Oi Polloi

Interview: Alexandre Guarneri from Homecore

Published: Fri Aug 11 2017

Homecore is a French clothing company founded by Alexandre Guarneri and Steph Cop back in 1992. It originally started out as one of the first true hip hop brands, before turning into something a bit more subtle. Anyway, we’ve just started stocking it so it seemed to make sense to talk to Alexandre to find out more. He definitely outdid himself with the answers. 

We’ve done a fair few interviews with clothing designer types over the years, and although they’re always pretty interesting, they can often cover a lot of the same things. This one is a little different though. 

Read on for enlightening words about the 80s in Paris, the original spirit of hip hop and the importance of the skeleton. 

Homecore has been around for quite a while. Why did you start it? What’s the story behind it? 

Yes, we started Homecore 25 years ago. At that time I was really involved in hip hop — I loved everything about it, especially the fact that it was a free culture, coming from the street with positive values and an extraordinary cool energy. 

There was no clothing for hip hop apart from some t-shirts of the various posses and maybe some Mode 2 t-shirts that you could only find in two stores. 

Before starting Homecore, me and my friend Steph Cop made graffiti t-shirts when we were in high school. That was the easiest way to make a piece of clothing that meant something and was directly identifiable, and show our allegiance to "the movement" as it was called at that time. 

I was already independent and I had to earn my living, but the t-shirts did not sell enough so we could live from it, so I looked for something else to do. One category that was very important for the style and crucially missing was sneakers, so I did a trip to London to get sneakers that we didn’t have in Paris. 

In London I found just a few items, some suede Champion mid tops in grey and red. I brought some back and sold them quite easy, but that was not enough… I had to go to the source, so I went to New York in December ‘89 for a trip with my girlfriend. 

I must say I was quite disappointed since I thought that I would see hip hop everywhere in the streets, but instead I just saw average American people with no style. I stayed 15 days and came back with two suitcase of sneakers which I sold right away and made enough money to cover the costs of the trip and make a nice profit. That was it, from that moment New York was my heaven — I went up to four times a month for two years and started making big money from those trips. I used to buy tickets for my friends and their friends in exchange for two suitcase each full of sneakers or other stuff. 

I was buying everything we did not have in France… Double Goose country leather down jackets, Bear Mountain down jackets, Manhattan Portage bags, Helly Hansen rain jackets, Carhartt, Ben Davis, Carter Workwear, Karl Kani, Cross Colours, baseball caps, fat laces, Timberlands, military stuff and anything the rappers would wear. That was very lucrative, and on the side I still continued with the t-shirts. 

At one point there was a low moment in sales and I had a lot of stock, so I decided to look for a store.  A guy in Les Halles in Central Paris rented me a mezzanine in his store, we called it New York Store and it was an immediate success. After one year the store we were renting from had to close so we found a store of our own nearby and opened our second store, Dobble Source. 

After a few months we started seeing other stores opening and selling the same brands we were selling. This is when we decided to do our own brand, and Homecore was born. We started with one jacket and one pair of pants, and rapidly added sweatshirts and baggy jeans. There was nothing like that on the market… every piece we did would sell out… we were the standard hip hop brand. 

The magic moment lasted until 1996, after some other brands started on the hip hop theme that was becoming a financially interesting market.  

How did you get ‘into clothes’, if you know what I mean? What were you into as a kid? 

My childhood was quite tumultuous. My parents divorced very early and my father brought me to my grandmother’s house in Sicily for a few years. After that we all came back to live in a caravan on a construction site in the suburbs of Paris. 

The first important interaction I had with clothes was in Sicily. There is a custom there that involves going to the corso after the afternoon siesta. This is a very important moment, you get to cross the whole village since you go up and down the corso a few times, so you have to look good with your ice cream or your granita in hand. We were not very wealthy but my grandmother always made sure we looked good.

