“Fuck” is historically viewed as one of, if not the “worst” word in the English language, so as an elementary school kid growing up in the late-90s, there was no brand out there as mind-blowing as FUCT. To most casual fans of FUCT, it’s a pioneer brand known for re-appropriating iconic logos and having a strong irreverent voice.
What those same fans (read: Hypebeasts) might not know is that FUCT was actually co-founded by Natas Kaupas and born out of the World Industries camp, meaning it has roots directly stemming from skateboarding.
While FUCT has been around and mostly-active since 1990, the brand recently caught a wave of attention as the founder, Erik Brunetti, is close to receiving a verdict on a free speech case that has reached the Supreme Court. He has been trying to trademark FUCT for some time now but has been denied multiple times on the grounds of the name being too “immoral” and “offensive” to register under US laws.
Streetwear and skating have never been as culturally relevant as they are in 2019, so I was curious to learn about the implications of the court case and to get Erik’s thoughts on the fashion and skateboarding/streetwear crossover we’re seeing in today’s market.
Has anyone ever told you that you look like Joaquin Phoenix?
[Laughs] Yes. Someone told me that I need to hurry up and make a documentary about myself because I’m getting older and if I don’t they’re going to bring in Joaquin to do it. [laughs]
I know you tried to trademark FUCT but it was rejected by the government and now the case is being taken up by the Supreme Court. How will the outcome of the case affect your brand or other brands moving forward?
Well, if I win the case—the verdict comes in June—I’ll be able to shut down the tremendous amount of bootlegging that’s been happening for years. It will also enable me to eventually sell the brand if I so choose. In regards to other brands, it’s going to allow Jason Dill to register his brand [Fucking Awesome]. Therefore he’d be able to expand from where they already are, for example.
Do you think you will win the case?
Yeah. I would say 9/10.
Nice. Besides that, it seems like FUCT has been having a resurgence recently.
It’s not really a resurgence, it’s funny that people say that. I was primarily selling in Japan for the past eight years and it was too expensive to purchase product in the United States, therefore it was hard to get here. Shipping from Japan was $25. Now we’re back in the U.S. completely so that’s why people may think, “FUCT’s back!” But we really never went away.
How did FUCT start? Didn’t you used to work at World Industries before starting it?
I moved to Venice in 1987 when it was still considered Dogtown, I guess you could say. I met Natas [Kaupas] while living in Venice. Natas was doing his board brand, 101 [co-owned by World Industries] and I started doing a lot of graphics for them. I did the baby Gabriel Rodriguez graphic, the Natas graphic of the blindfolded rabbit trying to take a carrot out of a bear trap, and a handful of others. Some of them were good, some of them I didn’t really like.
Natas and I used to go to the King King bar, this Chinese themed bar. Our friend was a bartender there so we’d drink and hang out. I think that’s where we came up with the name FUCT.
“We didn’t wanna just call it FUCT to make it look crazy. We wanted it to be confusing.”
Were you guys wasted a lot? Is that where the inspiration came from?
[Laughs] I don’t know how wasted we were. We were trying to do something similar to what Eric Haze was doing. I was a graffiti writer and I remember when I came out here the only other guy who was out here from the East Coast was Haze. He had his own graphics company and was doing a lot of graphics for EPMD, Public Enemy, lots of artists on Def Jam and record companies. I was very inspired by what he was doing.
We wanted to start a graphic design company but we needed a name for it. We thought it would be clever to call the brand FUCT and present it [as] very corporate, so you had to question the pronunciation of the name based on the way it looked. It was very premeditated. We didn’t wanna just call it FUCT to make it look crazy. We wanted it to be confusing.
I brought over a bunch of magazines [to Natas’s house] and we were digging through them and looking at different logos and ads and things, and we created the logo. It was a font, but it’s been manipulated and stretched. I think it was the only desirable font on the Apple computer at the time. Immediately we both were laughing because it looked very corporate, which is what we wanted. It looked very official, the logo definitely demands some sort of authority when you look at it [laughs].
How was it working with Steve Rocco [founder of World Industries]?
Everyone has had problems with Rocco [laughs]. You probably can’t find one person who was at World Industries who never had a problem with Rocco. But looking back in retrospect, he was a genius. He was very smart with the way he ran World and approached skateboarding. It had never been done before.
You don’t feel like Rocco is overrated?
