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An Interview About Nothing :: How NYC-Based Stugazi Interprets Seinfeld

An Interview About Nothing :: How NYC-Based Stugazi Interprets Seinfeld

By Maarten Warning

I got into streetwear around the second big wave in the early 2000s. New brands were launching all over the place and newfound blogs picked them up and brought them to a worldwide audience. It was new and exciting, each brand had a strong identity and unique graphics or concepts that got my attention. Now, years later, we see a group of those brands that made it, and are still around. They now have worldwide distribution and most of the time their own store(s). The quality of the product is better than ever, but that spark is seemingly gone. Which isn’t unsurprising, it’s hard to wow once you’ve been steadily pumping out product for over a decade. But what bugs me is that there aren’t a lot new great brands coming into the market place. While the early streetwear brands created something that they personally thought were missing in the marketplace, a lot of new brands just copy whatever the established brands are doing and put their name on it.

But last year I stumbled upon something on Instagram: a Supreme box logo knockoff that simply said Seinfeld instead of Supreme. Now the box logo has been copied a million times by a long list of wannabe streetwear “brands,” but this one spoke to me. Not just because I’m a Seinfeld fan, but also because it was not just a simple knockoff, it actually made a lot of sense. It reminded me of the only other box logo-inspired design that I’ve wanted to own: the Morrissey design that I’ve spotted at DQM during one of my NY trips in either 2008 or 2010. It shared that same feeling of authenticity. Anyway, back to that Seinfeld sticker. I found out it was designed by a guy who calls himself Stugazi, and besides that design, he also made buttons and stickers of one of Seinfeld’s best quotes: “Jerk Store Called.” They were also a subtle homage to Supreme, clearly inspired by the brand’s “Get off the fucking phone” sticker. After ordering some stuff and following Stugazi on Instagram, I discovered a whole new world of designers who were doing little projects. T-shirts, stickers and pins that were influenced by stuff I’ve always been into: certain TV-shows, hip-hop, hardcore music, and skateboarding. This was streetwear, but not made with the idea of becoming the new Supreme or The Hundreds. This didn’t have lookbooks or press releases that would hopefully make it to Hypebeast. No, these were just some guys who like to make cool shit and share it with the world. Exactly what I had been missing in streetwear for the last few years.

Curious to find out more behind the guy who pulled me into this rabbit hole of new cool stuff, I decided to reach out to the guy behind Stugazi: Stuart Matz. He kindly agreed to talk about his work, background and Seinfeld. Lots of Seinfeld.

MAARTEN: Tell us about you.
STUART MATZ: My name is Stuart Matz and I am the creative director owner of Stugazi. I grew up in Washington DC, playing in punk bands and skateboarding. I was really into skate/surf culture as a kid, and especially the graphic clothing from brands like Stussy and Powell Peralta. Me and my friends looked so out of place in a city that was nowhere near a beach. This outsider culture was just something that I latched onto as a way to separate myself from the masses. It’s something that I carried with me when I moved to New York to go to college and I continue to seek it out today.

Much of your work revolves around what’s most likely the best sitcom ever: Seinfeld. Why is the show such a big influence?
When Seinfeld came out in the ’90s I really enjoyed it. There was something about the show that was different than any other sitcom on TV. I would find myself retelling lines or jokes from the show all the time. You could identify with the characters - they seemed like actual people that you would see every day in real life. It was also very New York. There was a lot of insider New York stuff that I could identify with living in the city.

It seems like Seinfeld‘s current popularity is at a new, post-original run and peak. How do you explain the “newfound” love for this show?
I wish I knew why this has been the year of Seinfeld, but it really has. Maybe the reasons I was looking back at it was the same for a lot of other people. I think we have lived over a decade without Jerry and we all miss that “New Yorkness.” I think if the show came back to TV, everyone would watch new episodes in a heartbeat. It’s timeless because nothing in the show is tied to anything dated, it’s still about right now. That’s why I think there has been so much parody of what the show would be like present day. We need it in our lives.

When and why did you turn that love for Seinfeld into graphics and products?
The Seinfeld thing started March 2014 as kind of an homage to the “old New York,” the one I knew from when I moved here in the ’90s. It’s a reflection of missing the old, more interesting New York. Its no secret one of the brands and people that really inspired this are Supreme and Barbra Kruger. The ’90s were a killer time for Supreme and in my head the two things meshed together.

How was the initial response to your designs?
It was pretty crazy. I thought I would sell a couple stickers here and there, but when I posted them up for the first time I got picked up by a ton of blogs and sold out instantly. From there on out there’s been a steady growth of followers and customers who dig the stuff I have been doing.

