The other day OKP had a special opportunity to visit the showroom for Leroy Jenkins to preview their spring and fall lines. Co-founders Ron Upperman and Upendo (Pen) Taylor took some time to talk to us about their new line and their inspirations. True street hustlers, they got their start peddling hoodies and hand painted mesh hats out on the block. Soon enough, celebs were rockin’ their gear (Afrika Bambaataa and Fab Five Freddy being two of the first!), and a buzz was born. Fast-forward from their inception in ’05 to today, and LJ is one of the hottest up-and-coming streetwear brands out there. We think some of this has to do with their ability to think outside the box, and create fresh, new designs from organic forms of inspiration.
Naturally, Okayplayer had to ask how music influences their art and their designs. Without hesitation, Pen accredited the Native Tongues movement as one of the earlier main influences of his art. “I was always trying to interpret that sound visually in my work, especially, later on, as I got familiar more into Dilla as a producer.” Asside from Hip-Hop, Ron talked about how he’s inspired by a vast array of music and about how growing up in the skateboarding scene helped introduce him to a broad spectreum of music and styles. When asked how the name Leroy Jenkins came about, both designers chuckle and admit it was all just a joke. “When we first met, at our first job together [at a design company], it was a joke in the office because it was sort of the typical ‘black name’ and anytime someone told an off-color joke they would throw out the name ‘Leroy Jenkins.’ Then when we were throwing around ideas for the name of the company, it just stuck” says Ron. According to Pen the logo isn’t anyone specific. “At the time I was really studying design from the 20s, which is where the cameo logo idea came from. At first it wasn’t anyone special, but now, you know, it’s Leroy Jenkins.”
When asked about how they got involved doing work for Dilla, designing the album artwork for The Shining, along with some merch and a special limited edition Dilla hat (which we happened to sell exclusively on okayplayer.com), Pen says “It turns out Dilla got a hold of one of our hoodies and he liked it so much he had Ms. Yancey reach out to us. That was exciting for us because we were already huge fans. After he passed, Eddie at BBE was coming up with concepts for the album art and thought of us. Just to get a chance to talk to work on something tied to one of our heros was really powerful and the way The Shining was all about how Dilla communicated without words, he was speaking to me without being there. That’s one of our main aspirations when it comes to design, to speak through it. We wanted our design to interpret the sound and the feeling of Dilla’s music visually. It was hard, I was giving them a lot of ideas and nothing felt right but it was when Ms. Yancey gave me a whole stack of Dilla’s baby pictures and I got to listen to her speak about where Dilla was at when he was making the record. That’s when I got the idea for reworking the cameo, something classic and timeless. Ms. Yancey said ‘do whatever is your first inspiration.’ A lot of artists will stay working on a piece for a time period but Dilla would just go right in and crank it out, using his first inspiration, and then kept it moving. That’s how we ended up approaching the album art. I feel really blessed to have gotten to know the whole family and be embraced by them. It was a blessing to be able to contribute.”
As for their signature floral patterns, Ron says “we were doing this way before the heavy pattern all-over prints, and we wanted to make something that wasn’t a fleece sweatshirt, so we just went fabric shopping. We made some samples and rocked them around L.A. and people went crazy! So that was it.”
Pen jumps in with “we only had one store that was down with us then and it was Union in SoHo, so we would just pack these old fashioned suit cases we had full of our gear and hoodies and hit up events in the city. Because he was on the West Coast at the time and I was out here, people really thought were some major operation.”
The designs above and below are all for fall, and it’s the most they’ve ever designed for a single season. Ron says “we’ve got woven, fleece jackets, cotton waterproof wax jackets, rugbys, sweaters and knits, t-shirts, and hats.” According to Pen “the inspiration for this line was 1920s vintage collegiate- old football jerseys, stripes down the sleeves, baseball jerseys, baseball jackets, and a varsity sweater. But we kept it all modern.”
Look for this new collection in stores this coming autumn. For more, visit leroyjenkinslimited.com.
Photos by Ginny Suss