Under the Radar is Highsnobiety’s weekly celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we’re spotlighting a brand that’s bringing something new to the worlds of streetwear and fashion.
If you read too much into it, you could say there's a poetry to Gino Iannucci's sense of style. He wouldn't say it himself, but as one of New York's elder statesmen of skateboarding, he has developed a following for the way he carries himself both on and off the deck. The subtle mastery, the twists and turns that make it his own, the devil-in-the-details nuance that characterizes his mode of dress, Nike SB collaborations, and skate parts (like in 2003's Yeah Right!) — it's poetry alright.
But that's not the reason Iannucci named his brand POETS. Originally started as an independent skate shop in his Long Island hometown, he shuttered the store in 2012 because he couldn't give it 100 percent. The name came from Poets Corner, a part of the neighborhood where the blocks are named after… you get the idea.
“Regardless if you know where it's from, it can transcend into anything, that's why I love the name,” says Iannucci. “That goes for all walks in life. Poetry and everything. I thought it was just a perfect name.”
Growing up, Iannucci played ice hockey and tennis before he picked up skateboarding. He says he “ate, slept, and breathed ice hockey” before skateboarding took over, only returning to the game as an adult. But tennis was always there. It's why he released an unconventional skate shoe with Nike SB in 2012, turning John McEnroe's Nike Challenge Court into a skateable silhouette. The combustible tennis great even featured in a cheeky ad for the shoe.
When he decided to bring back POETS as a clothing label, Iannucci dug deep into his childhood and inspirations. What sparked the idea was a chance meeting with menswear designer Antonio Ciongoli, formerly of Eidos and currently the man behind 18 East, another independent men's label that has been gaining steam.
Ciongoli is a skater, too, and takes every opportunity to work with guys from that world, whether it's shooting Iannucci in Naples, Italy for an Eidos lookbook or working with Jimmy Gorecki on collaborative knitwear at 18 East. Iannucci met Ciongoli through a cousin, and they quickly hit it off, remaining good friends. It was Ciongoli who helped plant the seed for the POETS revival.
“He seemed to think I had a good knack for putting some cool shit out,” says Iannucci. “But I just never thought about seriously doing clothes.”
Unlike the store, POETS is not a skate brand. It's more a culmination of everything that makes up Gino Iannucci. There are Long Island lighthouse references, Davey and Goliath graphics from the claymation show he watched as a kid, hockey graphics, even poems by his sister Nancy. Authenticity is an abused term, but Iannucci is putting as much of himself into the label as possible — and this time, he can put 100 percent into it.
“When it's true to your life and experiences, it just naturally does well,” posits Iannucci. “I can't really describe it, but for people like myself, when something is real, you feel it.”
Aesthetics-wise, Iannucci says “simplicity has always been my thing.” He has a lo-fi approach that parallels with Jason Dill, founder of Fucking Awesome, which Iannucci rides for. Iannucci admits he's not the most computer-savvy, so he hand-makes all of his graphics. It makes the process longer and harder but all the more rewarding. There's a blue-collar aspect to the work that he hopes shines through in the clothes.
Alongside partner Brenden Wyant, Iannucci is building on POETS' early offerings. The brand's first foray into cut-and-sew is a $395 faded red shawl-collar cardigan knit in Bergamo, Italy. Called Tomato, it's inspired by the cardigan worn by Burgess Meredith's character Mickey Goldmill in Rocky.
POETS' upcoming Tinker jacket draws inspiration from the lab coat-like cornerman jackets in Rocky II, combined with the anti-Vietnam War black protest armbands central to the landmark Tinker vs. Des Moines Supreme Court case. Appropriately, POETS teased the release to a soundtrack of Rage Against the Machine's “Bulls on Parade” in a recent Instagram post.
Right now, POETS is equal parts learning experience and catharsis. Iannucci simply wants to make stuff he's into, and when the time comes to make other products, he's confident he'll find the resources to do it. He focuses on the day-to-day rather than the big picture, and POETS is a platform for him to put his ideas out and hopefully find like-minded people. Ultimately, that matters more to him than an army of consumers looking only to deck themselves out in hyped product.
“If I was to put something out that runs true and deep to me, that I know someone will recognize and be like, ‘Holy shit! I remember that. I loved that. That was sick!’ I get so much more satisfaction [out of that] than a kid who just looks at it and buys it because the next man did.”