Anyone who remembers Soho in the early Nineties, before it became just another place to see and be seen, may recollect Acupuncture. It was a shop-of-the-moment in 1994 when punk made a feeble attempt at a fashion comeback and a handful of designers put a a few rips or a safety pin in their collections. It actually made quite a name for itself, representing as it did all that London is famous for: street style, entrepreneurship, anarchy and attitude, all from its tiny premises in a Soho alleyway, surrounded by peep-shows.
It's an old story now, of course, for Acupuncture today is as far removed from its roots as can be, although it still manages to be anarchic in its own way. Amazingly, it has gone from a vintage clothes shop, run by ex-punks and specialising in old Westwood punk gear, vintage sneakers, and paraphernalia, to a trainer brand which will sell 100,000 pairs this year. On the surface, this seems like the strangest of career paths for three self-confessed ex-degenerates to take, but it isn't really. It's borne of pragmatism, and a desire to make lots and lots of money.
Philip de Mesquita, a fashion wheeler and dealer based at Camden Market, and Barnsley, a fashion stylist and graphic designer, met in 1992 and started the original shop at the height of the "buy an old pair of trainers for pounds 1 and sell them for pounds 100" trend in 1993. Barnsley left the business in 1995 when the shop closed and is now working with Joe Corre of Agent Provocateur on a men's clothing range called Activist, as well as his own line called Door Dog. Acupuncture 1998 consists of Nikos Nicholau, the designer, Louisa Bryan, business brain and "the sensible one", and "Fly-Pitch Phil" who is still the wheeler dealer he always was.
The first thing de Mesquita did after closing the shop was to launch a single fashion trainer onto the market. Based on the sole unit of the Adidas shell-toe, and emblazoned with the Acupuncture logo, 5,000 were manufactured and sold in the UK and Japan. A year later, the company, now with Nicholau and Bryan on board, did three streety/functional styles on the same sole unit; again they were a sell-out. By 1996, Acupuncture had been approached by the Nike factory in Korea, and for the first time were able to design their own sole units, a process which costs a fortune (to design a single mould costs $25,000 alone). This marked out the brand as a new name in the fashion footwear market.
For this Spring/Summer, Acupuncture have 12 styles on offer, all in keeping with the current trends for the rugged outdoor look, logos and bright neons; there's even one with a Union Jack, especially for football fans to wear during the World Cup. They also work in all the visual desirability factors of performance shoes, such as reflective strips, velcro fastening, and moulded soles, but without the often unnecessary technology. Their almost instant success was made easy because, as Nicholau says: "The name Acupuncture has already become more than the sum of its parts." Indeed, it would have been logical to go into clothes, or even jewellery perhaps, which they did dabble in and will again, but trainers were the only thing with big long-term returns. "We were very lucky that we had a ready-made image to go with, which wasn't a piss-take, but was still subversive," says de Mesquita.
This subversiveness is seemingly their raison d'etre. For subversive, read funny names for their trainers, like "Bellend", "Dry Lab", "Mr Blunder", and "Roach", naked teddy bear logos on their soles, and naughty advertising videos; one of which (much to their glee) has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service this week for its allegedly indecent content. Indeed their favourite bit of press coverage ever came from The Sun. "Look," says Bryan as she points out a picture of Robbie Williams wearing their most popular "Mr Blunder" shoe, with the accompanying headline "Boozed-up Rob out of Control". "We really loved that."
Acupuncture trainers are available from branches of Shelleys, Office/Offspring, Sasha, Soul Trader, Cobra Frontier, Way In at Harrods, and Selfridges. They cost from pounds 60-80. Call 0171-580 8600 for stockist enquiriesReuse content