Part of an ongoing series, Heroes asks creatives and provocateurs from the worlds of fashion, music, and art to outline the influences that have shaped them and their work. For issue 04 of WIP magazine, we spoke to Angelo Baque, founder of clothing brand Awake NY.
Words: Trey Taylor
Images: Sirui Ma
Angelo Baque grew up in Richmond Hill, Queens. As a senior in high school, Baque would hop the A train and endure the hour-long slog to lower Manhattan, so he could hang out at shops downtown, and “try to chat to the store guy so maybe he’ll eventually throw you a free T-shirt or give you a discount,” he remembers.
These doses of downtown Manhattan laid the foundation for his career. In 2006, aged 28, Baque exited cult New York City label Nom de Guerre and started with Supreme, where he was tasked with overseeing the brand’s creative output. He first met James Jebbia, Supreme’s founder, some years earlier, while working as a sales associate at Stüssy. After spending a decade at Supreme, Baque went on to launch his own creative agency, Baque Creative, as well as menswear label Awake NY, which was only available in Japan for its first three existing years.
At the HQ for Baque Creative, which will soon be transplanted to Brooklyn’s Navy Yards from its current whitewashed Canal Street location, Baque preaches a “shoes off” policy – a result of his many trips to Japan – while jazz sounds from the speakers throughout the space. Baque counts jazz, John Coltrane specifically, as one of his biggest influences since childhood. Here, the 41-year-old reveals a few of his favorite references.
Bridges, Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
“I was in Tokyo traveling with Jason Dill, the skater, maybe six, seven years ago. We’d travel to Japan twice a year to do the lookbook shoots for Supreme. I didn't know that Bridges existed until Jason put me onto it. He was obsessed with that album, and we listened to it so often that it takes me right back to that trip to Tokyo when I hear it now. There's this one song, “Racetrack In France.” Jason would just play that song over and over and over again.”
“I've listened to Gil Scott-Heron since 2000, when I was still working at the Stüssy store. We had his album Pieces of a Man, and everybody hated it. I was probably the only person that liked to listen to it. It gets really depressing around the middle of the album. It's a huge downer. But that kind of started my obsession with Gil. I love male vocalists who aren’t traditional vocalists. I love Gil, I love Joe Bataan — these perfect, imperfect voices. When they sing, you feel it. It's from the heart. I can't sing myself, but I feel like I could sing along to Gil or Joe Bataan because their voices aren't perfect. It’s more relatable to me.”
“How did I first come across John Coltrane? Honestly, I don't know. Whenever it was that I heard that first tune, there was no going back after that. I come from an immigrant Latin household. On the weekends, my mother played merengue, salsa, and a lot of boleros, which are just extremely sad, suicidal songs about love. She swept the house and cried while listening to the music. There was no English-language music in our house, except for the music my sister and I listened to, so any kind of musical influence that was non-Spanish came from outside of the house. You know when you watch those escape-from-jail movies, and the two odd partners are handcuffed together, but they end up being best friends by the end of the movie? That’s what it felt like to listen to John Coltrane for the first time. I hadn’t listened to bebop jazz before that. I just heard it and was like, “I fucking love this.” It's been a love affair ever since. I never get tired of listening to ‘My Favorite Things.’ I've probably heard 30 different versions of him playing it, and they're all amazing to me.”
“All the 80s covers are iconic, as are the 90s covers. Specifically during my tenure at Supreme, i-D probably did the best job at reporting youth culture, not just with the talent they featured, but also with the photographers they helped nurture. They're always one step ahead with selecting their photographers and stylists, and being from New York, I felt it was really genuine to British youth culture, which, obviously, we don't get a lot of over here. I think a copy of the magazine cost eight dollars back in the day. That was a lot of money for me when I was going to school. Whenever I could get my hands on a copy of i-D, I would study it. My best friend Shaniqwa [Jarvis] and I would go through it page by page, dissecting the magazine, looking at the masthead and who was doing what. That's how I used to study all magazines when I was a kid. Whether it was Vibe or The Source, Blaze, Trace, or Fader. They were our mini bibles.”
The modern art section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
“There’s something about the Met that’s just very New York. I used to live on the Upper West Side, and I would walk across Central Park to go to the Met on Sundays, while listening to John Coltrane on my headphones, and just zone out. It was a ritual of mine. There wasn’t a particular piece at the Met that I would look at, but I’ve always been intrigued by the way it's curated – the super open layout and the high ceilings. The first time I saw Romare Bearden was in the modern arts section about 15 years ago. I had no idea who Bearden was before that. His work kind of blew me away.”