I guess, like, Chris qualifies as a jock, but he interviews a lot better than your average Sportscenter subject. Putting that famous "110%" percent into producing sharp pieces for a rack of mags while producing his No Mas line for the past three years must've helped keep the dude sharper than most. Plus he got to soak up the Ricky Powell vibes, which puts him ahead of the pack. I caught up with Chris as he's launching his guest curated issue of Frank151, and we got chatty on some deep t shirt shit.


How’d you start doing No Mas, more or less?
I saw a picture of an athlete wearing a t shirt that I wanted to have and I made it, and people were like “yo, that shit is dope, where can I get it?” And I knew Isa from Nom De Guerre, just from hanging out and living in Williamsburg, I used to see him all the time, so I was like “hey, people are asking about these all the time, would you sell them?” and then he sold them. So once they were selling, I was like “oh. You know what; I have about thirty ideas for t shirts," sports themed. So it kind of just went from there. This was like, 2003.

And what else were you doing then?
I worked at Details around 2002. The first year I was there, it was dope. I got to do a feature about Arturo Gatti, the fighter. They sent me to Montreal and I hung out and was backstage when his eye exploded. I got to write real features. I got sent around the world; I got to travel to Japan to write about sumo wrestlers. But eventually, it was like,“ we want to you write about taking these penis extending pills for a month and write a first person story about that.” And I’d be like “no.” Or you know, "we want you to write about how you and your girlfriend were naked with her parents in Mexico," and I’d be like “mmm, no.” I was like “aight, I’m out.” And went to Havana to live for three months. I was taking Spanish and hoping to do all this journalistic stuff down there, but it turned out to be an idle hope. I mean, I had amazing hangouts with all these baseball players, but I couldn’t get official permission to write anything, and I realized that if I did write anything without permission, I’d probably screw these people that had been cool to me. So it ended up that I was drinking a lot of rum and hanging out. By 2003 I was looking to do something new.

So that’s when you started No Mas?
Yeah, that’s when I started. What’s cool about t shirts, unlike in the magazine world, you don’t need to get permission to do something, and you don’t have someone that’s editing you, it’s very immediate. In some ways I feel like, this article that I wrote about Michael Ray Richardson, who was on the Knicks and the first NBA player to be banned for life for cocaine use, it’s like, the sensibility of that story is the same sensibility of the t shirts. Basically the same thing. So the t shirt as a format was a venue to express the same ideas, except that you could immediately get it out and get a reaction and maybe some money. So it was like that, plus also a low barrier to entry.

As a side note, in terms of the t shirt as a creative medium, I was talking with a friend who’s a crazy intellectual property lawyer, about the legal status of the t shirt, and how it’s evolving. I think, in a way, it’s an interesting area for legal scholars to examine. Philosophically, there’s no way you can make a good argument that the t shirt should be any different from anything else. What’s the difference between a t shirt and a lithograph? Nothing. Yet, in a lot of the landmark court cases, there are decisions that prevent the t shirt from having that status. So I think everyone that’s in the community that we’re in is definitely putting out more and more arguments that the t shirt can be a space for artistic expression, free speech and parody, and that if you edition it and keep it in small quantities, you know, how can that not have art protection? What is a t shirt? Can it be speech? I think the way things are going, it’s going to be very difficult for it to not be considered protected. I try to make sure that everything I do has an argument for it being free speech, parody, or expression. I can understand someone seeing it the other way though.

I hear you. I often wonder why certain brands don’t run into more legal problems than they do.
I think some of it is that it’s just under the radar. You know, in a way there’s the argument that money is being taken out of someone’s pocket, but at the same time these small brands are creating value for whoever they’re parodying or reinterpreting or what have you.

It’s kind of a new media source, a way to find out about new stuff, be it movies, music, whatever. Kind of like you were saying with expressing the sentiments that would have been channeled into, say, an article or documentary.
Pretty much. And what I’m starting to try to do is to go more towards art with the No Mas side of things, and then I’m starting a second company to do licensed products with retired athletes. Ideally, a lot of people who are paying homage and tribute to someone would like to give royalties to them and try and do everything correctly first, but you’d spend thousands on lawyer’s fees before even doing anything. Cache is built for these people who nonetheless might be concerned that they’re being ripped off. Maybe at some point it will get to point where both parties see that it’s in their interest to take a little cut of what’s going on.

