Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? It depends on which school of thought you subscribe to; poet Oscar Wilde argued for the former, going against Greek philosopher Aristotle, a notable proponent for the latter. This millennium-old debate is never more acute in this post-truth, counter-establishment world that we inhabit right now.
This shift in paradigm is seen most clearly in the type of music that we consume. Rap and hip-hop, which have their roots in rebelling against the establishment, have overtaken rock as the most listened-to genre.
That sentiment is also found in the fashion industry, with the co-opting of streetwear as a legitimate force threatening the very foundation that it was built on. Which begs the question, is the output by the creatives a reflection of life as we see and know it, or is their work a call to revolutionise the world we inhabit? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle. At the centre of the coalescing of life and art’s relationship with one another sees the rise of a new type of creative who draws from a bit of both sides, one like British skateboarder Lucien Clarke.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he spent his childhood in New York before moving to London when he was 11 years old. Much like his childhood, Clarke is more than the sum of his parts; together with fellow Brit Blondey McCoy, they have broken through the glass ceiling of how skateboarders defined success.
Before them, the benchmark was Tony Hawk, whose exhaustive list of sponsorships and an iconic video game that bears his namesake has made him a cultural icon. While Clarke has a similar ambition of leaving his mark in the history books of skateboarding, he is the embodiment of the New Age creative, melding fashion, image creation and skateboarding into one cohesive art form.
But before becoming the poster boy of fashion campaigns, look books and runway shows, Clarke was a boy who fell in love with skateboarding. “I got to about 15, 16 and I was completely obsessed. Nothing else mattered to me,” says Clarke in an interview. “Girls didn’t matter. Going out didn’t matter. The kinds of things that should matter to you at that age, I didn’t even care about. I was a skate-rat. That was all I wanted to live and breathe.”
It was at London’s legendary Southbank spot where he began to hone his skills on the deck, as well as his inception into the world of fashion. It began with a meeting with Lev Tanju, who invited him to join Palace Wayward Boys Choir, a collective of skateboarders which became fashion’s favourite streetwear label.
With his impeccable skill on the board as well as his lithe good looks and sense of style, he starred not only in Palace’s skate tapes, but also countless look books and campaigns. From then it was a series of “meeting good people at the right time”—case in point, a friendship struck with fashion designer Virgil Abloh that Clarke met skating, who invited him to walk for his Louis Vuitton show, not once, but thrice. What Abloh saw in Clarke was more than just another pretty face to model his wares, but an appreciation of talent, drive and genuineness, traits emblematic of his vision of the French luxury brand.
In another interview, Clarke says: “I have never seen skating and fashion as completely different worlds.” It is creatives like Clarke who are helping to bridge that divide.
On one hand, by working with luxury retail giants like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Ralph Lauren, he has given fashion a healthy dose of street cred and the authenticity that it has been craving. In return, the fashion industry gave back to the skateboarding community by giving these athletes their shine and legitimising the sport.
But it wasn’t easy to get to this point. For Clarke, growing up in London’s skate scene meant overcoming shards of broken glass and rusted metal pipes instead of landing tricks on pools and ramps. Concrete benches are your rails and stairs represent an opportunity for a leap of faith.
While some might bemoan the lack of proper infrastructure for skateboarding, Clarke saw obstacles and hurdles as opportunities to freestyle. In an environment where there are no rules, he made his own. That ethos of championing a free form of expression is not only applied to skating as he is branching into different means of channelling his creativity; one that sees him venturing into photography (which in this spread, you see the inclusion of his landscape work with portraits shot by Lenne Chai), videography as well as the launch of his clothing label, DCV’ 87.
There is no precedence to the career trajectory that Clarke is on and, perhaps in his eyes, the path unblazed is the path best taken—all whilst being guided by the melding of life and art, sans imitation.
Styling by Coline Bach
Grooming: Marcia Lee (One Represents)
Photo Assistants: Bart, Jinam Kim