Fashion, like technology, shifts paradigms at an alarming rate. Without an eagle eye or the aid of an industry insider, it’s almost impossible to keep up with what’s on the forefront, or what could be incubating. Every so often, however, an idea comes along that makes things a lot less complicated. Format caught up with Black Rainbow’s creator, Jay Smith, to discuss how he and his coworkers have streamlined fashion, art, photography, music, retail sales, and modern journalism into an easily navigated, one-stop street culture experience.

“The internet has become the main medium of street culture. It can make something blow up or ruin it.”

Format: Who is behind BKRW, and how was the collective formed?
Jay Smith: BKRW is a small team, but a big family. It includes many people from sports, music, and fashion backgrounds. I am the founder of BKRW. My French partner Greg, who now lives in Los Angeles, is in charge of Black Rainbow shops. Then there is Sebastien Pons, who lives in Tokyo. He is the artistic director of BKRW (he came up with the name Black Rainbow—I came up with [the acronym] BKRW), and is in charge of all our graphic design. We’ve also got Ben, the manager of the Black Rainbow shop in Paris; Blondin, the manager of the digital shop; plus my accountant Martine; and my warehouse stockman, Thierry. Furthermore, we have a big crew in Paris working with our creative agency and on our digital magazine.

BKRW was born because I was the editor-in-chief of an international print magazine called Ware, and my bosses decided to stop it. I had a lot of time on my hands, and wished to do something new. One day, Sebastien passed by my home and introduced me to a new project he wanted to do. It was called Black Rainbow. We did work on it for a while, but ultimately I asked him if we could keep the name for our new website, and he accepted.


Format: Tell us a little about the way BKRW operates.
Jay Smith: Totally freestyle [laughs]. We are the most unorganized people on earth because we always want to do too many things at once. As soon as one of us gets an idea, we try to make it happen. We only talk about things we like and things we need to dig out. The main difference between BKRW and other blogs (besides the fact that we are one of the only real digital magazines) is that we are creating our own content. We’re not spotting news seen on some other website. We are creating news; we are creating content, not cutting and pasting it.

It’s actually a lot more work—especially when you are doing in it in both French and English. Then, if you add our other work, such as consulting for sports and street companies based in Paris, it works out to some really busy days.

Format: Why did you choose online presentation over print?
Jay Smith: My partner Greg believed that the internet would be the future of the
press. I have to admit, he convinced me more than I had expected. I love print media; that’s my real passion. But today, to do a good quality printed magazine in France, it costs around 30,000 Euros for a thousand copies. It’s a lot of money, especially when you don’t have a huge advertising department. So the money part helped convince us to use the internet—that, and its reactivity and flexibility. Making an online magazine is much more work than making a printed one, but you are connecting directly to the world. The internet has become the main medium of street culture. It can make something blow up, or ruin it.


Format: Your magazine features a bevy of different art styles. What do you look for in a featured artist or photographer?
Jay Smith: Rare, different, ambitious, energetic, friendly, talented, motivated, funny, independent mavericks.

Format: BKRW recently put out a mixed tape in conjunction with DJ VR (featuring selections from Tex and Jay Smith). How did that collaboration come about?
Jay Smith: Through friendship and a love of different sounds. I grew up with mixed tapes–they helped me to discover so many hip-hop artists and gave me a good knowledge of music from different cultures. For a long time, I dreamed about doing our own. Tex is a member of the BKRW family, and when it comes to hip-hop, he’s one of the wisest in France. He’s a real old-timer who’s passionate and dedicated to the art. VR helped us mix everything, and Seb did the artwork (a great job, as usual). I’m really happy with how everything turned out.


Format: Will we be seeing more of these mixes? Paris seems to be packed to the gills with amazing DJs.
BKRW: Yes, certainly. Honestly, the only thing slowing us down could be the work. I wish I had more time for these kinds of projects. We are planning on dropping a new one with Tex in October, though. Paris is really exciting these days. We’ve got such cool collectives like Pain o Chokolat, Shks (a Black Rainbow manager is the founder of this one), and Rouge a Levre. I’m happy it’s finally our turn to be on top of the world [laughs].