Right, like in Japan, things have progressed to that level, where it’s cool to have smaller brands do stuff for larger brands, like Pepsi being cosigned by Nigo years back, or Devilock cosigning Sanrio more recently, Klaus Schulze and Undercover... it gives the bigger brand that more hardcore nichey market that they’re not reaching through simply mass marketed venues, et cetera.
Japan is interesting like that; I went out there and it occurred to me that I could do a gallery art show, but their retail stores are so advanced that there would be no reason to put it in a gallery, since their retail has so much thought behind the space and presentation and branding, and people have so much respect for the brand itself- it’s already a blending of commerce and art like that. There’s also an openness to figure out what your brand is all about out there.


Have you done seasons with No Mas?
I had absolutely no connection to the apparel industry when I started, so I didn’t even really shop in the stores that would carry my stuff. I would just make stuff when I had money and then bring it down to Union. I’m really only starting to move into seasons now. Back then I would just do stuff when I had an idea to do one and the money to do it.

So what’d you go to school for?

So with that type of discipline as your background, what’s your design process? Would you call yourself a designer?
I have no design skills. I would call myself a designer, in that conceptually everything comes from me. I think I have a point of view that’s relevant. Like I said, these concepts could have just as easily been expressed in a documentary film or whatever; it just happens that this other venue opened up for me to express myself, putting that downbeat sports view onto clothing. So it does end up involving a lot of collaboration with people who do have visual or design skills. In some cases they bring their own style and voice to the piece, but a lot of the ideas are fully formed, and I could have four different designers execute an idea, especially the t shirts stuff, and it would still end up looking the same way. A lot of things are found objects, so in that case it involves me showing the object or image to someone else who reinterprets it. That, or sometimes; make this look like this, plus this.

Word, I’m just wondering, as someone who’s jumped into design without a total design background, what's your approach.
I feel like, in the marketplace in which we’re selling, that a lot of the shit is just idea couture. I guess a design sensibility is, in a way, inherent in a good concept. If you look at what’s being sold, there are things where someone has a dope artistic style, but I’m doing more of an idea as opposed to something purely artistic. If your ideas work in that way, then you don’t really need the design skills if you have a really good idea of what you want to do. It seems very soft to say I’m a conceptual artist, but that’s what I do, and that’s a very big part of it.

Kind of like the Whitney Biennial this year, and current art at large; so much is conceptual, sometimes far removed from skill.
Yeah, I though too much of it was like that in the Biennial, too much of it was one liner shit. I was trying to open about it, but... I really like illustration, that’s what I respond to the most. I like Marcel Dzama, and this dude David Rathman. They’re artist, but maybe their background is illustration, or something with some sort of narrative quality to it, that’s what I respond to. No matter how hard I try to open myself to other stuff. So when I do work with artists now, like Mickey Duzyj, James Blagden and Soner-On, I really dig their illustrative qualities.


So what’s up with No Mas for Fall?
Well, I’m trying to actually look at it like that for the first time. I’m really interested in these artist collaborations I did at the show, Fall Classic, and also in the issue of Frank 151. That type of stuff will probably make it’s way into apparel. Like with the Tyson art from the Fall Classic, I like the idea that there’s an original that sold for three grand to a trustee at the MOMA, in a gallery context, but then there’re prints that kids can buy for $150 online. We’re going to do a skateboard collaboration with 5Boro, which was the artists choice, he didn’t really want to do t shirts. So doing that, where there’s an original, and then a high end reproduction, and then a t shirt, I like that interaction between me and young illustrators, it seems very fruitful right now. I really enjoyed it with Frank, so that’s the direction I’m looking to take it. Also messing with vintage pieces. It’s cool, because doing cut and sew is a big investment of money, and some of the context is lost in duping a Starter jacket, or what have you. Working with vintage is a way to jump into cut and sew, without the substantial investment and having to think far ahead.

So with the Starters, how did that come around, and how did you hook up with David Shariff?
An old family friend of mine that was at NYU, he interned for me last summer, and he knew the guys at David Shariff, both from Baltimore, who were doing some freelance for No Mas. The Starter collaboration grew out of that. The native American sports imagery has been interesting to me, and I can’t really say that I’m a native American activist, but my point of view is like, on one hand I can understand how native American groups are pissed off that there’s a team that still has the name Redskins, because it’s pretty much the same as maybe the Dallas Jewboys, but on the other hand, it’s a logo that has it’s own long history within sports, just the same as Chief Wahoo, the Indian's logo. When we got into that stuff on the shirts and the jackets it comes from those two perspectives. With the Blackhawks jacket, I had bought a bunch of Blackhawks jackets and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. When I met with David Shariff, we started getting into the science of who Blackhawk was; a Sauk Indian. The crazy shit is that the tribe occupied the land that is now Chicago, and they were driven off of it. Blackhawk was this fiery chief that kept resisting. Eventually, he was unsuccessful in his resistance, and his people got totally fucked up by the US government. So then, you know, the hockey team comes in and appropriates his likeness, and now he’s the mascot for the team. Blackhawk had some amazing things to say, and the guys created this amazing design that crossed two kind of languages as far as design. Some of them have been sold, but we’re going to do about eight more, for a cap of fifteen jackets total. What’s dope about embroidery is that the colorway can be totally different for each one.

