RYAN HAWAII: IN BASQUIAT’S LEGACY

Words: Jacob Davey
Polaroids: Sharon Pannen

Ryan Hawaii is a name that might ring a bell for many of you. The inter-disciplinary artist is a member of maverick collective Neverland Clan, aka “THE WORLD’S GNARLIEST BOYBAND”. Founded in 2012, the group, according to Ryan, wanted to hear something that spoke to them, so they became the difference that they wanted to see. Formed by Ryan, Daniel OG, Omelet and Okimi, Neverland Clan have continued to inspire each other’s energy, which in turn has seen them gain a cult following that closely track their music, art, and design work. Highlighted as the next to blow by countless magazines in recent years, the crew have turned stuffy NTS and Boiler Room functions into pulsating sweat pits, where the zeal of that cult has been felt first-hand. Neverland Clan are increasingly becoming recognised for their individual talents, with each of them doing their bit to express and relay an originality that young London sorely needed.

Ryan applies this same go-get-it dynamism to his own work, which he calls “art-meets-clothing, with a bit of punk and Afrocentric influence.” Looking at his clothing—found on ryanhawaii.com—you can see how it’s inherently inspired by the likes of Basquiat and Duchamp, who laid the foundations for Ryan’s style. “They’re the OG’s,” he tells me. “They kicked down the doors for us so that we can walk through freely.” He also puts a lot of his approach down to his upbringing in Catford, South East London, which catalysed his own productivity. “Catford is so multicultural and an incredible place to live,” says Ryan. “Back in the day, though, it was HOT and very dangerous... I guess that inspired me to always be on my hustle and never stop moving.”

Whilst “underground” is now a defunct phrase in 2017, Ryan’s work is still relatively low-key on the wider fashion radar. But that hasn’t stopped him from drawing international plaudits: Ryan recently flew out to Iceland to perform at the Airwaves Festival and he just returned from Holland, where he exhibited his latest ‘FACTORY ™’ range, showcasing how he’s starting to make some major waves overseas. He’s also steadily been collaborating with some bigger names that share his get-up-and-go ethos, such as Cardi B.

Since meeting him at a party in 2014, grime star Skepta has backed Ryan’s work religiously. Much like his own approach to music, the MC instantly rated Ryan’s DIY approach to his craft. From wearing his jacket on the cover of Time Out to commissioning him to make the Nike SkAir collaboration tees and use one of his chains as the centerpiece for his VICIOUS EP, Skepta has restored the sort of faith once shown in him, at Hawaii’s age of 22, when he was encouraged to switch from being a DJ for Meridian Crew to jumping on the mic.

Ryan says the pair’s connection is “power-of-the-universe shit,” but has previously said that even if the BBK honcho wasn’t a fan, it wouldn’t have deterred his vision. “If Skepta turned around to me and said ‘No, I don't want to wear anything you make’, I’d still go home and make it. That’s an important step, but at the same time you need to be able to rely on yourself. You can’t be relying on other people to bring you up—you just have to be working. There’s no reason why you couldn't be the next Skepta, or the next anybody really.”

“I LOOK AT IT LIKE I’M CONTINUING DUCHAMP AND BASQUIAT’S LEGACIES.”

It’s that kind of perseverance that would lead ubiquitous designer Virgil Abloh to noticing Ryan Hawaii’s work. In what was perhaps the biggest and boldest step in his career, Ryan took to social media to organise a brand presentation, which saw a mini hijack of Abloh’s Off-White installation at Selfridges last year by filling it up with his own designs. The “secret event” generated a lot of hype, eventually seeing around 200 kids showing up and tagging the designer relentlessly on social media in pictures of his pieces. And it worked: Virgil loved the installation, and would later invite Ryan to talk at one of his workshops.

That pragmatic, non-conformist approach mirrored the story of Hawaii’s hero, Marcel Duchamp’s iconic ‘Fountain’ porcelain urinal—in terms of placing something somewhere it shouldn’t be. Coincidentally, Abloh would go on to sell ‘R.MUTT’ hoodies—the signature inscribed on the urinal—for Off-White earlier this year, highlighting how his approach to art and design resonates with Ryan’s, who is determined to stay on the same trajectory as his heroes. “I look at it like I’m continuing Duchamp and Basquiat’s legacies,” Ryan adds. “And they would be proud.”