Interview: Daniel Brooke, Notorious & Co.
Posted on April 13, 2012 by L&G
10percent had the time to catch up with Daniel Brooke, the mastermind behind recently created Bondi street boutique, Notorious & Co, for a chat about life, the straying of hip hop and what it takes to go from being a Michelin restaurant manager to being the boss man of your own street wear haven.
Brother! How are you?
Thanks for taking the time for a chat. First of all, who is Daniel Brooke?
Well, I was born in 1974 and I’m originally from Amsterdam, Holland, where I grew up and lived until I was 24. I eventually moved to Ireland and lived there for 6 and a half years. Then moved about a bit until I ended up in Aus!
So how did you get from Ireland to here?
Well in 2006 I was already 30 and they had just changed the age cap for the Visa, it was 4 months till my 31st and I thought, the hell with it, I’ve always wanted to go to Australia.
What made you want to come to our wonderful shores?
Mad Max, maybe?
Yeah! When I was a kid it was kinda odd and interesting, and I just loved it. Weird. I think it had an influence on me I just wanted to see if it was really all that crazy. Anyway, I thought that Australia would provide a really great opportunity for me, and I made the move!
So I assume you had a whole mega heap of influences hitting Europe that helped adjust your outlook on life, right?
Definitely, man! Obviously in Amsterdam I went through the whole period of where street culture like New York graffiti, hip hop, MCing, DJing started hitting Europe hard. This was about in the mid to late 80′s and there was a really big street culture in Amsterdam and it kinda dragged me in. I had a lot of friends into graffiti and I used to write myself back in the late 80′s and to couple that I was hanging out with guys like Delta and Shoe, who were all quite a bit older than me and they were some of the pioneers when it came to graffiti in Amsterdam. They were constantly traveling back and forth from NY and I used to hang out with them and peep mad pictures of the New York graffiti scene and hip hop culture and, man, they pretty much brought the whole culture over with them. Then when I saw Beat Street as well as a young kid, I was just flabbergasted. How they dressed, how they talked, what they represented as a whole was so unreal. For me, since then, Hip Hop has not just been a lifestyle choice, but something to be followed, to stand up for, which I think in the last few years has changed quite a bit.
How do you think it’s changed from your perspective?
I think hip hop used to be a way to let out how people coped with struggle and it was a freedom of expression which no one could really stop. There were more morals and values behind hip hop when it started off and I think it’s all become about consumerism. The media has managed to get their hands on something, again, which stood for the people and turned it into a consumerism thing. It was something you used to really be able to relate to and the messages in the most of hip hop in those days was to stay strong, stick together, and that we’ll all look after each other and all that.
So you’ve stuck to that code from day dot?
Yeah, and the other day when I went to KRS-One’s reading on hip hop, it really reminded me again on why I love it all, why I stood behind it and defended it as a culture. I think street culture has always been there and I think that in general most of the proper street labels don’t sell out.
Why do you think that is?
Well, I really think their target customer is one of those people who believe in the culture. It’s part of a culture, not just a fashion statement, you can’t really fake it.
You haven’t always owned your own shop, what were you up to before you undertook the responsibility Notorious & Co?
Way before I was in retail I’d mostly been in the hospitality trade doing restaurant management. That was my ultimate goal at the time. Man, I was managing fine dining and Michelin restaurants back in the day so there was a shit load of handwork and hours! This groomed me to be motivated and hardworking and has been so beneficial with doing the biz I’m getting up to these days.
And running your own store, that’s something that you’ve always wanted to do?
Yeah, always man. Since I moved to Australia I was done with working weird hours at night in hospitality and decided to get into retail and put my management skills to use. In any case, I was working in Mambo at Bondi Beach and on that Visa I could only work 6 months and before they could sponsor me the company got sold and yeah, I wasn’t promised a sponsorship and had to leave. I ended up in a prominent Bondi boutique and was the department manager there for 3 years and had to go back to the Netherlands for Visa reasons. I was gone for 2 years then came back to Australia and back into my old role but with an added bonus of being a junior buyer. With that role I just kept my eye on it, had to deal with reps and it helped build my confidence with dealing with those people that dealt with apparel and all the good stuff.
So what made you decide you wanted to start Notorious?
