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"It’s corny as shit," longtime Thrasher editor Jeff Phelps once remarked of skate culture’s appropriation by the fashion, music, and advertising industries. Of course this is the on-brand, integrity-privileging answer, but chances are High Speed Productions, publishers of Thrasher and Juxtapoz, are very happy that the #thrasherhoodie has become a thing.
Thrasher’s old school graphics are a throwback to the era before skateboarding's inherent danger and misfit associations helped to build a five billion dollar-a-year industry. This emblem of retro west coast skating culture has somehow crept into celebrity Instagram and paparazzi pics over the last couple years (the fad may have had its peak this past summer). Depending on the star in question it can either accentuate subcultural cluelessness or add a few degrees of rebel cred.
It can accentuate subcultural cluelessness or add a few degrees of rebel cred.
In 1981, when Thrasher printed its first issue, it was one of four mass circulation magazines competing for skate kids’ pocket money. Before even opening an issue of Thrasher, though, its design conveyed more attitude than its competitors. The mag’s fanzine, rebel mentality prefigured the editorial tone of Grand Royal and ultimately Vice. Skateboarding’s popularity had already gone through several cycles by 1981, but Thrasher grew in tandem with Californian punk and hardcore culture, lending the sport’s lifestyle an edgier appeal. By the mid ‘80s, Thrasher was issuing annual Skate Rock compilations featuring bands like Gang Green, SNFU and TSOL. In ’88, the company added skate videos to its output. But besides documenting and contributing to the ever-changing skate culture, part of Thrasher’s raison d’etre from the jump was to offer a promotional platform for the related company, Independent, which makes skateboard trucks.
The flaming wordmark is the most recognizable and popular of them all.
Concurrent to all of these enterprises, Thrasher offered mail order apparel with a few designs that would develop classic status over the years. The ads for Thrasher shirts in the magazine’s pages were much less splashy then those of proper skate wear giants like Vans, which only heightened their irreverent charm.
There are several iconic Thrasher graphics, many of which are almost as old as the magazine itself. There’s the Satanism-parodying Skategoat pentagram. Slogans like "Born to Skate / Skate or Die" and "Skate and Destroy" have their own fonts. And the Lichentenstein-esque "Boyfriend" comic panel tee, designed by Jeff Klindt in 1989, is a classic. But the flaming wordmark is the most recognizable and popular of them all. The graphic brings to mind ‘80s horror movie graphics with its tongue-in-cheek, exploitation aspect. There’s a slapdash, DIY quality, forward movement, a hint of graffiti.
Rihanna has been at the forefront of Thrasher’s new ubiquity, as well as the most unimpeachable convert to the designs. She's been documented repping Thrasher in tee and hoodie form on numerous occasions, and she has the edginess and eclecticism to pull it off without a hitch. Riri has used the Thrasher shorthand to further her ‘badder than you,’ cut-and-paste style trendsetting.
The same can’t really be said of Andrew Garfield or Ryan Gosling, who have also been snapped in Thrasher gear in the last months. The trend has simultaneously blossomed with the cool kids of Instagram, and has even popped up incongruously in otherwise haute ensembles at Paris fashion week. The fad’s improbable reach prompts a lot of questions: is this a mind-bending extension of athleisure philosophy? Was this an accidental/organic phenomenon, or something carefully orchestrated to appear grassroots? Is wearing a hoodie that says "magazine" a revolutionary act in our online age?
The mainstream love for the Thrasher brand seems to have popped up out of nowhere, but looking back a few years, it can probably be credited to the intrinsically close bond between skate culture and music. The early ‘90s saw everyone from the Beastie Boys to Sonic Youth trading on skating’s built-in cool and ‘alternative’ status. The following years gave us less of this, as skateboard culture became so dominant it didn’t even merit being co-opted by outsiders. In the last few years, however, this tactic has returned, thanks in part to Tyler, The Creator, Justin Bieber and Lil Wayne.
Ever since Wayne installed a skate ramp on the roof of his home in 2011, he’s been a very public advocate of the sport. His interest in skating seemed to increase around the same time his music declined in quality and relevance. The left turn in his attention was joke fodder for a lot of his older fans, but looking back, he might have been on to something. After all, no less of a PR champ than Bieber has incorporated skate skills into his winning third act strategy.
Though it’s easy to gloss over, the trend is a strange development, and doesn’t seem to have a lot of precedents or 1-to-1 analogies. Since Thrasher magazine is still an active institution, wearing the designs isn’t a purely retro move. And unlike other brands who’ve expanded into clothing, Thrasher’s original flagship product isn’t a sneaker or skateboard, it’s a magazine. Another magazine with popular offshoot apparel in decades past was Playboy, and the Bunny logo has more recently appeared in Supreme collaborative collections. But the Bunny is arguably linked with a broader set of references than simply a magazine.
That celeb A-listers are suddenly wearing Thrasher gear may reek of context-less desperation, but it’s revealing of something larger. In this way, the elite, Hollywood conception of California has incorporated and contained the alternative, rebellious suburban California youth culture that birthed the skater’s bible in the first place.