Browse all

Erik Brunetti's story is full of contradictions: he is unequivocally regarded as the father of streetwear even though he hates streetwear, while FUCT is seen as the most representative brand of 90s underground culture even though it never even had aspirations of becoming a brand. The inside label of one Star and Stripes tee reads 'steal this garment', on another there's a photo of the punk heroine Wendy O. Williams, on yet another is Saddam Hussein in a mix of rebellion, irreverence, and anarchy. Conceived in 1991 by Brunetti and Natas Kaupad in Venice Beach, FUCT is directly linked to DIY roots, graffiti, skateboarding, and the peak period of youth subcultures. Pop culture elements and icons are juxtaposed with anti-government and anti-religious suggestions, including the parody of famous logos and the presence of hidden subversive messages , «the ideology of FUCT is very punk, for lack of a better word.» Brunetti told me when I met him in Spazio Maiocchi at the opening of his solo exhibition, Oval Parody. An exhibition presenting a new body of work inspired by the parody of the Ford logo, complemented by a billboard, an artist's book published by KALEIDOSCOPE and a capsule collection created by FUCT in collaboration with Slam Jam. The brand was born without a business plan, without clothes or without there being enough of them, from an idea and a name that evokes a dissidence peculiar to the pre-internet era, before dissidence itself was sucked into the pixilated fragmentariness of post-modernism. The name, homophone with arguably the most offensive word in the English vocabulary, was the protagonist of a decade-long legal rigmarole that lasted until 2019, and it wasn’t initially chosen with the intent to cause outrage but rather 'to create confusion', Brunetti would later say several times. When I asked him if he would do it again, to choose a name for his brand that has cost him thirty years in the courts, he did not hesitate for a moment: «Changing the name is something I would never do, nor did the thought ever cross my mind. The name was the opus of the brand's identity.»

Thus, for Erik, identity comes before anything else and clothes are almost a casual extension of that: «When I started, I spent the budget of what little money I had on advertising in magazines before ever making the clothes. This was done to deliberately confuse and draw out curiosity of the consumer, they had no idea what FUCT was when it first appeared in print advertising. The very first advertisements were black pages that read: "This advertisement is Fuct." Doing this was a big risk being I did not have the finances to continue a campaign like this, but fortunately my instincts were correct. He exudes cynicism, a disillusioned realism about the state of things, about the fact that pulp and underground culture are now mainstream, designed to shock a bourgeois consciousness that no longer exists: «In the age when the masses want to appear non-conformist - wrote Andy Warhol - non-conformism must be produced for the masses». The link between Warhol's legacy and Brunetti is indeed very close, bearing the name of Ivan Karp, the man who discovered Warhol and nurtured his career. «He saw similarities in my work and Warhol's in the sense that we both reappropriated pop culture imagery and had a close connection to fashion. The connection between art and product was inevitable, the two work very well together in my opinion. Artists like Keith Haring had success with merging art and commerce prior to myself or others.» 

The fact that art becomes a product, for Brunetti, is not a constraint on its essence, on the contrary: «Art should be rebellious, it should not conform. We did not worry about repercussions, politics or cancel culture. Today, brands and artists are terrified of going against the grain for fear of being erased or having their lives ruined. The punk movement was based on the use of images that made the viewer uncomfortable, or images so shocking that they became darkly comic. It is sad what has happened to today's creative world, too many gatekeepers creating new rules to abide by. Rules are made to be broken» Erik tells me. But when even the anti-model becomes a model, when counterculture becomes culture and everything is emptied of its ideological value, what is left of dissidence? And what remains of Fuct? «Today, anything that goes against the establishment is counterculture: Hollywood, big pharma and all the propaganda perpetuated and weaponized by the media. It's interesting, brands and designers today that present themselves as rebellious or anti establishment are in fact part of the establishment or in agreement with the establishment. They question nothing and do as the status quo tells them. Our industry runs on peer pressure, this is maybe why it doesn't seem disruptive. To reject and resist what I previously mentioned is 100% counterculture. FUCT has always been DIY and fully independent. It remains so today, which is why I believe it is still relevant. A majority of streetwear brands that exist currently are owned by larger corporate companies that simply appoint an influencer or fabricate a personality as the face of the brand. This seems to be a recurring model today. FUCT does what it wants, when it wants, I run it in a very unorthodox approach, I'm not saying it's the right way to run a brand, but it works for me.»


Interview: Maria Stanchieri
Photographer: Sami Oliver Nakari
Production nss factory