NOKI knows best: the punk artist on his new renegade fashion school

NOKI knows best: the punk artist on his new renegade fashion school

NOKI, a foundational figure in the London fashion scene is channeling his lawlessness into a legacy. NOKIA NESTT

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It’s 9am on a Tuesday morning and JJ Hudson has been talking about the apocalypse for the best part of ten minutes. “I’ve been preparing for it for years,”He said. “Actually, I used to describe what I do as ‘Bunker Love’ because if we all end up in a bunker the one thing I will enjoy myself doing is custom building stuff to wear while we’re stuck down there. That’s if we even make the bunker.”Other names: NOKIHudson, the king or father of mashup, Hudson is a bizarre figure in fashion. His face is completely covered by a series of poke-hole masks since he arrived in London in late 1990s.

He almost looks like someone has cast a spell upon a clothing bank, giving a collection of secondhand clothes the ability to move and emote. His creations, made from scraps, rags and bits of old clothing, are inspired by hardcore anarchism and continue to inspire designers today. Conner Ives, BUZIGAHILL, Balenciaga are all indebted to Hudson’s violent twisting of consumerism, where sustainability and bootleg collaborations have been central to his practice. “I suppose it has just validated this crazy thing that happened in the 90s,”He said. He says that despite his influence on fashion, he doesn’t want to be called a designer and asks to be referred only as a textile artist. 

Having met alongside Judy Blame, Lulu Kennedy, and YBAs back when Shoreditch was little more than a barren wasteland, Hudson played a foundational role in transforming east London into a creative honeypot, before working as a stylist for MTV and teaching at some of the capital’s most noted fashion schools. “As a gay man I don’t have children but I have thousands of students who are like my kids,”He continues. Although he has been a mentor for many decades, his next step will be to formalize the relationship. “real deal” fashion school, dubbed NOKI NESTT(An acronym for NOKI education in sustainable textiles and technology). “It wasn’t just about the technique of customising clothes, it was spiritual, too,”Nurse Naoya was a former student who discovered NOKI 18 years ago in a Harajuku shop. “What impressed me was that JJ always asked me if I was happy. I found that similar to the teachings of  Buddhism, which may sound exaggerated but, for me, NOKI is Buddha. NOKI is God.”

“I want to be able to harness my legacy,”Hudson said this, which is supported by his upcoming show with Jamie Reid at Rodhus Studios Brighton. “He’s the punk godfather of collage and we’ve both fucked with new systems. My art is finally starting to be recognised. The fashion industry bastardised it as clothing but it was never just clothing. It was about a freedom uniform.”Below, JJ Hudson talks to us about the dangers of nostalgia and the legacy of AIDS. He also discusses his plans to create a fashion school that is unlike any other.

Jonathan, how are you? How are you doing?

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JJ Hudson Please don’t call me Jonathan. JJ or NOKI is fine, only my mum and bank manager call me Jonathan, it’s very strange. JJ was actually started by Margarita, my friend from Edinburgh who was drunk. She started calling me that. I was like ‘you can call me what you like’Because I had been bullied into fucking and called all kinds by that point. JJ intervened and my life was forever changed. So what I’m trying to say is it’s been a crazy 30 years and I’m obsessed with branding.

Apologies. We are sorry. 

JJ Hudson It was the 80s. My brother was the Kingpin in punk and I was his sidekick. He was a Psychobilly and had a blonde flattop. He was the Billy Idol from Aberdeen while I was a geeky child with big ears and an odd facial expression. Obviously queer as well but I didn’t know that then. His thousands of girlfriends looked after me, they were my guardian angels. I had an incredible upbringing, sneaking into all the hardcore club.

Is that where all your Anarchism comes? 

JJ Hudson I was enthralled by style – seeing clothing that had been ripped and torn from the pulling and shoving of a mosh pit. I think that’s where NOKI comes from, knowing what’s on the verge of acceptability and authenticity, because there’s an awful lot of fakes out there, especially now. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, it’s part of a generation that are gagging on nostalgia because they’re terrified of the future. One of my students is 19 and he came to me buying Supreme skateboards even though he couldn’t skate. He’d dress like a 70s crooner so I told him to take his flares and mash them up with a jogging bottom. 

What’s so wrong with nostalgia?