Another moment when I came across the importance of the look was in the suburbs of Paris in the late 70s. I was in college and I lived in a caravan and my father did not have money for clothes so I had to compose with what we came across. I did what I could and I was very cautious and curious of the looks and what they meant. 

When hip hop arrived in the beginning of the 80s there was a game change. The style was imposed by the rappers, but it was always the same process — there are some rules you observe and you make your own style within the frame. 

Hip hop was obviously a big thing for you. When did it first land in Paris?

It was in the early eighties. I was in my last college year and my older brother came to get me with his friend from high school. He was called Bob, a super cool, French African super cool guy, my brother introduced me and when I shook his hand he started a wave. He explained this was ‘the smurf’, and went on explaining the whole hip hop thing… Radio 7, Grand Master Flash, the message… I got involved right away. 

We used to go to Zulu parties. The vibe was positive which was good news. In the suburbs you had to be tough or you were weak, but with hip hop there were new possibilities — you could dance, sing, make music, write on the walls and that was enough to make you cool.  

When the movie Beat Street came out in theatres we all went to see it. After the movie we all gathered at the Trocadero. It was a beautiful moment; everybody from the movement was there. The cops came and we had to go back home but we felt super energised. 

In 1984 Break Street ‘84 was released and again hip hop gained dimension and the West Coast style was born. I continued attending all the Zulu events and I started tagging and painting. I was first ENZO then I became ALEX and LEXDER. 

Why do you think hip hop around that time was so influential? What was it that made it so ‘vital’ for so many people? 

Hip hop came at a time when there was nothing really interesting for the new generation that we represented. Rock, reggae, or even pop belonged to older guys, but hip hop was young free and new, and there were many ways to enter. It was a rich culture and it was accessible. Peace, love, unity and having fun a very powerful and meaningful motto that many people could identify with.  

Homecore started in 1992. What was an average day like for you back then? 

I spent most of my days travelling from one downtown area to another looking for pearls in basements. I had found the possibility of travelling all over the USA for not too much money; it was called the Delta Pass — a ticket valid for a month that allowed you to travel from city to city for free — so I used that a lot. 

If I was in Paris I was at the store tending to customers and telling the story of every piece there was in the store. That was one thing I loved, telling stories… 

Haha, I can tell. Your brand was maybe one of the first hip hop labels in France. How did hip hop in France differ to other scenes? 

I think French hip hop was the second biggest hip hop market in the world. We started very early and it created strong exchanges between the U.S.A. and France. Africa Bambata was here often, we had Zulu Kings, a TV show called Hip Hop avec Sidney, the Paris City Breakers who were teaching moves and many French guys were travelling to the US. 

I guess we really felt hip hop in our veins and French youth needed something like that to express itself. 

How have things changed since the early 90s? Do you think things have changed? 

It started to change in the late 90s. Big business came in the game and it was not about culture anymore, but about money. This is when hip hop started to be associated with images of rappers in big cars, with nude girls in the back, money in their hands and champagne flowing. 

It shifted from something that was inside that you had to work on to put outside, to something superficial that you could manifest with images or buy easily. 

Then there was 9/11, which made us lose a lot of innocence and put down many strongly anchored beliefs, and then came the internet era that completely changed the game… and the games in general. 

So yes I would say things have changed greatly since the early 90s. 

And how has Homecore changed since the early 90s? It’s come a long way since the early days. 

When hip hop was taken over by the system I felt it became a stereotype and I was very hurt. I felt something had been stolen from us. 

I still believed in the principles of peace, love, unity and having fun, but I did not like the image that was now associated to hip hop, so I slowly distanced myself from it and started inventing my own style. It took a few years and the evolution of the brand was very slow from then to now. It followed my own evolution. 

What do you mean by that? 

For some time I was constantly thinking what? How? When? Where? Why? I started some kind of existential deep reflection. 

I remembered that when I was in the suburbs we thought that all the people in Paris were rich and weak, and when I arrived in Paris I noticed that the Parisians thought that all the people in the suburbs were stupid and violent. Having lived on both sides I knew now that none of it was true and it was just the result of mind conditioning. 

