Dressed in a pair of black salopettes, an orange T-shirt, a pair of Vlone collaboration Air Force 1s, and some Lennon-shaped Chanel sunglasses, Skepta stepped out of a black Mercedes last Friday and made for the door of Le Pompom. We had only spent a minute or two on the Rue de Richelieu, but in that time three fans spotted him and asked for selfies or just a handshake. Silently but unfussily he obliged. Then the door opened. The British grime artist and his small retinue stepped into the club, started by Stéphane Ashpool and his PPP collective (Pain O ChoKolat, Pigalle, Pompon), to sound check for the night ahead.
Skepta was in Paris to host a night called KaiKai, an Auto-Tune karaoke party concept he first put on in London. After he’d finished setting up (and lamenting the Paris rules that prohibited him from ramping up Le Pompon’s bass levels for fear of riling the neighbors) he sat down to discuss another new project.
Entitled Mains, Skepta’s clothing line debuts today at Selfridges in London. A compact but much pored-over capsule (it’s been in development for 18 months) Mains includes a fine cotton drill example of that emblematic Skepta garment, the tracksuit (which comes in olive and black). Tomorrow night, Skepta will be at the store to properly launch the collection. But before doing so, he invited Vogue to discuss the Mains event. This is what he had to say.
Hi Skepta, good to meet you! Let’s start with the main event, your new collection. Why have you called it Mains?
You know what? There are so many different reasons. I wouldn’t want to say just one of them. The word Mains has a lot of different ways that you could look at it. So, in the same way that I’m leaving the clothes open for people to wear, I’m leaving the meaning open, too. Because as my dad always used to say to me, “Clothes don’t make the man; the man makes the clothes.”
That’s a good upgrade on the old adage. What’s your father’s name?
Joseph, same as me. I’m Joseph Junior. So, I want to leave it open for people to wear it how they want and think what they want about it. But Mains. I love that name. And in fact, when I thought of it, it was killing me to wait and to go around and not announce the name for so long. It was frustrating, and I was scared somebody else was going to have it.
How has your relationship with clothes evolved, do you think?
I suppose when I was growing up, it was all about fitting into a box or fitting into a category. You know, looking like I listened to hip-hop, or looking like I listened to grime. You’d see someone and go, “Oh, look at that person. He’s wearing that or that; he listens to punk rock.” You know what I’m saying? When I was growing up, it was a lot to do with that. But nowadays, some days I feel a bit grime-y, some days I feel very punk. Some days I feel reggae, or Afrobeat. They have all different styles, but in the same breath I can dress punk and listen to grime. Do you get what I’m saying? So, I wouldn’t really say I have a style. But that when I wear something, it means something to the clothes. It becomes me that’s wearing it. In my head it’s that I’m wearing this, so I’m going to live this outfit. If I’m walking around like I’m not sure about this outfit, then it’s not going to really look good. So, I think people who know me know I’ve got my style of living, and that’s really my style.
Well, dressing to define yourself is quite limiting, isn’t it. As your dad said . . .
You know, I’ve traveled now. I’ve traveled the world. And I’ve seen that there are different colors in different places. I travel and I respect. If you are wearing a hoodie and you are in Morocco and you meet somebody’s family, then you take your hood off. There are different things to wear in different places, and if you want to fit in and show respect, you can dress to do that, or you can dress to show that you are foreign and not from there. That can work, too. Dress is expression.
So you shot a video in Morocco to promote Mains?
Yeah! That was very special. Because I’ve been traveling a lot to so many places, but I’ve been looking for a haven, somewhere that felt like a haven, neutral to anything. And when you go there, the weather, the color, the people, the lifestyle—everything about that place—how the kids are out there, is different to what you might think, to what you see on the TV. The kids have got this charisma—it’s so sick. And there’s a lot of family. And so real. The embroideries they have there. I went there and they were telling me about Essaouira and Jimi Hendrix. I was drawn to it. After touring and touring and touring.
You did Coachella recently, is that right? The traditional perception is that audiences in the U.S. find it hard to get the U.K. voice. Is that your experience?
You know, I’ve got to the point where all I see is people who like the music. When I was going out there, I could have easily come back and said, “You know, I’m trying but their ears aren’t getting around to it.” But I never said that. Everybody always says I’m going to try and break America. We broke America, we broke it. We sold out every show when we went there, and every show we play there it’s love. People go crazy. We concentrated on the greatness. You know, if I say their ears aren’t getting around it, they are going to hear that and they aren’t going to listen.
You’ve talked about fashion in your lyrics. “Shutdown” talks about going to a show in your tracksuit. And I saw you went to a Chanel show, the rocket show . . .
That show was another level!