19 APRIL 2010


Steven Vogel represents my idea of the modern-day Renaissance man. Even if you don’t know him by name, you’re likely familiar with some of the projects he’s headed up or played a pivotal role in. As a published author and former editor, communication is arguably his strongest suit but he’s much more than just a wordsmith.

I met Steven back in 2005 and over the years I’ve come to think of him as a voice of reason in a cultural environment that is (now, more than ever) unpredictable and mutating. More than just being an interesting, intelligent guy, he’s got a knack for making sense of the senseless. During the early part of what was to become the current global recession, Steven and I exchanged a lot of emails on how it might reshape the things that we enjoy and participate in, for fun and for a living.

Those exchanges sparked the idea for the following interview. Which, as you may notice, is heavy on words and light on images.
This is not a fluff piece. This is not a feel-good story.
And even though I know he’d never claim to have all the answers, I’ve just found that when we discuss a particular facet of culture, it makes more sense to me afterward.

Whether you’re an artist, a writer, a musician, a skateboarder, designer or even an entrepreneur, Mr. Vogel’s opinions are worth listening to.



Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing right now and what projects you’re focusing on.

The most prominent things on my desk these days are running my distribution company Black Lodges and my websites, The Reference Council and The Wild International.

You’re famous for juggling a lot of different titles and duties and excelling at just about everything you put your hands into. Is there a secret to keeping focused on specific aspects of your career or does it still seem like a juggling act at times?

The last five years certainly feel like one giant juggling act. At one point in 2008 I think we were handling 25 different projects and accounts. Which is not recommendable at all, especially if your company essentially consists of yourself and your wife. At that point I was really losing focus and to be perfectly frank I think my output was really suffering, so I wouldn’t say I was excelling that well at that point.

2010 really feels like a fresh start for us; 2009 was a year of self-reflection and time out and even though it was painful, we essentially dropped nearly everything we were doing to focus on the projects we are doing now. Realism is the secret for a lack of a better word. Realize that there is more to life than work and money—family, friends, mental and physical health needs to be direct relation to your work.

If you had to pick one word to describe what you do for a living these days, what would it be?

I can’t do it in one word, but how about this: I sell clothes and publish a magazine.

Can you pinpoint one event during your formative years that made you interested in specific music or clothing?

It has to be three. The first was playing my first gig in 1992 in Germany. Making loud music has been at the core of my life ever since.

Secondly, my first trip to New York in 1996 to go skateboarding. Never been the same since.

Thirdly, seeing my friend in HS wearing a FUCT tee in 1994. That opened up a whole shit storm that still seem to be stuck in.

It seems like a lot of people who get introduced to skateboarding early on end up also being interested in music and fashion.

What’s the unwritten common thread between those 3 different aspects of culture?

I always skated better with music playing in my ears. I respected the dudes that could really concentrate on skating without music but I needed loud aggressive shit raging on my walkman to skate, it just didn’t work out any other way. Clothing—I am not sure on to be honest. Personally, I just wanted to have all the band shirts as a kid, which then grew to wanting offensive shirts to piss my teachers off—remember the old Nicotine skate tees? I thought that was really rebellious in high school. Clothing later on in college was a means to an end for me, I needed a job and worked in various clothing stores—as lame as it sounds, but I just wanted an easy job where I could hang out with my friends, listen to music, talk to chicks all day and get cheap clothes. That I would end up working in this industry certainly wasn’t planned.

What was the name of the first band you were in and who were your earliest influences?

L’s Wear—totally juvenile but they were a good band. The other members were all a few years older than me and could really play so they covered my shittiness. It was a typical early 90s crossover band, that’s what we called it then—I think you would call it post-hardcore today, think Quicksand, Helmet etcetera. Earliest influences in that band ranged from Trash, Testament, Sacred Reich stuff to industrial stuff like Lard and Ministry to stuff like Prong, Quicksand. So in between there.


When was the first time you heard the term ‘street wear’ and how was it applied at the time?

The first time I had heard, or actually seen that word was when I had moved back to Germany in 2004 and picked up a magazine called Streetwear Today—well the rest is history really. I ended working for them for a few good years. The magazine really was a B2B magazine, I think the industry heads then had it on their radar, the word I mean, but the public out there, especially in Europe, certainly did not. Back then I always said that streetwear had to come from skating—I had no idea about the whole “urban” thing at that time so I didn’t know that HipHop had anything to do with streetwear.

