“Jerry, if your army combine [sic] with my army, it’s a revolution” Rico Rodriguez (Cuban born Jamaican trombonist), to Jerry Dammers (The Specials), around 1979.
The Dsquared2 summer collection may be called Glam, but it takes in fact from several street styles of the Thatcher era. One of these styles is the rude-boy/2-tone look, and the chequerboard pattern is one of its most recognisable elements.
For the younger generations who might not be that familiar with the subtleties of long extinguished urban tribes’ codes, here is what it’s all about.
Around 1979, the second wave of ska adapted the original music from the 1960’s – the one that was to eventually become reggae – and gave it the energy of punk. The look was largely inspired by the Jamaican rude-boy style and the look of the white kids in the late years of the mods, called skinheads by the media (more than by themselves, at least before 1969).
The black and white checked pattern became one of the distinctive components of the revival imagery. It was adopted by a whole section of British youths (both from the indigenous white working-class as well as of West-Indian origns), after its initial use on EPs produced by the 2-tone label setup by Jerry Dammers, keyboardist and songwriter with The Specials.
Dammers claims he designed the logo being merely inspired by the sticky tape he used to decorate his bike with when he was a young mod. Yet, the intertwined black and white colours (“two-tone”) quickly took a whole new significance an era where the national front was growing in strength and where skinheads, originally reggae/ska fans with not particular interest in politics, began to sport union jacks (later swastikas and other nationalist symbols) and join far-right organisations like the British Movement.
Another part of the 2-tone universe is the character of Walt Jabsco, a black and white figure representing the archetypal rude-boy of the era (‘Jabsco’ was just the name of a bowling shirt owned by Jerry Dammers).
Interestingly enough the image was inspired by the look and attitude of Peter Tosh on the Wailers first album (standing to the right of a young Bob Marley) which Dammers describes as “defiant and Jamaican and hard“. And to go further back in time, this very image was itself the Wailers imitation of the sleeeve of an album by Curtis Mayfield and the impressions.
If the initial rude-boys would often have dressed in black and white (but not always: greys, electric blue and browns being possible options for a mohair suit), the chequerboard pattern would not have been that common on clothes. True, some members of the Specials sported it around 1980 as you can see below (and to the right, the very Jerry Dammers), as did Pauline Black of the Selecter (further down) and some fans at gigs.
However it would later explode as part of targeted merchandising in the mid 1980’s. Original rude boys had long moved on, but young and often well-off “plastic” imitations became rife accross Europe and the States. Parkas, pants, shirts could be found in specialised shops, but these clean, functional, modern pieces had little to do with the vintage vibe proper to the first (1960’s) and second (1970’s) waves of skinhead-reggae followers.
Dsquared2 items decorated in the aforementioned fashion are everywhere in this summer, ranging from swimming briefs to shirts and parkas. The look is interesting but in my opinion is unlikely to relaunch the pattern as a staple. I may be wrong though, see how the checked motif on handbags has become a classic at Louis Vuitton.
Below is a sample of the (D)2-tone inspired items of the current collection:
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