Since founding Slam Jam in 1989, Luca Benini saw youth as the new class, placing emphasis on subversive ideas and communities formed around style trends. Now, his collection of over 30,000 pieces of apparel, accessories, vinyls, photographs, artifacts and ephemera becomes an exhibition, providing a rare time capsule of three decades of cultural memories.
In February, Slam Jam launched Archivio, a permanent exhibition of founder Luca Benini’s personal collection of multidisciplinary items collected over the past thirty years. The exhibition exists as a framework, outlining the continuous intersection between style and culture. It exudes Benini’s own aesthetic expression and diverse way of thinking; magnifying the ideology and intentions of what Slam Jam is, and how it developed. Over the years, Benini has been able to historicize the emergence of ready-to-wear and track market distribution and consumption patterns. Archivio dives deep into subcultures and the style that developed around them. It showcases diversity from a different perspective, and acts as a tool in understanding what streetwear is now, and what it was influenced by. Archivio is co-curated by Slam Jam and Nationhood, a multidisciplinary Turin-based studio founded by Achille Filipponi and Matteo Milaneschi. The collection comprises around 30,000 pieces altogether including apparel, shoes, accessories, artworks, vinyls, skateboards, photographs, graffiti, notes, videos, flyers, books, and magazines. Archivio acts as the ultimate insight into Benini’s philosophy, signifying the homogeneous nature of the brand’s development since its start in 1989.
“Music has always been a lodestar to me. I am a selector, a bit like a DJ, creating worlds by mixing existing bits. The challenge is to stay authentic while evolving.”
“I am a selector, a bit like a DJ: creating worlds by mixing existing bits is what keeps me going,” Benini says, which is fitting considering he comes from a musical background. A significant moment happened on a Sunday afternoon in 1977, when he was 15 years old, watching a music TV show hosted by Renzo Arbore and Gianni Boncompagni. The set of the show had a wall made out of speakers, which was already visually stimulating, but then, out of the blue, Renzo Arbore introduced The Sex Pistols. Seeing them perform in leather pants, chains, with handkerchiefs tied on their head, was a shock to Benini. Even though Italy developed a strong punk and post-punk scene later on with bands such as CCCP Fedeli Alla Linea and Disciplinatha, it never achieved mainstream success like it did in the UK or US. Benini comes from Ferrara, a small town between Venice and Bologna, which is now also the headquarters of Slam Jam and home to the permanent Archivio exhibition. In a previous interview, Benini explained: “Between the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a very powerful climate in Bologna. Just think of Radio Alice, Traum Fabrik, Gaz Nevada, etc. When they opened L’Isola nel Kantiere (a social center and club that had a seminal im- pact on the national underground scene), I felt a strong energy.
I used to spend Friday nights there and Saturdays at Aleph in Gabicce (later Ethos Mama Club). They were clubs with very different scenes, two opposite places if you like, but in my way of seeing, they were complementary. That decade for me was fundamental from the point of view of subcultures and music. Genres that still exist today were born: new wave, hiphop, house, and so on. I remember when I first heard house music in 1988 in clubs on the Riviera, I didn’t think it would last longer than two years, given the volatility of the trends we were used to.” Music is, most of the time, the driving force in the birth of new subcultures. Through its development, music can be seen as an ally that allows for similar messages to be spread through different sound systems all around the world. Even though a lot of the time music that was shaping these disparate cultures was solely instrumental or in a foreign language, its meaning embodied universal messages, attitudes and behaviors. 10,000 vinyls from the Archivio collection serve as a starting point into continued research in preserving these cultural traditions “Music has always been a lodestar to me, showing me the direction. It's all part of a set of lifestyles that use clothing as a form of expression. Originally, that was quite specific to brands like Stüssy and few others. Nowadays what's behind and beyond products—music, art, and so on—is crucial for most players. The challenge is to stay authentic while evolving,” Benini elaborates.
He operates as if fashion was a construction industry—one that constructs cultural memories and social meanings in tandem with music. From the very beginning he recognized that music, apparel, and style are all one language and that youth is often the vessel of change. He always saw it (youth) as the new class, and placed emphasis on the subversive idea that their style had a way of reflecting, but also elevating the time they lived in. Looking at Archivio you can see how the world has changed through the years, and the nascent, culturally defining principles that have fostered relationships across various disciplines. Archivio is the amalgamation of culturally based fashion trends and the communities that formed around it. It is an aesthetic signifier, contextualizing the transformation (street) fashion has undergone over the course of the past few decades becoming one of the most dominant forces and mechanisms in the economy. Benini knew from the get-go that his career would revolve around clothing and music.
With this in mind in his early days he oscillated between being a DJ, printing t-shirts for his gigs, and working as a sales agent for various multi-brand showrooms that represented Italian fashion icons such as Armani, Versace, Fiorucci, and Enrico Coveri. Fashion at that time was all about clothing with almost no correlation to society, as its primary aim was to make money without looking forward, or back. Benini continues, “As much as I respected that enormously, I was looking for something that went beyond the product. This urgency pushed me to travel from New York, to London, and then Tokyo. I realized that there were places where clothes were the vehicle of a much bigger message that included music, art, skateboarding, and much more.” With this in mind, Benini began to shape and reinterpret how we think about fashion. He started to merge cultures, and brands from all over the world, placing them under the roof of what we now know as Slam Jam, and what can now also be seen in the Archivio. One of the first items from the exhibition can be looked at as the start of something new, is the zebra-print T-shirt he bought at Plastic Club co-founder Lino Nisi’s iconic store, Crazy Boy, in Milan in December 1978. Then there’s a Stone Island raincoat he bought around 1983, which he gave to a friend because he saw it as insignificant; luckily, he was able to buy it back from him later on.
Archivio also holds a very extensive collection of skateboards including Last Supper Supreme skateboard decks. There are rare ’80s plastic bags from shops such as Fiorucci, New Order of Riccione, or Stardust of Bologna. There’s also a Spike Lee 40 Acres and a Mule baseball jersey, hi-end Margiela pieces, Army gear, a Bape x KAWS varsity jacket, Troop-pro performance sneakers, Undercover Space Odyssey explosive bolt parka, Nike Jordan 1 OG from 1985, Slam Jam commissioned artwork by Jun Takahashi, the first fax received from Stüssy in 1992, etc. Time has made many mundane objects meaningful and given them symbolic value that was previously dismissed or not appreciated. Benini has transformed time into an actual space, furthering his ethos and the visual language constructed around it. Archivio is an ongoing project, and with each day the collection increases. Ferrara will forever be home to the physical infrastructure of the project, though Benini has plans to travel with a smaller version of the exhibition.
Selected artifacts can also be seen digitally on the Archivio website, with 50–100 new pieces being exhibited at every drop. This ensures that overtime, one will be able to access the whole archive, tapping into this vastly interconnected world. “The goal is to offer a narrative that broadens the cultural perimeter of those who access it. Today, it’s easier to have a more authoritative voice, in terms of volume and range, than in the past. Giving other forms to the archives, from publications to exhibitions, is certainly part of the process. It is about streamlining a cultural heritage and disseminating it. It’s a very spontaneous need for sharing,” he explains. Archivio is an ongoing project, and with each day the collection increases. Ferrara will forever be home to the physical infrastructure of the project, though Benini has plans to travel with a smaller version of the exhibition. Selected artifacts can also be seen digitally on the Archivio website, with 50–100 new pieces being exhibited at every drop. This ensures that overtime, one will be able to access the whole archive, tapping into this vastly interconnected world.