NOTES ON THE POLITICS AND AESTHETICS OF NOKI CUSTOM
At its most obvious, Noki custom mounts a challenge, a symbolic critique or even
a form of resistance, against mainstream, mass-market, homogenous and
depersonalised commodity fashion.
Where sportswear relies on brands and powerful logos to make its selling
proposition, Noki abducts these signs, reconfigures them, uses, abuses and
reuses them and creates the new and unorthodox.Oink. Not pis. Geddit?
With French philosopher De Certeau, the operations of Noki can be seen as
tactics of the weak, pitted against strategies of the strong. David’s fast and sneaky
movements, too fast for Goliath, strong, but slow and inflexible.
So, at its most obvious, the story of Noki is the story of resisting monolithic
corporations and their hardnosed profit mentality, wherein individuals are reduced
to passive but unfaithful consumers and clothes are objectified and turned into
mere ‘stock’, which needs to be invested with attractive myths and promises
through intensive marketing. While certain multinational clothes retailers design,
manufacture (outsourced to underpaid workers through a complex supply chain?)
and distribute the same bland jumper to identical outlets all across the world,
Noki custom makes one-off pieces. With care. With dedication. With aura.
The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (the title of Walther
Benjamin’s famous essay) – it’s not always reproduced.
Noki pieces are antithetical to assembly line textile production. They don’t go ‘on
stream’. Their production is not economical but excessive. They are not “dead
labour” but full of raw energy, evident in the creative play with forms. The point is,
at its most obvious, Noki is about a simple ethically-charged dualism:
transnational, monolithic corporate operations? Not good.
Independent, authentic, original, passionate, artful and creative production of one-
off art pieces? Good.
But the story is more complicated and also more significant. Rather than simply to
assume an imaginary position outside of dominant relations of production (if this ispossible) and to launch an anti-corporate critique from this outside vantage point, Noki raises a different set of questions.
Put simply, Noki’s work is not saying ‘fuck the system’. Noki’s work is about the
much more real and pressing matter of how to challenge problematic aspects of
the system as you are inside it and part of it.
Let’s begin by making clear the impossibility – or near impossibility – of a morally
just high-ground, above and beyond the systems of commodity exchange and
symbolic production, i.e. branding and marketing. Noki can’t just make clothes for
free, for everyone, one love, heal the world. Noki must eat, Noki must sleep, Noki
must ring the publicist on a mobile which is not cheap. This takes us neatly to the
second point. Noki must have a point, this idea must be communicated to the
world, it must be shaped and managed, as do the relationships with the wider
public. It’s called PR. Sometimes the meanings attached to products can be
planned – marketing was invented to do this – sometimes the meaning of objects
including clothes is negotiated by the receiving public in unanticipated ways.
This means two things: sometimes Noki has to accept productive partnerships
with businesses that have much less issues with contemporary consumer
capitalism than Noki. Secondly, some of the ways in which Noki must work as a
label are not so different from those enterprises Noki sets out to challenge.
Let’s think this through. Let’s be self-reflexive, honest and aware, for a second.
A Noki outfit or piece may cost between £400 and £1500. Objectively, not cheap.
But what are you getting for it? A special, one-off creation, an object full of aura
and – in its strange riotous aesthetic – beauty. This limited edition, the mystique of
the Noki brand, the enviable following of hip celebrities and cool art-hipsters-cum-
skate kids as well as the object itself, in its symbolic context, make it a very
desirable thing. More specifically: consumer object. Even more specifically:
So there you are. It’s been said. Noki makes commodities too. Does that mean
they are any less creative? Any less critical? Any less challenging to both logos
and branding as well as conventional aesthetic hierarchies? No, of course not.
They are critical of and – to a certain degree – complicit with contemporary
relations of production and consumption.
These questions are raised, through the position of Noki pieces in the market
place and on the very garments themselves, with their playful subversion and –
dare I say? – celebration of the brand and the logo. Noki is zeitgeist, constituting a
nuanced commentary on contemporary society and culture not just because a
simple reactionary critique of brand capitalism. But because of a much more
complex exploration of the many ways of reproducing as well as challenging
existing social conditions.
To put it simply, Noki is about exploring the productive contradictions of being part
of the system and resisting it from within.
BORIS EWENSTEIN 2004.