When that concept was growing, at the time did you see it as something that would become this huge, global movement?

No not all, but that’s really down to my very limited horizons at the time. As soon as I started travelling more I realized how global it all was.

What was the impetus for starting your book, Streetwear: The Insider’s Guide?

I had been involved in writing the “Untitled” books for a few years at that point and I was just finishing my time as editor for Streetwear Today and it just felt right. I approached the publishers Thames & Hudson with the idea and they ran with it. It developed from there on. It really was more of a gut feeling than anything else.

Talk a little bit about the process of compiling all of the information that ended up in the book. I read where you described it as a very “isolating and unglamorous” process.

That it was. I spent most of the time in front of my computer writing emails back and forth. I had envisioned to travel around the world to do all in the interviews in person but once the reality set in that writing books is not something you do to make money, I ended up spending a lot of nights in front of the computer. I started off with talking to those people involved in the industry I knew through the work at the magazine and the “untitled” projects, listened a lot to what they had to say and took their suggestions to heart and expanded the list of people I had in the book from there.

Did the final edit feel like the book you’d set out to create? How much did the publishers end up changing your copy?

It did and it didn’t. There were a lot of voices and brands missing which really pissed me off, and that was mostly due to school yard politics. In retrospect that was the most shocking revelation about the process and it really turned me off the whole subject. Some people refused to be in the book because someone else was in it, others wouldn’t contribute because others weren’t in it. It’s when I became to realize how nerdy that whole scene was/is and it signalled my end in it really.

The editors at Thames & Hudson were awesome. They have great copy editors, which is something I really value now. I had two people copy edit the whole book and it really made the book better. Layout wise, the guy Sam who did all that, was incredible, everything was done with my involvement. We had some disagreements with the cover, especially for the US version, but neither Thames & Hudson nor I had any power to work on that one. Which is why it ended up sucking as much as it did.


Do you have any plans to work on another book? If so, what subject do you see yourself tackling this time and what topic do you feel really needs to be addressed?

Absolutely, I am in constant exchange with Thames & Hudson to do more. Luckily for me, the book sold really well, so they are still on my side. Sadly, what I would like to do isn’t necessarily interesting to such a large publisher, so the ideas I have suggested in the past have not been approved, but that’s okay. I would love to do a book chronicling the Northern Californian punk, skate and, I guess now, biker scene. I find that really appealing personally, it is something I can relate to most. Right now Thames & Hudson and I are working on a new title about youth culture marketing; whether or not that needs to be addressed is a different story but I find it interesting. I do feel though that a book on the influences of punk and metal on youth culture would be great—the whole emphasis on hip hop and especially club culture I find totally overrated and not relevant to a large chunk of youth culture.

With the vast influx of entertainment on demand, will there ever be a time when books go the way of the LP or the 8-track?

Not quite—there will always be book, like there will always be LPs—they just won’t be the only medium.


Where does clothing and art intersect in the big picture? Does it all seem to be about consumerism now or is there a way to create something that is still genuine that generates money?

I actually don’t think art and clothing mixed has anything to do with consumerism.

Realistically, every artist project any brand does, regardless if it is a small streetwear brand or LV—makes no money. They are image products to, theoretically at least, raise brand awareness. 99 per cent of the time these items are highly aspirational and end up in vaults or with “influencers”—debate that term as you may, that’s a different subject all together.

Now, graphic design and clothing needs to and has always interacted, but again that is logical and nothing new. Whether or not graphic design is art again is a different bag. I always felt that Girl Skateboards were one of the first brands to blend that line in the past in a good way, but that’s a niche (but great) brand. So consumerism isn’t really a term as I understand it that would/should apply to that example.

The question is, has anything ever in our realm been created that is 100 per cent genuine and been commercially successful? That raises the question of what is ‘commercially successful’ though: is enough for you to sell what you make to break even and pay your bills? Then sure. Can that be applied to someone like Vans or Burton? I doubt it.

Regarding consumerism, it seems like there was an orgy of sorts before the global recession landed as people were spending top dollar on limited items and rare collaborations for collection purposes. Was there any particular point or event where it seemed like things were out of control? Like you could just visualize the wheels literally coming off?

