Long before luxury houses like Louis Vuitton and Burberry adopted streetwear and sportswear, there was Slam Jam, the Italian production, distribution, and retail company known for its authentic ties to underground tribes rooted in niche style, art, and music cultures. For 30 years now, its founder Luca Benini has been a pioneer of streetwear, since before streetwear even had a name.

He has come a long way. From its early days as a small warehouse on the rural outskirts of Ferrara to becoming the first Italian company to introduce customers to foreign brands such as Stüssy, Carhartt WIP, and UNDERCOVER, Slam Jam has established itself as a globally recognized cultural institution that in 2016 generated revenue of €47 million (approximately $53.8 million).

Today, Slam Jam operates a global go-to-market service for its partners. It connects its brand portfolio of 20 to 300 of the world’s most influential stores, including Dover Street Market and The Broken Arm. Meanwhile it operates its own e-commerce platform, Slam Jam Socialism, as well as a flagship store in Milan.

It also has showrooms in Milan, Paris, New York City, Tokyo, and beyond, owns a 1,000-square-meter social space in Milan where it holds community events, offers branding solutions to labels such as Napa by Martine Rose, Kappa Kontroll, and Suicoke, and invests in brands with tightly bound communities that transcend hype alone.

Now, Slam Jam has taken over the Marino Marini Museum in Florence during the 95th edition of Pitti Uomo. Between January 9 and 11, Slam Jam will give the public a look into its world through multidisciplinary collaborations with Carhartt WIP, Stüssy, and Nike — three of its longest-standing partners.

The company will also curate its own museum shop, offering exclusive products, including Stüssy T-shirts with classic 8-Ball iconography, paint-splattered Carhartt WIP jackets, and a Nike Blazer Mid with an upside-down Swoosh.

On the night of the exhibition’s opening, Highsnobiety caught up with Benini to talk about the importance of subculture and the current state of the fashion industry.

Highsnobiety / Julien Tell

The space at Marino Marini Museum mixes fashion, music, art, film, and design. Why is creating experiences for today’s consumer important? Why does it need to be more than just fashion?

I’ve always been interested in an idea of fashion connected with social mores and culture. Back in the 1980s, I had the feeling that clothes were just part of a bigger picture — looking at masters like Fiorucci — and I still have. Ideas, music, art, culture, and attitude — these elements were and still are crucial to me.

Why was now the right time for Slam Jam to stage this event?

It was pretty natural. We’re not celebrating an anniversary, [but] rather doing what we’ve been doing for over 30 years with Slam Jam’s longstanding partners Carhartt WIP, Nike, and Stüssy. It’s also a shared vision on the impact of culture with Pitti Immagine and Museo Marino Marini.

Slam Jam has been around for 30 years now. What have you perceived as the biggest shift in the fashion industry?

The last 10 years have been very interesting, as a lot of things changed. Access to information made everything very fast and horizontal, which wasn’t exactly the case in the past. Also, I’ve been seeing many projects that go from zero to 100 in such a short time, without respecting natural growth timing, and the other way around, too. It doesn’t feel right to me.

In a globalized world, with everyone more connected than ever, do subcultures still hold the same power in terms of community as they once did?

What started as underground is now quite widespread, and closer to the surface. Staying authentic is a tough yet worthy challenge. I always look for real energies and attitudes from the underground that I can relate to, and I think they’re still very important these days.

Slam Jam is growing quickly. What are the top priorities for the business in the next couple of years?

[The] main objectives are to go international with distribution and integrate our namesake online and offline retail experiences. In the longer term, we’re willing to focus on [more] production as well.

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Toronto-born, bred in The Netherlands, living in London.

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