iâm going to spend that money that you guys have spent on the belt to travel, to do a show, toÂ spit on a microphone in the club, to do the songs. Because I know if people gonna hear it, people gonna like it.
So from being young on the streets, weâve always liked designers. What was wrong was whatÂ we thought clothes meant to usâthat mindset of getting it. AndÂ then standing on the block complaining that our mums are starving. So, I got my boys together. We had an aesthetic of a tracksuit, and we did everything in a tracksuit. We won the Mercury in a tracksuit, two Ivor Novellos in a tracksuit, topped the charts inÂ a tracksuit. And now my mum and dad have a house each in Nigeria. My brotherâs got a house, my sister works at Apple Radio, my little brother is good, my friends are happy. Now I can wear designers! Now I can buy that and when Iâm standing with it, it doesnâtÂ mean everything to me. I could give it to someone that loves it. If theyâre walking past me looking at my Chanel blouse, Iâll say, âHold that. Thatâs you, bro. You looking at it like you like it more than me, so hold it.â And I can do that now. I really wanted any youth who grew up like I did to see that story, live in action.Â Not hustling backwards.
So youâve got tracksuits in Mains.
Yeah, itâs smart. Not too smartâit doesnât take overâbut itâs smart. Iâve wanted to put out a tracksuit all my life. Iâve wanted to see a tracksuit like that in a shop all my life . . . I definitely want people to do what I did in a tracksuit, and I definitely feel like Iâve made a tracksuit for them to do it in.
In Britain, which is a very socially divided country, tracksuits to the conservative middle class have often been characterized as clothing of a generation below. Itâs a politically and socially loaded garment. Astrid Andersen, the designer, talks about the tracksuit as almost a noble garment, something royal and elevated. Because the interestingÂ thing about some pieces of clothing is that you can take pieces people assume represent one thing and turn them into something else.
Thatâs exactly what we did with it, man. Thatâs the best way to put it. SomebodyâsÂ going to wear that tracksuit but feel just as ready for an interview, just as entitled to be a citizen as anyone else. Perfectly said.
Mains launches at Selfridges on June 27, mainslondon.com