Again, was that really the case or did the internet make you think so? I really don’t know. A year ago I would have instantly agreed with your question but now I am not so sure. Just because a blog showed a hundred kids camping out in front of Supreme to buy a T-shirt doesn’t mean it was a mass phenomena—it was a hundred stupid kids doing stupid shit. On a grand scale that’s a glitch in the overall picture. I understand what you mean—and my two cents on that would be that it has gotten worse. Thanks to legions of overpaid, clueless and ego-driven CDs and Marketing executives now everyone is following the collab/limited-edition model and it’s sickening. Not just from an aesthetic point of view but also from a realistic point of view—anyone could come up with a million better ideas to spend that marketing money more effectively and spend less, but no. The crisis hasn’t changed anything.

Personally, I saw the end of it all five years ago, when you had people like Eastpak and Axe doing cool-guy deodorant shit. Not saying that this hasn’t before, it always has, it was just that I was involved in that world then and it still mattered to me. Everything you see now has happened before and will continue to happen.

Let’s talk about the current state of culture, art, music and fashion. What impact do you see as a result of the economy kind-of bottoming out on everything?

Sadly, I don’t see shit changing. As harsh as it sounds, but the crisis wasn’t nearly harsh enough to cause significant change. The fat-cats got bailed out by tax money and everyone keeps on spending. I walked through town pre-Christmas here and everyone had that stupefied “Crisis? What crisis?” look on their faces. That whole gibberish about brands going out of business because of the crisis is a cheap excuse for not acknowledging the fact that those brands, agencies etcetera sucked. I lost work because my work ethic and output was crap. It just so happened to be at the same time as the crisis, which also was used by a lot of people as an excuse to not tell me my work sucked. A lot of businesses went bust because of their awful state of internal organization—top heavy, overpaid lazy staff etcetera. Businesses that flourished have it dialled down. I know plenty of business that have done well in the past years.

Personally, I realized that owning less makes me freer as a direct result of losing work and actually not working for the better part of the last six months of 2009.

To a degree the crisis has sharpened the divide between success and failure. Throughout the years of 2001 to 2008 a lot of shit survived purely because a lot of shit was sold.

One of the negative aspects, broadly speaking though is that the middle classes have been further eroded and will continue to do so, and I don’t mean just financially, but more so ethically and intellectually.

Specifically with music and how distribution and labels have changed so much in the past decade, what’s the key to a band who is coming up making an impact? The rules of the game have certainly changed.

Hard fucking work. In every aspect. Tour relentlessly and don’t blame your lack of success on not working MySpace properly. People are fucking lazy these days and quick to put the blame on everything else but their own selves these days. But that is nothing new. You have to work really fucking hard to succeed. I have never heard of anyone being successful by doing nothing. Tour, tour, tour, bang out good records and sell them out of the back of the truck if needs be. Don’t rely on anyone, just do it yourself. If you can’t do it yourself, just accept the fact that it’s probably not going to happen for you.

With music piracy almost seeming like the accepted means of building a music collection, does it seem like a return to the days of the traded mix tapes of the 80s or is it a whole new game?

I really despise music piracy. If you can’t afford it don’t fucking act like you deserve it for free. I just needed to get that out there.

I think it is a whole new game to be honest; the mentality is different. I feel that today, an artists’ work is no longer accepted and valued as work. People forgot that musicians make music to live, not just because they feel like it. Granted, the record industry per se is full of shit and continues to make every imaginable mistake possible but when people like Dischord are suffering because of piracy I get really offended. It’s flat out wrong.



You’re a friend to many artists, musicians, writers and designers. Is there one common thread or characteristic with which you can link these people together as a group?

You mean aside from partying? I guess it is a certain disillusionment with the status quo—I think the vast majority of people I know in that world would all gladly jump on Ken Kesey’s bus with me and just fuck off—so I guess a certain level of nihilism binds us all.

I know that you became a father last year. How has it made you reconsider what you do or how has it changed your goals in terms of vocation or employment?

It’s changed everything. All I want to do is hang out with my son and have fun. So, you become much more efficient. No more fucking around on the computer or in the office all day and all night. I work as hard and fast as I can without jeopardizing quality so that I can go back home and hang out with my boy. Everything else becomes secondary. Whereas this was my life before it has now become a job, which is a pleasant change. For one, you stop giving a shit, and you start having hobbies you actually enjoy again. I can only recommend it.

Is there one magic plane of existence where music, art, fashion and writing all intersect? Is there a collective or artist out there who does a little bit of everything properly in your opinion?

