“I’m really grateful to 55DSL for giving me that opportunity,” Nick Gentry tells Clash. It’s a line the label has presumably heard before, given its 20-year existence and continued support of untapped talent.
“For me it was the first time that I could show all my work in one place,” continues the so-called ‘social artist’, adding that as a result he “realised that an exhibition can be more than just a presentation of art.”
Working with disused objects such as floppy discs, Gentry has since followed 2010’s Studio55 exhibition with multiple others – the next will be at New York’s C24 Gallery – gaining representation from four galleries along the way; he is just one example of the success such encouragement can offer.
“You’ll get an email saying ‘can we use one of your pictures for a T-shirt’,” explains photographer Gavin Watson of his experiences with 55. “That is just gold dust to anybody that’s struggling – anyone of any interest in the tsunami of fucking creatives out there trying to get a look in – to have their stuff on a T-shirt for a season, will give you a boost to maybe give another few years at it.”
What began as an email exchange has since formed a friendship between Watson and 55DSL’s founder, Andrea Rosso – “Yeah I’ve stayed at Andrea’s house, I love the man dearly” – and three T-shirts for the 10.55 project, another of the label’s offshoots.
“So the first one was an accident, the second one was a bit deliberate, and the third one is a bit cynical,” he says of the tees, the last of which launched in 2013 to celebrate 10.55’s fifth anniversary. Bearing a picture of a man giving the V sign, the top replicated Gavin’s first which showed his brother doing the same: “It’s very symbolic, a no brainer really.”
Alongside Studio55 and 10.55 is 55DSL the label, the original Italian streetwear brand infatuated with subculture. Says Andrea, “I am an observer and I like to watch people: how they walk, behave, how they style and dress up. Fashion adapts from that inspiration.”
The brand then, is a combination of Rosso’s interpretive eye and a select number of employees who literally, Gavin confirms, sit trawling the net for that artist, photographer, musician or designer with whom 55 can merge.
That the T-shirt has played such a prominent role in the company’s recent history, could well be a metaphor for the brand’s parallel focuses on individuality and inclusivity.
“Look at the huge impact some social medium platforms have on today's youth,” attests Andrea, “the more visual they are the more powerful they are. Graphic tees allow that freedom of expression. They are also super accessible, easy to wear with almost anything and with favourable price points. At the end of the day they say a picture can say 1000 words, well so can a graphic tee!”
For the latest 55DSL collection – a capsule line titled APPAREL – Andrea has produced a tee (naturally), as well as a sweatshirt, lightweight jacket, shorts and a cap, each of the same colour (black), bearing a print of gold leaf.
Inspired by the cut and fabric of vintage pieces (a trick Nicola Formichetti has used on recent mainline Diesel pieces), it is we’re told, “a collage of Andrea’s identity, taken straight from his wardrobe”.
An accompanying cruiser – a collaboration with the skate label A Public Nuisance – completes the XX anniversary collection, further evidence of the brand’s enthusiasm for uniting subcultures.