Format: How would you describe Paris’ fashion sense right now, and what is BKRW adding to the mix?
Jay Smith: Like I said previously, Paris is so energetic and interesting right now. I read an article about it in the last Monocle magazine, which said that Paris is the city of the year. I think last year it was Berlin. I mean, all the trendsetters were talking about it. Paris is really full of life these days; new shops are popping up everywhere, lots of French DJs are bringing new flavor to Parisian nights, there are cool exhibitions, and we’re still the most fashionable city in the world. It’s only missing a good soccer team, but they’re building one this year.

It’s always tricky to explain what BKRW is adding to the scene. I don’t like this kind of question because you can really appear cocky. To be honest, I do believe that BKRW is bringing a more journalistic element to street culture blogs. We did not invent video interviews, fashion shoots, or portfolios, but we were one of the first websites to introduce them. Regarding Paris’ fashion sense, we have brought in some new brands— brands that people didn’t think it was possible to get in France, or even Europe. We bring in fresh flavors. If you look at the different artworks or the color of the t-shirts and sneakers we are selling, it’s really different from what people usually buy or see.


Format: Which brands are selling fastest this year?
Jay Smith: Hard one; they are changing every season. It was Crooks [& Castles] then 10DEEP, then Mishka or Hellz [Bellz], but older brands are still selling well, like XLarge, FUCT, Alife, and Staple. We were really surprised by the results of brands such as The Premium Label, Gold Coin, TITS, and Flying Coffin. Clae and Creative Recreation have also been really big hits in the last few years.

Format: Are there any exclusives we should be on the lookout for, here in North America?
Jay Smith: BKRW exclusive collaborations, for sure.

Format: BKRW recently collaborated with Crooks & Castles on an exclusive t-shirt. Will you be co-designing any more products?
Jay Smith: Another crazy idea. For our first anniversary we designed ten collaboration t-shirts. I don’t even know where we got the idea of ten—crazy shit. We worked with Crooks, but also 10DEEP, Foreign Family, UNDRCRWN, Hellz, The Premium Label, XLarge, Mighty Healthy, and Cell Dvsn. Of course many more will be coming out next year. It’s not just going to be t-shirts either—we’re doing a new jacket. Also, we’ve got a big project in the works with an old Japanese brand; very exciting. It will be out by this coming Christmas.


Format: Why do you feel that designer team-ups are important to fashion culture?
Jay Smith: Because sharing is the most important thing in any culture. Collaborations are the product of mixing different talents and ideas. You’ve got to share and exchange with people; that’s how you evolve and grow up. People make you stronger when they are good. In Paris, not enough people trust their own capacity or abilities. They don’t like to share knowledge or networks; it’s a shame. The more we know, the stronger we can be! For me, this is the only way to learn properly.

Format: What are your plans for the future?
Jay Smith: I really need to take a holiday [laughs]. This year was kind of crazy and exhausting. In September, we’re launching BKRW.COM V2. It’s going to be a totally new version with a totally new website. We’re currently working on a special teaser for it. I’m a little afraid of this project, because there’s going to be a lot of editorial work to do daily. I can’t stand the current version; it has been two years since we started this digital magazine, and we needed to propose new things. For example, we weren’t happy with the way people had to look at our fashion shoots; the images are too small, really. It’s not fair to our photographers, as they all do a great job and deserve more, so we’re going to change that.

My main plans for the future are to expand BKRW’s audience; we need to touch more people. All that we’re going do this year is work on that part. I’m sure that many people still don’t go on our website, and honestly it is pissing me off because we’ve got some good stuff. There’s no need to check all the other [fashion] blogs daily if you don’t even know about the real culture and the people behind your favorite brands. That’s why we created BKRW: to help people to learn more and better, not just consume!


Andrew Rennie

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