Alex James talks about new PUMA collab, support from Virgil Abloh & the culture of PLEASURES

Alex James talks about new PUMA collab, support from Virgil Abloh & the culture of PLEASURES

by Juliette Eleuterio
12 min

Picture this: the year is 2015, Yeezy’s are flying off the shelf, that one yellow Off-White belt is on every single IG fit pic, it seems as though everyone has or knows someone who has their own streetwear brand, and then there’s PLEASURES. Co-founded by the LA-based Alex James, PLEASURES made its mark on the streetwear scene when it first landed into people’s field of vision. On average cheaper than other competitive brands, but not lacking in quality, PLEASURES stood out for its blend of old school and new age graphics, and just simply getting it.

Fast forward to today, and PLEASURES is still thriving as one of today’s youth culture brands that dictates what’s cool, not only in fashion but also in music and culture at large. Today, we caught up with Alex to talk about his recent collab with PUMA, how Virgil Alboh changed the streetwear scene and the ultimate goal with PLEASURES.

Hey Alex ! How’s it going?

Hey! I don’t know if you heard what happened, but in outer space, there’s some like NASA debris that is floating in the atmosphere on our side of the world. It’s a West Coast internet outage, like millions of people.

Oh what? 

I looked it up and it’s all over the news and says ‘space debris affecting Wi-Fi in the Western hemisphere’. I’m on cellular right now. And north and south, it’s all down.

PUMA / Pleasures ©

Well except for this whole NASA debris mess, how has your morning been? What did you get up to?

This morning, I woke up. My son was still sleeping. I went outside on my back porch and I listened to a podcast and drank some coffee. The podcast was “How I Built This” by Guy Raz, and it was about this coffee empire called Dutch Bros about how they got started.

Any good takeaway from the podcast?

I don’t really drink it because I like my coffee more pure, and they’re really based on extremely sugary drinks, but it was interesting to hear how people pivoted from a food cart to a $10 billion business.

Congrats on your recent collab with PUMA! It was so sick. Tell me how that project came about.

We were talking to PUMA for a lot of years, right? This started back in 2018, I would say. PUMA came to our original office. I was definitely on my high horse about wearable technology. Five years ago, I really thought that wearable technology was going to be in the near present future: utilising footwear and athletic wear that can tell your heart rate, they can charge your phone, they can do all these things. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. But we’re getting there. So I said, ‘you know what PUMA, come back to me when there’s some technology in development. The technology’s still not here yet, but they came back around again, and with a new team, new outlook, new vibe, new partners, just a whole new scope for like a new company. I love the direction, I love what they were saying, I love the product they’re putting out. I love that it was our full creative direction. And we said ‘let’s do this’. I’m glad we did because it’s been great.

PUMA / Pleasures ©

You decided to go bold with this one, making the Velophasis in a pink and purple colourway. Did you ever see this as a risk, considering the colour palette isn’t typically a go-to colourway, or were you just like “fuck it we ball, I’m gonna put out a pink and purple shoe and they’re gonna love it”?

No. It was one of those things that, we knew this was gonna be an announcement, right? So when you make an announcement with a project, it has to come out with a bang, it has to be eye-catching, it has to be exciting, right? So we said ‘let’s do it in a very loud, vibrant way and follow up with something that’s a little bit more classic’. So we have like two other Velophasis shoes coming later in the year that are much more toned down but still have a very cool vibe. We just wanted to come out the gate hot. Luckily we tacked on to this Barbiecore movement. Most of us just wear all black right here at Pleasures. That’s just our vibe. But throwing some colour pop here and there, it really works. I started to wear these shoes, and I think it complements the all black kind of uniform. It really worked out.

Those new shoes coming out later this year, are they also Velophosis models?

Yeah, one of them is more like a multi-shades of cream and white version. Then there’s a fat skate shoe. A classic PUMA coming out. Those are cool. This shoe has a vintage upper with a new soul, so it’s kind of the old meets the new. I was happy to be a part of a redo on a classic. 

PUMA / Pleasures ©

There’s a quality to PLEASURES that spans across generations, merging modern graphic styles with old-school references, like this, or like your newly announced project with Sonic Youth. How do you manage to balance the two?

One thing with me and my business partner is we’ve always had our ear to the streets. This is our culture, this is what we’re about, we kind of know what’s always going on. We see that our platform has become this information exchange almost where people come to us and rely on us like, ‘hey, if PLEASURES says this music is cool, or this band is cool, or this restaurant is cool, we should probably check it out’. Our platform has become something that people can learn from. We’ve become a trusted source. A lot of people know Sonic Youth, but a lot of people don’t know about their music. They just know them for their imagery because they’ve worked with every major iconic artist. They have all these wild interviews online. People know about them, but hopefully we’re going to do a little bit of music education here. I think we do that with all of our music projects. Music is really at the pulse of our brand.

