The legendary skatewear label Zoo York is back. Not just in name but in spirit, execution, and look. Born in 1993, as a brand for and by the graffiti-bombing, hip-hop listening, skateboarding kids of New York City’s meatpacking district, Zoo York once represented the cutting edge of counter-culture cool. Before skateboarding was fully Nike’d out, the aesthetic and attitude of gritty east-coast skate culture was built by labels like Zoo York and Supreme and immortalized in Larry Clark’s film Kids (which introduced the world to Harmony Korine, Chloë Sevigny, and Rosario Dawson, among others).
To this day, streetwear labels like Palace and Kith pay clear homage to the foundation that Zoo York laid down, which begs the question — why are Supreme’s pieces met with exhausting levels of hype while Zoo York’s latest seasonal deliveries end up at Kohl’s, JC Penney, and Walmart? It’s a story as old as capitalism and one that the brand’s current owners and original founders are trying to rewrite together.
Originally launched by friends Eli Morgan Gesner, Rodney Smith, and Adam Schatz, the ethos of Zoo York began to crumble when the brand was acquired by Marc Eckō in 2001. When the company’s name was purchased by Iconix Brand Group in 2011, it seemed like the label would be forgotten altogether. The core team entrusted to maintain the guiding principles of the “Soul Artists of Zoo York” — a 1970s-80s underground collective of graffiti artists, skaters, social activists, and creatives — had long since departed and, as deals were struck with big retailers, the label lost its cultural significance among a new generation of skaters.
It’s a problem that many skate brands have faced amid the massive explosion and boom in mainstream acceptance of their sport. After all, how can you be counterculture while prominently on display at Walmart?
“From 2006, onward, it kind of lost its essence, spirit,” Adam Schatz says, after a Friday business meeting between Zoo York’s original founders. “So we’re going to bring that back, above everything.”
Schatz, Gesner, and Smith have returned as the label’s creative directors. To commemorate the return-to-form, they’re releasing a limited collection of updated classic designs from Zoo York’s archives.
“We wanted to let our fans — the people who love Zoo York — know that Rodney, Adam, and myself were back at the helm,” Gesner explains. “So the theme for the first season is ‘Under Old Management,’ which is obviously very self-aware of the fact that Zoo kind of went off the rails into a place where no one was happy.”