GREATEST / Angelo Baque

Tremaine Emory connects with the streetwear veteran to discuss post-algorithm brands, insights from Virgil Abloh and writing a New York narrative with ASICS.

Interview: Tremaine Emory Photography: Rafael Rios Intro: Brock Cardiner
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Angelo Baque isn’t new to collaborating. Joining Supreme in 2006, Baque brought his visual background to the growing label, working his way up to brand director where he looked after everything from seasonal lookbooks to overall art direction. Throughout his tenure, which ran until late 2016, he worked with some of the biggest and most influential names in the industry, including Nike, The North Face and Stone Island; all creative partnerships that helped set the tone for style as we know it today.

And while for most a 10-year term at Streetwear’s North Star is the be-all and end-all dream, for Baque it’s just one chapter in his ongoing journey to bring his singular vision worldwide; a journey that’s become even more pronounced through his endeavours since. There’s Baque Creative, his agency that sees him consult on various Nike and Converse projects, among many others, and there’s Awake NY, a New York-based brand that captures the culture and sensibility of its hometown through collections, collaborations and storytelling.

Five years into Awake NY’s young life, Baque is hitting his stride. His designs are embraced by a diverse cast, from Futura and Jesse Williams to Lauren Halsey and Shaniqwa Jarvis. His collaborations, including a longstanding partnership with ASICS, come out of left field—and then proceed to sell out instantly. His voice, expressed through Awake NY’s distinct visual style, is an urgent one; one so sure of itself that it’s creating a lane entirely of its own making within New York’s legendary streetwear space.

As Baque prepares to release an instant-classic ASICS Kayano 14, close friend, style guru and creative consultant Tremaine Emory connects with the streetwear veteran to discuss New York narratives, insights from Virgil Abloh and putting others on.

How does it feel to be a brand that has existed both pre- and post-algorithm? You've been doing all these things and now you're doing it with the agency and with Awake.

Starting out in the business pre-algorithm or pre-social media has given me tremendous freedom to not give a fuck. It's funny the hat you’re wearing says “Late Capitalism.” I'm a capitalist at heart. I'm here for the people, I'm here for the youth and at the same time I need to keep a roof over my head, so I need to make money—but that's not the driving force behind Awake or the projects that I do. It's never been about that. 

I've always made things from my gut and my heart. Any time I've done the opposite, when things get transactional, it's never as fruitful as it is when you're working on a project like, “Tremaine, he's one of my closest friends. Let's do a T-shirt together.” It's not like, “Yo, Tremaine is popping right now and I could get 5,000 more followers for Awake if I do this.” The minute you start clout chasing—I think that's what the kids call it—it's all fucked up for me. 

I've liked the propositions you put out with ASICS before, the two colorways, the joints you did. But these ones is different, man. I can't wait to get my pair. What informed choosing that silhouette and the colorway?

I was always flattered that ASICS was the first sneaker brand to reach out to us and really find value in what Awake was doing. This was three years ago. We've grown exponentially in that time. 

In New York, if you're a real runner, you're running in ASICS. When you're hanging out with roadmen in London, they're wearing ASICS. Same thing goes for the kids from the suburbs outside of Paris, they strictly fuck with ASICS. Hard. So for me, it was a no-brainer.

There isn't a New York narrative of ASICS, right? For me to be like, "Yo in ’92, we was wearing..." No, that'd be a fucking lie. So to be able to take that kind of influence, like seeing how these dudes in Europe were getting fly with ASICS and then sprinkle my New York take on it, is what brought us to the Kayano 14. As we were designing, I'm like, "These are the kicks I want to go to Coney Island in or Far Rockaway.”

When I saw them I thought of that Wu-Tang Clan “Older Gods” lyric: With springtime colors / Juicy as a Sunkist. 

Like I said, I want to evoke a feeling. I'm not trying to get into nostalgia, but when you look at them I don't have to overly sell them to you in order for you to believe in them. Also, I purposely wanted to put yellow, red and blue in there, as an homage to the Ecuadorian flag. For me, it's a Queens sneaker, through and through. 

We’ve both worked for big brands. How would you compare that experience to running your own business? 

First and foremost, having your own clothing brand is the most thankless job you can ever have. Nobody's going to pat you on the back and be like, "Yo Tremaine, you killed those Levi's." It's quite the opposite; motherfuckers are cheering against you. That's why I cherish these kinds of friendships, like with you, Shaniqwa [Jarvis], Melody [Ehsani], Jerry [Lorenzo], because at the end, I'm rooting for all y'all. 

The goal with Awake, even for now, venturing off under my own name, will always be to create a platform for kids who look like us to continue this idea of inspiration and aspiration. That some kid from Southside or Richmond Hill or from Brownsville or the South Bronx could be like, "Yo, I literally see Tremaine and I see myself. I could do this." Because the truth is when we were coming up, nobody that looked like us was in any kind of position of power. And if they were, they weren't really fucking with us. That was just a fact.

I purposely wanted to put yellow, red and blue in there, as an homage to the Ecuadorian flag. For me, it's a Queens sneaker, through and through. 

Angelo Baque

They closed that door behind them.

Exactly, like shut tight. So that's what makes me happy, when I get the random DM from a kid being like, "Yo, I'm a child of immigrant parents from Columbia,” or Ecuador or Peru or whatever. 

Do you ever feel—how can I say it? Do you ever feel like the “socially conscious rapper?” Like how Common must've felt in the late ’90s?

100%, man. I remember one time Virgil hit me. What did he say? "We're the Native Tongues of streetwear," and it started cracking me. He's spot-on because, yeah, I'm here to bring some consciousness to this industry. 

You gave me the help I needed because we were part of the same community and we fostered a friendship. I always get kids asking me, "How do I get on, how do I..." I say, "The best thing you can do is hang around people you love who share your interests, and you'll get all the game you need." 

That's a good way to segue into this ASICS collective project. People don't understand that this is 20 years in the making. This is 20 years of hanging out on Broadway, the Cage, skate parks, nightclubs, the after hours, Max Fish, Sway. You foster those relationships by being around like-minded people, and then come up as a crew. 

When I was given this opportunity at ASICS to do my solo deal, I also wanted to be able to put other people on. There are enough companies already putting on people that have huge Instagram followings, but who are the people who I could help get a deal with ASICS who are upholding their own communities and trying to do something bigger, instead of just looking out for themselves? 

The ASICS, the collective...What’s next for Awake? 

I'll tell you right now, what's next up for ASICS is you, Tremaine. For Angelo Baque, we've got some interesting projects for next year. But first, before that, we have Tremaine Emory, aka Denim Tears, for ASICS. Then we have Renell Medrano, Spanto [of Born x Raised] and Jess [Gonsalves] from Procell. 

Wow, Jess is doing a sneaker too?

It's always been important for me to support women in this industry and try to break up the boys club. There are so many women behind the scenes who have helped build the man that I am today. Without them, I wouldn't be here right now.

I love that you've included Jess in this. The sweet spot is when you're not really counting up people's clout tokens. You did it like, "Jess is an amazing person, runs an amazing enterprise with her man, Brian." She’s someone who has supported me for years and Procell's amazing. There are so many people out there who cut the cake and make things lit, man.

She's one of the architects behind the scenes. Same thing with Renell. She’s a photographer with an impeccable eye. She's an amazing creative director who a lot of people don't know; half Dominican, half African-American, like, "Yo, let's get it." To me that's the fulfillment, it's the joy that I get.