What’s your background in design?
My background in design goes back to art school. I studied advertising design and have worked in the ad industry as a creative. I would say that this being my own thing has really been my first true creative outlet. Working for clients can be very frustrating and you usually don’t get to make the things you really like. Here I get to make everything I really like and the only client I have to impress is myself, which actually may be even harder now that I think about it…

Eventually one of your T-shirts made it into the hands of Jerry Seinfeld himself. Tell us more about that, how did it go down and how fucking stoked were you?
Everyone has some sort of goal or dream with anything they produce, but I didn’t ever think Jerry Seinfeld would be in possession of, much less wear, one of my shirts. I really have to thank his wife Jessica and Instagram. Someone Jessica followed on Instagram liked my Seinfeld stuff, and Jessica ended up following me and asked if she could get some of the stuff. That alone was amazing and I didn’t think it would get any bigger than that, but then she actually had Jerry pose with one of my shirt which pretty much blew my mind. Jessica has been a big supporter from the start.

And now there’s the @Seinfeld2000 collabo. How did that come about?
It’s funny, me and Seinfeld2000 have a similar take on Seinfeld, but we are coming from different angles. He ended up reaching out to me about a collab and it made total sense. We thought about what would be the best vehicle for the ideas and enamel pins sounded like the best way to go. So we did a funny pin pack of Jerry wearing Google glasses and a Seinfeld Wu-Tang logo.

Pins are a big trend right now, but you didn’t exactly hop on the bandwagon. What’s your personal history with pins?
I used to collect enamel pins as a kid when we would go on trips. I always thought they were so cool because they are so many different shapes and colors and they’re so basic, like a simple sketch of something. When I did my first Seinfeld stuff I knew there needed to be an enamel pin as part of it, it just felt correct. I think this explosion of pins now also has to do with the nature of them. You can add some extra flair to whatever you’re wearing buy putting one on. People are getting really crazy and out of the box with their designs and I think it’s really turning pins into something greater than the original intent.

You’ve managed to pick up some distribution for your stuff. Do you have any plans to turn Stugazi into a full on clothing brand?
I don’t know that it will ever be a full-on clothing brand, because I have so many different interests. Lifestyle brand might be more fitting. There will always be some clothes in the equation but they might not always be the main focus.

Will Seinfeld remain the main focus of Stugazi or will it slowly move to the background to make room for other inspiration?
I am always a couple of steps ahead from what I have just done. Maybe it’s my ADD, but it keeps me moving to the next thing. I love the Seinfeld stuff, but it’s where my mind was at a year ago. The fact that new people continue to discover it is great and I will keep some pieces around, but I have been moving into a lot of different directions. I’ve been doing some collabs with people and other brands and I am branching into more art. I think Stugazi will continue be a select group of ideas that have inspired me at that point of time, which can be translated into a T-shirt, pin, or print.

To me you’re part of a new wave of “streetwear.” Designers who like to make graphics and product about things that are close to their heart, but are not necessarily looking to start a big brand or get their shit onto the blogs or into stores. Guys like Day Waste, Hank Hillism, Milhouse VH, No Future, Monsters Outside, etc. What’s your view on this “movement” (and can we actually call it a movement?)
If it keeps growing as it has, we can call it a movement. New small brands are popping up everywhere thanks to the ease of running an online shop and having free PR through social media. I personally think its great, because now everyone can get their ideas out there. And on the opposite side people are hungry for stuff thats not mass produced and really feels like someone put some extra love into it. I still try to send out packages hand written and when I receive stuff like that I know that person cared a lot about what they send me. It makes you feel like you’re not just buying a piece of clothing, it’s like your part of a club or in on a secret. The reason I’m doing things this way is because it frees me from the structure that a “brand” is expected to act like.

Like every successful designer, people have bootlegged your designs and try to profit off something you came up with. How do you feel about that?
It’s so crazy to me that someone would want to bootleg what is basically already a bootleg. You have to be seriously lazy to be doing that. I don’t think I was actually angry when I found out, because I knew it was bound to happen. Funny thing is my customers are the ones that take it a lot more personal and call people out. There is a flattering aspect to it as well. If someone is ripping you off you did something right.

Ever scared that lawsuits or cease & desist orders will come your way?
Thats always in the back of your mind when you reimagine brands. So far everyone has been super cool, and I am really branching out farther away from leveraging brands to get my point of view across.

Favorite Seinfeld episode, character, quote?
Jerk store, Jerk store, Jerk store. I just love that line “The jerk store called.” It’s just perfect. I think my favorite character would be a toss up between George and Kramer. I like them because they are at the opposite sides of the spectrum, orbiting Jerry and Elaine.

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You can buy Stugazi’s awesome stuff on his website.
Photo credit: John Benitez

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