A book cover with no headline may be puzzling, unless it bears art that’s so recognizable it needs no introduction.
Rizzoli is publishing a new fashion book dedicated to the rise and fall of Vngrd, a pioneer streetwear brand that originated in Milan in 2005 when fanzines were still a thing and the city’s youth subcultures had no social media to channel their creativity into.
Among the most iconic graphics the Vngrd team developed over its roughly 10-year history was a hand-drawn octopus pattern featuring cascading tentacles, the latter appearing on the 336-page glossy tome’s cover.
Vngrd was founded by Giorgio Di Salvo, the designer behind several hip streetwear brands and projects, with friend Paolo Budua in the context of underground Milan. After several roadblocks, they started production later by linking with Iuter, another streetwear firm with stronger business prowess, which provided contacts of manufacturers. The first collection — of printed T-shirts — was released in 2006.
Di Salvo admitted that the brand really never turned profitable, but that was not the primary goal, as he and Budua both concurred in describing the brand as a “spirit, a radical approach, a method of doing things.”
“We were in our 20s, we loved clothing and our approach on dressing up was very much linked to the culture we belonged to, the music we loved, the network of people, the parties, the human interactions,” Di Salvo explained at the book presentation held at Milan’s Rizzoli bookshop.
The coffee-table book retraces the brand’s history, filled as it is with images of products — from the early experimental outerwear to the uncomplicated garments bearing psychedelic prints, including the octopus design — as well as portraits of its team and candid images of the behind-the-scenes creative process. It also sheds light on the various collaborations the brand amassed, from Slam Jam to Stüssy.
There’s little to no information online about the brand even though Kanye West featured the fall 2008 collection on his personal blog, before asking the Vngrd cofounders to collaborate with him on a brand he operated back then called Pastelle. That’s when the duo got in touch with the late Virgil Abloh and Givenchy’s Matthew Williams.
Abloh and other prominent personalities in the streetwear and underground scene, including Marcelo Burlon, founder of New Guards Group-owned County of Milan, and Slam Jam’s Luca Benini, penned their contributions for the book. Abloh recalled seeing the octopus hoodies on Hypebeast and thinking it was “one of the most forward-thinking graphic designs, because it used graphics understanding the shape of the garment.”
“The whole book concept was about historicizing the brand,” Di Salvo said. “Even if the experience lasted a few years only, it marked a precedent for Italian streetwear,” he said.
By 2013, the day-to-day operations at Vngrd had ceased but the influence of the brand and its aesthetics continued to be felt across the streetwear community. For its 15th anniversary, Iuter asked the Vngrd’s duo to release a cobranded capsule featuring the octopus pattern. In the wake of the commercial success it got, Iuter’s Alberto Leoni acquired the rights on the original design and established a brand, named Octopus, to develop merch bearing the pattern.
“The octopus will be a forever icon of Vngrd’s history, it marked the most successful creative output both in terms of visibility and business,” Di Salvo added.
Marking the book launch, Octopus is releasing a limited-edition collection of Vngrd’s original octopus hoodies from 2006, available in gray and purple, and a T-shirt from 2007. The capsule collection boasts the same screen-printing technique originally employed on Vngrd items.
The book, priced at 60 euros, is available at Rizzoli in Italy and will debut in the U.S. on Feb. 22, while the capsule collection is sold at Slam Jam’s Milan store retailing at 200 euros and 100 euros for hoodies and T-shirts, respectively.