Only in my head as a far as an actual place of existence. I would love to one day open a small hotel in the south of France and just invite my friends to stay and run a sort of hippie commune, just free thoughts, music, fun for the sake and enjoyment of the others company void of any commercial interests. That’s why I think about playing the lottery. There are a few artists out there that continue to blow me away with their work, sure. Most recently, Baroness, the band, is on the top of list. Musically as well as artistically they are everything I like.


Having grown up in the pre-internet era, how has instant access to global information changed pop culture? Overall, do you feel the internet has done more good than bad in terms of influence?

I am on the fence on this one. I think it is not right to generalize the internet like that. In some ways it has made my life better and in some it made it worse.

For example, I met people like yourself through the internet—granted this probably would have happened regardless, but I feel I have been able to establish amazing friendships with the help of the internet. It has also enabled me to work globally, which is great. Not everything about the pre-internet era was great but I miss some aspects of it. But realistically, that’s warped nostalgia talking, mostly.

With all of this instant gratification, it seems like trends of all types—art, music, writing, design, fashion—come and go a lot faster. There used to be a distinct swell and spread from the largest cities in the world to the smallest towns. Talk about how this affects consumerism and tastes, especially for the younger generation.

A positive aspect of this is that maybe trends will be replaced by quality? Probably not, but I would like to think so. Or maybe “we” have never been into trends in the first place? From a professional point of view, this development means that you have to be a lot smarter and apply very different rules and routes of marketing and sales to have a long term impact. Personally, I couldn’t care less, not wanting to be a dick about it, but 99 per cent of popular trends do not interest me.

With this faster processing of information and easy of communication, what’s the most positive aspect to it all?

I am not sure there is one. I don’t know if my generation’s mind is conditioned for the huge influx of information. Maybe my son’s generation will evolve into being able to deal with this state of affairs in the same way we were able to accept CDs right away? I am not sure.

Is there going to be a time when everything is processed so fast that ‘cool’ is completely insignificant?

Two things about ‘cool’. ‘Cool’ is only one letter away from ‘fool’. Secondly, who cares if it is insignificant, I know you and I think some things are way cool that no one could give a shit about, does that make them less cool for you and me? I know what you are getting at, but maybe if everyone would start trusting their gut and be okay with who you are, what you like and what you do, the industry of ‘cool’ would finally crash onto itself.

Ed Hardy is a good (bad?) example of trends going global and then becoming the object of ridicule and backlash. As someone who has experience in branding, is there a way to avoid the dreaded backlash as a result of popularity or is it simply part of the game?

Again, and disregarding every personal opinion about Ed Hardy and the brand’s owner, you have to acknowledge his success. The owner has done an incredible job if your aim is to become very rich very fast.

It’s all about defining your own terms of success. So judging anything becomes a little insignificant—personally I can’t stand the shit and everything it stands for, but he made a ton of cash with it. Good for him. Would I like to have that cash? Sure, only to open up my little hotel and invite all my friends to live a care-free life. Do I strive 100 per cent to do the same? No. I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I would. But that’s okay. I am happy with that.

To answer your question, yes, in my mind there is a way to avoid said backlash in the clothing industry. Keep your distribution tight and don’t get greedy. Reevaluate growth as a business model. Rather than forcing your sales to grow by x percent every year, try to become more efficient; ask yourself, do you need that car? Does every employee need an iPhone? Do you need to travel first class? You can easily increase your profit without increasing your sales. That’s a real key in my book.

Furthermore, work with people and retailers you know and like. If they get you and your brand, they will be successful selling you and your brand. Maintain integrity and know when it is time to call it a day.

It almost seems inherent that there is a distinct loss of interest in pop culture and trends as people get older. Any theories as to why people pass through this invisible barrier and ‘grow up’ as the saying goes?

I am not sure I agree with that one.

I think as you grow older, and this is just me talking, you just know what you like and what you don’t, your bullshit filter gets better and you ignore a lot of rubbish you would have been at least interested in ten years ago.

I am just as interested and nerdy about ‘stuff’, I just don’t waste time anymore being into everything just for the sake of it. On the other hand, a lot of people fall into that trap of owning more shit as they get older, and that bogs them down and occupies their mind so there isn’t so much space to be nerdy anymore. Just get rid of all the unnecessary material crap and be nerdy again, it’s fun.