No. Without Steve Rocco, I think streetwear would not exist. What Rocco was doing at World with all the image appropriation—like when he did all the Powell Peralta parodies—he did other brands as well. What World Industries was doing at that time, was the beginning, or the opus of all this image appropriation. It was a team effort. Marc McKee was involved and Sean Cliver was working at World at the time.
Of the first streetwear brands, one of them is FUCT, and then you have XLARGE, Freshjive, and Stüssy. Stüssy was more surf and Freshjive was more rave culture, and then Brad Dorfman was doing Vision Streetwear. I remember he was using the word streetwear in his logo and I remember that drove kids away. Nobody wanted to wear something that had “streetwear” in it because it just sounded corny.
“Without Steve Rocco, I think streetwear would not exist”
So Rocco was the first to jack imagery and flip logos of other brands but didn’t he take it over the top at one point and get in trouble?
Rocco fucking re-appropriated some Disney logos and that’s when I think he went a bit too far legally, I presume. I think it was the Beauty and the Beast board when the Beast was fucking Beauty, or something like that [laughs]. That was the line he crossed. But when you’re young it’s the Wild West.
Is there anything like that in 2019 that can graphically still shock people?
If we’re comparing today to the ‘90s when everyone was just going crazy and doing graphics that were highly offensive to certain people, I think now it’s almost the opposite. Really normal things or factual thinking or common sense have become punk rock.
How would you show that as a graphic?
What about just an illustration of people lining up to go to church? There it is, that would trigger so many people. They would call it racist, even though it has nothing to do with race. They would say all kinds of shit about white males… other bullshit… but on the other hand if you’re depicting an image of the church burning down and people were dead with blood over the place, everyone would think it was sick and great. Not that I’d do either graphics like that, but just giving you an example.
What do you think about the PC climate we are in today?
Society now has a lot to do with snitch culture, which sort of bothers me. There are people that lurk around the internet to look for something that someone said 20 years ago and then do a public crucifixion. That sort of goes against everything skateboarding and punk stood for. These people that do that kind of shit are basically cops. Everyone on Twitter says, “Fuck the cops,” but they’re the ones acting like cops.
Do you ever think the “snitch culture” on Twitter or the internet is ever good or justified?
No, I do not. If someone is offended by something, or if it bothers them, they can simply not look at it.
How did FUCT go from a graphic design company to a clothing brand?
Natas was doing 101 and then we were doing FUCT together. It was just a company outside of skateboarding. Then Rocco saw FUCT and the circle logo and he liked it. He suggested making pants and shorts and turning it into a clothing company. We were already making shirts to give to people, but when Rocco got involved, it became another thing.
FUCT was being sold everywhere and I was getting nothing. Long story short, I eventually split, and took FUCT with me.
FUCT, at that point, was in an incubation stage. It was very small. So when I started doing FUCT on my own I connected with James Jebbia, who does Supreme now. This tiny brand called Supreme [laughs].
This is before Supreme, when James was running his shop Union NYC, right?
Yeah, when I was still working with 101 and World Industries, I would go to New York and visit my family. I saw the future of the industry when I went into Union. I knew immediately. This was like 1990-ish.
When I saw the way the store was curated, I just knew that this was it. I saw the way Eric Haze’s clothing was carried and placed amongst high-end clothing. You have to understand, this had never happened before in the world. Everything was either a skate shop or surf shop, and that’s it. So I started speaking to James while I was in there because he used to work in the shop directly.
How old were you and James when you met?
I was in my 20s. I started speaking to him about the shop and we started discussing clothing, fashion and art. I told him about FUCT, that it’s small but it’s in the skate industry. And he was like, “Yeah, I know FUCT. I’ve been trying to get it in the store but Rocco won’t sell it to me because we don’t carry hardgoods.” That was Rocco’s policy. You cannot sell any of his brands—FUCT, Blind, Plan B, or whoever—to shops that didn’t carry hardgoods. That was that. James really wanted to carry FUCT, not any of the other brands, probably because James could see the subversive, lowkey attitude behind it. FUCT seemed very English if you think about it. English humor is very different than American humor.
I informed him that I was not working with Rocco anymore so I would love to sell to him. We’re a really small operation and obviously we’re not as big as World. He said, “Okay, great. Fax me a line sheet.” I went home and hand drew a catalogue and faxed it. He started placing big orders for a small shop. James would want custom colors like, “We want all burgundy of this graphic.” I would make according to what he ordered and he would put it out and it would sell out immediately.
From there, James introduced me to Slam City Skates in London and we started working really close with them. When we started working with Slam City that’s when we got a huge UK push. So much of a push that people thought that FUCT was a UK brand. All of our press was in i-D Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Face, everything was U.K. press.