So I decided that my clothes should talk about how prejudices limit our lives. The first piece to embody this idea was the ‘Bourgeois Racaille’ jacket. I took the cut of the banker’s suit jacket and the fabric of a street guy and made a sweatshirt suit jacket from that. On the label I wrote, “Homecore – to be in harmony with yourself and the world around.” 

One evening I was in my living room and I had an illumination. I was looking for a neutral dimension where we are all the same. I was on my feet on the parquet floor, facing the wall, looking at my feet, and started thinking about the anatomy classes that we attended at college, I especially remembered the pictures on which you see the skeleton, the muscle system and the blood circulation. 

That was it… the ultimate natural reference point: the skeleton — the inner-architecture that we all have inside, no matter the gender, race, age or social background...that should be my base in future interconnection. The day after, I arrived at the office and I was hectic, I went to the secretary at the welcome desk and started touching her shoulder, explaining there were three levels of sensibility: superficial (the skin), intermediary (the flesh), and deep (the bone ). 

I was totally submerged by this discovery, and during seven years I dived into what I called ‘the Gumjo’. I rented Homecore to an Italian licensee, giving me a lot of time to go deeper into the Gumjo.

But at one point I realised that I was too deep — to many I had become the crazy guy who shouldn’t be invited anywhere cause they were touching everybody and ruining the ambience. I had to come back to the surface in order to reconnect. So I went back to the Italian guy bought the brand back and decided to use the clothing as a medium to share this experience.

Before you continue… what is ‘the Gumjo’? Is that that big yellow bag thing you’ve got on your website? 

The yellow bag you mention is called a Gumjo loop. It exists in various sizes and colors and we use it to ground and to connect with others. To me it is an interesting way of materialising the philosophy of Homecore without being too intrusive. 

It came from an experience I made while I was in the first phases of the ‘neutral dimension’. I used a fabric swatch to make a loop and attached my body to a pillar. Then my friend Carsten saw me and came to substitute the pillar — we became a pillar for each other instantly. I have been happily using this loop ever since in many different ways. Every first Sunday of the month we do a Gumjo Day at our store. 

Sounds interesting. What were you saying about the clothes then? 

The clothes have to be wearable and they need to fit well. They have to be good quality, they have to be the right price, they have to be nicely presented and they have to be delivered on time. We do basics with interesting details. 

All of the above should be present in a Homecore piece; I call it the mathematics of clothing. This is how Homecore has evolved since the early 90s. 

The fabrics you use are pretty special. Where are most of these from? How important is the construction aspect of your clothing? 

We use mostly Italian, French or Portuguese fabrics, and we make 95% of our production in Portugal.

The construction is important because it’s what makes the piece last. We put great effort in doing clothing that will make people happy for a long time. 

Why are well made clothes important? 

Because well made things in general are important. I don’t even understand the point of making something bad. 

What else do you get up to outside all of this? What music are you into these days? Seen any good films lately? 

My daughters' happiness is very important to me. They are always in my mind. I listen a lot to what they listen to… French rap like MZ, Bigflo & Oli, Damso, Nekfu and USA rap like Kendrick Lamar and Chance. 

We also listen to classic French music like Dalida, Aznavour and Edith Piaf, and other classics like Michael Jackson and Bob Marley. 

When I am not with them I really like classical music. It’s a kind of music that doesn’t bring my mind into a world of commercial things, but more into emotions… horse-riding in the woods, the ‘siecle des lumieres’ and beautiful landscapes. 

A few good movies I have seen? Moonlight, The Visitor, Magnolia, L Homme De Rio and Hotel Du Nord 

Brilliant. I think we’ve covered pretty much everything here. Have you got any wise words you’d like to add? 

Try to take some time off the digital world and get more physical.

See the Homecore stuff here.

Photos by Josh Rothery.