With the somewhat high pricepoint, have any of the jackets made their way to Japan?
That’s just about to start. I went over for this trip, and we’re likely going to sell at Hectic’s new store Jugmart. I’m not sure what the kick off date’s going to be, but they do have some in their possession.


What’s up with the Tyson comic in the new issue of Frank?
I came across Mickey’s work, and really dug his style. It’s kind of anachronistic, it reminded me of the 30s or 40s, and there was something that really stayed with me after seeing his stuff. So we started doing stuff via email. When I saw his stuff I thought it would work really well with boxing, as an interest of mine, and he ended up doing these Jake Lamotta designs for me which we haven’t used yet. Eventually I came up with the concept for the Fall Classic exhibition, and the concept came together to do a graphic novel of Tyson’s life; an unauthorized biography. I don’t know if that’s going to happen with Mick ever, but we got together for Frank and did Tyson’s early years through Gus D'Amato’s death. It was really interesting writing for that format, I’ve never tried that; it was kind of like writing decks and headlines the whole time. There’s ten pages of the comic in the Frank issue, and it came out great.

How’d you get hooked up with Frank for the issue?
I met Mike Malbone at Magic, a year ago in August. I had one of the Tyson post cards, just giving them out to make people aware of the Fall Classic show, and people were feeling it, Mike was feeling it. They let different people do their thing with Frank, this idea of the guest curator is really strong, and we kind of talked about it right there. I wasn’t sure if it was for real. But he was like, "send me a list of what you’d put in it," so I hit him up with my concept, and he was like, alright, let’s do it. A lot of the stories in it came from that initial list. I’ve been trying to do an illustrated history of recreational drugs in sports ever since I got into magazines. I’ve been pitching it to editors forever, and they’re always like “no.” So the frank issue gave me the opportunity to use a lot of ideas I thought were good, but editors couldn’t see that they would be good. Some of it came from this group of illustrators that I’ve been introduced too. My dad wrote something for the magazine. Having the freedom to offer and guarantee unedited space to people was great. It was a challenge and a fuck of a lot of work.

So it must have been a change of pace from how stifling editors and magazine’s can be?
Definitely. Being in my early 30s, there were enough ideas percolating in the tank, plus new ideas and friends and family. Frank set me up with some people, like doing the shot with Ellen Stagg. I was directly involved with every aspect of the magazine, from layout to the photo shoots. I collaborated with everyone on everything. I don’t know if everyone gets that involved with that part of it, but I had ideas, and if you want to get that involved, Frank is cool with it. Getting the chance to work directly with the art director Carl Rauschenbach on the layouts and chosing photos, you realize that your visual sense is more developed than you might think it is.

So also, with the Frank issue, you got to work with Ricky Powell; how was that?
It was pretty great. His house is just like this amazing treasure chest; videos and olds Sports Illustrated and baseball cards. We ordered a pizza. Ricky’s one of the best freestyle talkers that I’ve ever been around; he just comes up with gems. He’s very real. I thought he was great, we became friends from doing that. We’ve been talking about another project right now, because it’s definitely a good idea. He wants to test you on everything, to see what your knowledge is, and I failed a couple of those tests. He probes you to see if you know what’s up or not. He asked me a Yankee trivia question that I actually knew, so I saved myself. That’s his thing- he has this body of knowledge about sports, hip-hop and old New York; people he respects and loves, and he shows others what was good about these people and those times. For kids 18-25, Ricky Powell has aged a lot better than the Beastie Boys, I think. He’s not over-exposed, he’s met everyone, and he’s got stories about everyone. He’s a fan, but in this way that’s challenging...

The fan’s fan?
Yeah. He’s doing so much stuff that he may or may not be getting paid for, like public access or radio, but it’s so high quality, very sharp, off the cuff.

Thanks to Chris. Check out a preview of the aforementioned Tyson comic featured in the current issue of Frank 151...