Carhartt was originally a Detroit brand of work and outdoor wear. And it still is. But somehow, at some point, it also became street wear. How did that happen? Well…there is a connection to the evolving urban subculture. The sturdy, non-fashionable clothing with many pockets was well suited for graffiti artists. They sort of made it their uniform. Of course, that influenced others. The music and skate scene that was associated with graffiti, urban survival style and fighting the police, adapted this style. So, by the late eighties, the ‘brown duck’ (duck is a kind of cotton canvas) material had become a hip-hop statement.
Work Wear to Street Wear
The Carhartt company noticed that certain items became so popular production could not meet demands anymore. Their first priority however was supplying their regular customers the functional clothing they had always produced.
It was Edwin Faeh, a Swiss fashion entrepreneur, who approached Carhartt in the mid-eighties about the possibilities to represent their brand in Europe. Although there were others who imported specific Carhartt items to Europe, it was Faeh who founded the ‘Work-In-Progress’ project. He was the first to produce items under license for the Carhartt brand. This was the beginning of the label we now know as Carhartt W.I.P. (Work In Progress), with their headquarters in the south of Germany, near the Swiss border.
One of my favourite brands ever, Carhartt W.I.P. still manages to produce the same raw but smart, cowboy-cool apparel – in a pretty limited amount of garments, in a familiar colour palette. Jackets, bib-overalls, beanies and hoodies with a modest logo, we all know what they look like.
Carhartt W.I.P. does collabs with the coolest designers and creates some awesome pattern styles, even beyond their camouflage classics. They are still popular with the ‘cutting-edge crowd’. What I admire about their style is that they seem to not try to please so hard. They have a casual vibe that’s inimitable. I guess their honest down-to-earth roots as a work wear brand cannot be faked. They are authentic. Proof: many workers to this day wear their clothing for its functionality, not its coolness.
If you want to read more I recommend: The Carhartt WIP Archives, 2016, Rizzoli USA