JJ Hudson It’s melancholy. Don’t copy what the past gave you because that’s costume, not fashion. If you’re not breaking rules it’s not cool. People used to be disgusted when they saw long hair, flares, or tight leather jackets. Those people weren’t accepted, they had to be part of some kind of disgusting cultural change. I want to be able to speak truth with my students and one solution I offer is through mashing-up clothes, because you’re creating a narrative change. That’s how I see my custom builds: soft sculpture, collage, and dadaism. It attempts to make sense of life as a messy mess. 

Is that how you explain why NOKI NESTT was started? 

JJ Hudson Students have been coming to see me for years. They’ve seen my work in shops, or other parts of the industry. They wanted to learn how to make custom-made garments NOKI-style. The lockdown was a time for reflection. We were forced to do indoor jigsaws as the apocalyptic film was about to start. I had been planning for this for years. Even in the 80s, we lived through the AIDs crises and the Cold War. My work was what I used to call it. ‘Bunker Love’ because if we all end up in a bunker one thing I will enjoy myself doing is creating stuff to wear while we’re stuck down there… that’s if we even make the bunker. That’s why I set the school up. 

You were one of – if not the first – to make spliced and diced upcycling your brand. How does it feel to see other designers taking inspiration from this now? 

JJ Hudson It’s mental. I’ve been doing Gucci x adidas or MM6 x The North Face for decades and I suppose all these mash-ups have just validated this crazy thing that happened with me in the 90s. I was in heaven from 1996 to 2000 because nobody understood what it was that I was doing. I imagine people would feel the same. ‘What’s your problem? Why are you splicing all these brands together?’ But I’m a raver and that was my uniform. I didn’t just want to wear Nike or Fila, I wanted them to be chopped-up and made into this fucking hybrid piece of armour. I’d do things like blank the letters out of an adidas t-shirt so that it read ‘AIDS’. It meant the brand wasn’t just another corporation at the rave but it was adveritising a safe sex campaign. This was actually quite sacrilegious because it was an emotionally frightening time. Do you know my story on AIDs? 

I don’t, what happened?

JJ Hudson As I said, branding is my passion. In the 80s, there was this actor called Rock Hudson, he was the epitome of masculinity but he happened to be in the closet. I shared his last names so when he died from AIDs, I was bullied relentlessly. At 13 I became the disgusting homo kid, I was outed, and I couldn’t escape that. It was like being branded in a negative way. 

Do you believe these experiences have influenced your anonymity 

JJ Hudson What do you mean by the mask? It was because I was famous in Shoreditch in the early 2000s, which was a lawless community. Seriously, you could only eat Ginsters from a garage if your heart desired. It was a barren area, a no-go zone. When I was just a young kid, I opened The Bricklayers Arms. It quickly became a mecca. That’s how I met the coolest of the cool, like Lulu Kennedy, who I worked with on Fashion East in 2008, she was a punter at the bar. 

Popularity isn’t necessarily a positive thing, though, and the mask went on because I didn’t want anyone coming near me. People had to decide what they liked and why they wanted him to stay. Because of the anonymity that social media has taken from us, the mask is even more important. I still wear it in public as a way to advertise my art because I’m just a lad from Aberdeen that probably has PTSD from the 80s and I’m still dealing with all of that. It was scary. I still believe I have AIDs. If I get a cold or a sniff I immediately think I’ve got it. And that’s part of branding. 

Is the NESTT trying to reinvigorate the melting pot vibe of Shoreditch early on?

JJ Hudson It’s about creating a new school out of the old school, yeah. As a gay man I don’t have children but I have thousands of students who are like my kids. I used to teach at Ravensbourne & Kingston, even though I would think of it as a job. ‘‘why am I here?’I was brought in by the children to observe street-oriented creativity. That’s when I started Fashion Monster, a course I’ve taught all over the world, which challenges students to drag clothing out of landfills and create a monster. It’s about facing our fears, our need for dopamine, and shopping, and consumerism. There’s still a need for that, and I want to be able to harness my legacy through it. The ultimate goal is to raise funds for a school that can sustain itself. A place where students can learn, sell and show their pieces via the studio. That’s what the NESTT is – a harnessing of a legacy.

From June 25-26 and July 2-5 at Agitate Britain, NOKI and Jamie Reid (Works in Paper and Cloth) Rodhus Studios.

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