Your collab playlist with Mike Nucero is basically the same. It’s all over the place (in the best way possible) with songs by MF Doom to Billy Joel. Are you the type of person to dip your toes into a whole bunch of genres and aesthetics, whether in music, fashion or any artistic practice, rather than sticking to just one?

Yeah that’s my buddy. He’s one of our graphic designers. It’s kind of all over the place but that playlist is very specific because I grew up in New Jersey, and Mike grew up in a part of New York called Long Island. Every track is dedicated to where we’re from. And it alternates between NJ and LI, so it’s a really good playlist. Many people don’t know but MF Doom is from Long Island, New York.

PUMA / Pleasures ©

What song have you had on repeat recently?

I’ve been listening to the new Bar Italia album. I absolutely love it. It’s called “Tracey Denim”. They’re a four piece from London. It’s this kind of like indie rock meets shoegaze meets let’s get drunk type of music. It’s sick, I love it.

I remember PLEASURES being huge during the mid to late 2010s, during the streetwear craze where we saw Yeezys everywhere, Wasted Paris was on the come up and everyone knew someone who was starting their own brand of graphic tees. Fast forward to today, where the streetwear craze has piped down, and Pleasures is stronger than ever. What do you attribute your brand’s success to?

I think we attribute our success to just being open about who we are and what we do. You don’t have to own anything from us to be a part of our community. Every event that we do is free. The music education and ideas you put out into the world are all free based. Streetwear has turned into this big commodification of clothing. I feel like our brand, we have the attitude like, ‘if you fuck with us cool, if you don’t that’s okay, too’. We’re not like trying to pull the rug over anybody’s eyes and charge a lot of money. Our brand, I still feel, is one of the most price conscious and affordable brands that has a high level of designs available in the marketplace today. Especially our presence in the UK and in Europe. So called streetwear is very expensive. We’re still at a lower price point

I was in France during that time the streetwear craze was really kicking off and PLEASURES was huge there.

I mean shouts to Virgil for opening up the doors and letting us all hang out and play and party. Having the opportunity to just pull up to Paris Fashion Week and be accepted, not to a fashion show, but seven showroom and show some product. For him to give us love and make us feel a set accepted all the way back in 2017. That’s been a big help to connect with our European friends, customers, clients, everybody.

PUMA / Pleasures ©

Virgil did so much for the integration of streetwear at fashion week, seriously. You met him?

Yes, we’ve met numerous times. My business partner was a part of the original Been Trill. I DJ’ed with Virgil in New York a few times at the Darby. The simple fact that he would comment on our Instagram sometimes they just say like, ‘Yo, this is dope’ or ‘What up’. He was just one of these dudes that was a product of the internet, like all of us, you know. It was really cool to see. When we did our first show at ComplexCon, he was showing love to us. He’s just always been supportive and always invited us to Off-White shows and Louis shows and stuff. I’m not a fashion show type person, but it was sick, I loved it. The music was tight. Our friends are playing music. This guy’s making amazing clothing with a bunch of fucking awesome people. It was like, ‘wow, this is this is what it is’. I was into it.

Would Pleasures ever do its own fashion show?

I think if it was more of a concert. If it was more like a presentation in an artistic form, that wasn’t really considered a fashion show, but more of like, ‘hey, there’s a band playing songs that we’re curating and they’re wearing our clothes and then they take a break and another band comes on it’s a different set of clothing’ type vibe. The time will come for that.

PUMA / Pleasures ©

I think you’ve got a super interesting brand name because “PLEASURES” can mean a lot of different things, but whatever we associate it with, there’s always an attractive quality to it. How did you come up with that name?

Honestly, we were really trying to figure out like a one word name that encapsulated what we were trying to represent. I was a huge fan of Joy Division. I always thought ‘Unknown Pleasure’s was a sick name, but the word ‘pleasures’ in itself as a plural, not as a singular, really stood out to me. We ran with it from there. As we got cooking, we’re able to trademark it. We have the full rights to it all over the world. It’s a really, really special word that people from our community come to me personally and write me love letters on this brand has helped them through dark times, or helped them find their sexuality, or just helped them through their day. It’s just one of these things where I think it has a much deeper connection than somebody’s name is a brand or just some random shit, you know?

What’s one thing you want to achieve with PLEASURES?

I want to build a platform and a legacy that people feel is inclusive, that people can join, that people can wear. There’s no boundaries to say ‘Yo, this is streetwear. Yo, this is this type of brand’. I think it’s something that’s for everybody from a teenager all the way to when you’re an adult type vibe. I want it to be like a legacy brand that you can wear throughout your life.

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