From branded street artists to 14th-century cobblers, style takes a turn for both the new and old
A TALE OF FOUR CITIES
The Tag Team
Dubai street artists parlay an unfriendly graffiti environment into a business opportunity
DUBAI – Steffi Bow and Sya One met a few years ago while painting a wall in Dubai. It was, says Bow, “love at first spray.” The pair—who married last December—began tagging together, as Graffiti Lovers. And they’ve found themselves at the forefront of the U.A.E.’s nascent street-art scene, which, Bow says, is enjoying a boom, “judging by all the requests we get.”
Traditionally, taggers don’t get calls from people asking if they’ll come deface their property, but Bow and One aren’t exactly vandals. A lot of the work they do is corporate—a brand will organize an event and invite the couple to paint live. And while Bow allows that “complete purists” might look down on them, she’s not losing any sleep. “It’s given me a platform to do things I love,” she says. And, as One points out, “There’s a lot of effort that goes into creating the work.”
The work, meanwhile, is usually painted over by the next day. “It can be frustrating,” One says. “We do all this work for people and then it disappears.”
In an effort to introduce an element of permanence, Bow and One have set up a 130-foot graffiti wall in their backyard, which has become something of a niche tourist attraction, with artists from around the world stopping by to add their personal touch to just about the only place they’re welcome to paint in Dubai.
“People think of graffiti as being a slightly aggressive thing,” Bow says. “But once you’re in that little clique, they all look after each other.”
Recently, they had two “London legends”—Zombie and Jive—drop by and tag their wall. “And when these guys paint something,” says Bow, “we don’t ever want to paint over it.”
— Richard Church
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The Campana brothers plant a new seed
SÃO PAULO – You don’t have to spend too much time exploring the work of the Campana brothers to get a sense of where they stand on the form-vs.-function question.
Since 1983, when Fernando and Humberto Campana founded their studio in São Paulo, Brazil, their designs—which range from furniture to fashion—have been marked by a chaotic, colorful eccentricity. They’ve designed a sofa made from compressed cardboard, along with chairs made from stuffed toys. There are Campana cowhide bookshelves and a Campana shirt (for Lacoste) that’s a mad patchwork of alligator logos.
In February, the Campana brothers turned their hand to landscape architecture, creating an enormous structure out of living bamboo, which they have aptly named the Bamboo Cathedral. Intended to be used for yoga and meditation, the cathedral is situated on the grounds of a rustic luxury hotel, Fazenda Catuçaba, outside São Paulo. About 115 feet in diameter and encircled by a low dry-stone wall, the cathedral is not yet fully formed. “The Campanas have no limits, not even with nature itself,” says Emmanuel Rengade, the hotel’s French owner.
— Catherine Balston
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Reinventing the Wheel
A San Francisco company manages to make road safety cool
SAN FRANCISCO – Mechanical engineer Kent Frankovich didn’t like what he was seeing with his bike headlight. Rather, he didn’t like what he wasn’t seeing: Because of where lights are usually mounted—up high, on the handlebars—cyclists tend to get a poor view of obstacles in the road.
The solution: two rings of wheel-mounted LED lights that are fed orientation and speed data, enabling them to blink on when they’re facing forward and off when they’re not, so as not to blind the rider. Frankovich had essentially turned his front wheel into one big glowing headlight.
“When I made the prototype, I realized how visible it ended up making me,” he says, “So I quickly made a taillight to match it.”
In 2010, Frankovich teamed up with Adam Pettler—a former biotech worker looking for investment opportunities—and the two developed a business plan. Thanks to a few viral videos that made cyclists slicing through dark San Francisco streets look like something out of Tron, a Kickstarter campaign raised almost five times the target amount, and the first release hit the streets shortly thereafter. They had managed to make safety cool.
This summer saw an upgrade, Revolights City v2.0, and the duo partnered with local custom bike-maker Mission Bicycles to produce Revolights Wheels: wheels that come with the system pre-installed.
Embracing the sci-fi aesthetic, the company recently showcased its product with a flash mob-style ride at the debut of the Bay Lights project on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. “People kept asking if they were related,” Frankovitch says. But the engineer’s favorite reaction should sound familiar to any inventor with a forehead-smacking idea: “Why hasn’t this been invented yet?”
— Sam Polcer
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Hobo-like clothing carries Hermes-like price tags at Berlin’s Darklands
BERLIN – Darklands doesn’t make it easy for potential customers.
The Berlin fashion retailer relocates frequently and without warning (right now, it is situated in the far corner of a shambles of industrial buildings in one of the city’s few remaining wastelands). There is no phone. It is only open in the afternoons. And don’t bother looking for signs, because there aren’t any.
If you do happen to find your way into the store, challenges remain. Almost every item in Darklands’ cavernous, gallery-white interior seems to have been designed specifically for Mick Jagger’s physique. And his wallet. The overall aesthetic is “Alternative Luxury,” but “Post-Apocalyptic Excess” would work equally well. Sneakers that look like they were pulled off a hobo cost $1,800. Scuffed black jeans can set you back $2,500. A ripped shirt sells for… well, you get the picture.
But look closer and you’ll discover that these high-priced items are indeed from high-end experimental designers like Austria’s Carol Christian Poell and Iceland’s Sruli Recht. The $2,200 sneakers, for example, are by Rome-based brand A1923 (A Diciannoveventitre), and are handmade from buffalo, llama or horse leather; the lace eyelets are custom-rusted. Alongside these is a collection of rumpled, leather-laced boots from Guidi, a Tuscan tannery that has been making footwear since 1896, employing methods used since the 14th century.
“The thing every designer here has in common is they are all artisans—everything is made by hand in the traditional way,” says Darklands’ founder, a Canadian named Campbell McDougall. “This approach chimes with a lot people now.”
McDougall opened Darklands in much smaller premises five years ago, with the aim of making enough money to get by. “I just wanted to be able to stay in Berlin,” he says.
“Now,” he adds, gesturing at a leather jacket with a $5,000 price tag, “these are flying off the shelves.”
As for who’s making them fly, McDougall says his customers come from all over—the U.S., Europe, Asia—with an increasing amount of business being done online. Foot traffic, meanwhile, remains limited. “Actually,” McDougall says with a shrug, “very few Berliners have heard of us.”
— Boyd Farrow