Do you think the end of Supreme as a cultural force is on the horizon?
No, I think James is really smart. I don’t see that. Supreme has been able to remain very fluid. I think fluidity is important in the industry. You need to be able to change like water. Supreme has been very good at doing that.
Give me an example of fluidity for brands.
For example, you have to learn to separate yourself from the brand or the product. I’m sure anyone that has had a company that’s been around longer than 15 years would agree with this. Sometimes, your own personal taste will influence what you’re putting out. What people don’t realize is that the owners and designers of brands, like me, get older but our consumers get younger. Certain owners don’t accept when they need to step back and put their personal taste aside and let younger designers do the designing, or step away from the brand completely. You need to be able to adapt and not keep the brand so rigid. It needs to appeal to consumers and they are around 16-25. The things that the 40 or 50 year old man is into is not what those kids are into.
“I’m actually closer to hippie than psychopath”
Are you jealous that now James has a trillion dollars and you don’t?
[laughs] I don’t care about James’s billionaire lifestyle.
Are you a millionaire?
Am I a millionaire [laughs]? I guess it depends on how you would constitute that. It’s hard to say who’s a millionaire and who isn’t, you know?
It sounds like something a millionaire would say, I’ll tell you that.
Someone told me you’re a complete psychopath. You seem pretty normal to me.
[laughs] I’ve heard so much fake shit about me. That just goes to show, sensationalism. I don’t know where that came from to be honest with you. People build it up in their head. I laugh, it’s kind of funny, but I’m actually closer to hippie than psychopath [laughs]. I have my points of view, and I think people who don’t have any intellect to engage in conversation resort to [saying], “He’s crazy.”
Do you think having a family and being older made you soft?
No, actually I was speaking to a friend – he just had a baby – it’s like when you have a child, you’re almost not a man until you have a child. When you have a child this protective sort of hunter gatherer instinct kicks in. Ask any man that has a child and they’ll agree that it makes you harder, more protective.
There’s no shortage of brands out today, so why are they mostly wack?
I believe that high fashion always looks at what skating and street does. They follow what we do, they always have. They have done this since the inception of what we are doing. But now it’s the other way around. A lot of the skaters have gone soft. Skate brands and skaters are so hungry and thirsty and they want clout so bad that they will do whatever the fashion brands want them to do. It’s repulsive. They’re going against all the things they stood for.
“If Virgil was not friends with Kanye West,
would his brand have any minor success?”
You don’t like Virgil Abloh or Off-White, right? I remember seeing you post things about them on Instagram.
It’s not that I dislike him, he’s probably an extremely nice person. I don’t really respect his brand, due to the fact that it’s not created organically. It’s sort of fabricated based on him being associated to Kanye West. If Virgil was not friends with Kanye West, would his brand have any minor success? I’d argue and say no, absolutely not. His success is by association. It’s not by hard work and it’s by no means organic.
What are things that these newer skate or streetwear brands do wrong?
A lot of these streetwear brands—and when I say “a lot” I mean like five or six—they immediately start putting their heads up the asses of these fashion houses. They are looking for clout. I’m looking at them thinking, your brand has been around two years, three years max, and you’re already trying to collaborate with some major fashion house? To me that seems absurd. It’s not a paying the dues thing, they just don’t have the eye visually or they don’t understand it well enough.
The reason I think it’s a bad idea for a younger brand to collaborate with a large fashion brand—I’m talking about a Martin Margiela or Prada or Gucci—it’s difficult to work with a brand like that if your company is new. You’re setting the bar really high for yourself, so after that collab happens, there’s nowhere to go. That’s where you see those brands lose their perspective and they lose their direction and that’s when you start to see them do weird and crazy shit and make bad decisions.
How does a brand know when to make that leap? When is a brand ready?
I don’t know. But I know that all the big fashion houses like YSL and Gucci are all looking at streetwear. Big fashion brands have always looked at skateboarding and streetwear. Skateboarding has been vulturized by big corporations and fashion houses forever, since the ‘80s.
These fashion houses and even now advertising agencies look at skating because it’s real. Everybody likes things that are real and legit and that’s why they look at us. And skaters have a sense of community. They’re very communal and very unified. The fashion industry is not like that. Everybody is at each other’s throats and it’s very dishonest.
You probably remember when they were looking at what punk rockers were doing. They look at any group of people that are rebellious and unified and has a sense of community. They always do.