Well, when I went back to Amsterdam for 2 years I really got back in touch with my roots and remembered how I used to dress and live. When I came back from Australia to Amsterdam people were like ‘what’s this going on with you man, I’ve never seen you like this’ and of course you morph a little bit according to where you’re at so I was this Bondi hybrid thing. When I came back here [to Aus] all in my Euro street wear I got the vice versa thing with people going ‘look at that tourist’! (laughs). Anyway, I noticed a lot of people here in the Eastern Suburbs travelled to the states and the first thing they’d say when walking into these boutiques was ‘it’s so boring around here, it’s all the same’, and it’s true! It’s the same white t-shirt, the same skinny jeans, the same loafers, there’s no body standing out and one day I wanted to get myself a New Era fitted hat from a certain team and it took me 5 hours to find a certain shop somewhere which wasn’t even lit up or anything. I had to really look for it and that was a lot of hassle man. I happen to know a lot of people who dig the same lifestyle and fuck, it must be a lot of hassle for these people to get their shit together. In any case, I’d been thinking for a while that it’d be nice to have my own thing, I was turning 37 and I always give 200% for other people, why don’t I give it to myself? So, yeah, after beef with my old employee I did a few other odds and ends and went to work for the Academy store and even though they have a preppy look I managed to get a street style out of it and thought about how great it would be to have a store that combined these two elements, the Bondi preppy and the street which definitely can be swapped over, it just needs to be done. Then with a whole load of support from my friends and with a whole load of research into the community from my previous days in stores around Bondi I just thought there was the possibility of it becoming a destination, especially being somewhere where people don’t expect it. From then on it started snowballing without me even rolling it, started as a whisper then talk then a scream and the more I dropped information here and there to people and customers the more people were loving the idea, so I had to do it! I met a few distributors and it just kicked it off!
So it was really built out of a desire to make this wonderful culture more accessible to people?
Yeah! It seems a lot of other stores that were based on street culture have turned more into a mainstream ‘fashion’ destination. Eventually they fail and then close down or just lose their identity completely. When I talk to mates of mine it seems as though they have to go to ten stores to find one outfit and I really wanted to make just a one stop shop for that customer and really support the scene and culture. It’s a beautiful culture and we need to live it up in Sydney. So yeah, within 3 months I did everything. Built my accounts, shop fitting and buying, all that stuff. So stressful, so daunting but so much fun, man!
So what are your plans for the culture outside of the shop?
Well there’s a local guy here who works with indigenous Australians who tries to, with the incorporation of street culture, help get them out and get involved with the community and to help them do this through record music as well as through street art. I’m hoping to be able to get out and help support them 100% in their endeavors. Other than that, there are other things that I need to check to see if I’m allowed to do, things I’ve been writing up such as a street ball comp, bloc party with local MC’s, a legal wall where we can have battles as well as show off beautiful art. I mean, it’s so funny that we’re in Bondi, which is essentially a cultural hub, but the council is still so fucking tight about what you can and can’t do, and yeah, I get that a lot of it is residential, but half the time they don’t even want to listen to what you have to offer the community, especially in terms of growth and reconciliation.
How did you get in contact with your labels?
I went to The Wearer’s Right where I met Obey, Gourmet and Indigofera and so forth and from there they started pointing each other out. It’s obviously a tight knit community and if someone like me pops their head up and says they want to support this then they give you a lot of support, like the brands were helping each other – direct competition, man! It’s so good and humbling to see those bigger brands support the little people. From there I went on to chasing Nike which is a really hard account to get, and yeah, from then, when labels found out that I was the real deal, that I wasn’t just hitting up the labels that sell just to make money, they started emailing me. It was great, so much support!
What do you think the most important part of representing your store is?
Personal service is so important, it’s gone missing and that’s what I love about doing what I do, especially around here. Family and community is so important. If you’re not giving good service then your customer may as well go online if there’s no personality there. It’s about paying that little bit of attention to people, and it means the world to everyone. I don’t own a store that gets thousands in foot traffic in the day and sells carbon copy bullshit, most of these pieces are unique and won’t be seen in any other store in Sydney so it’s important you represent the product and let people know they’re part of a smaller community that actually gives a damn about them.
I think most of us can guess it, but where did the name Notorious come from?
Man, I love B.I.G. I just love him. I thought that would just be a great name. I was convinced it had been taken and then when I saw that it wasn’t I just jumped on it. The King of New York with the & Co which incorporates everything, hip hop, street style, graff, kicks and all the culture with the concept of the shop being based around a mid 80′s mens boutique and bringing it into the 21st Century.
So who are you stocking at the moment?
Man, there’s a lot. I’ve got my more commercial labels such as Zoo York and Obey and then I’ve got my core labels such as Rocksmith, Wu-Tang, Akomplice, Dizzizit, Primitive, Crooks & Castles, Only, WeSC, Quintin, Goodwood NYC, Nike, Gourmet, Kangol, Reebok, Mitchell & Ness, 9five Eyewear, Meandher, Quinn, New Era, Starter, Silver Scull, AAA, Silver Swiss, Buddha to Buddha, Ones who are a local brand and they’re really fresh, they do it all themselves so I’m psyched to have them at Notorious and Crown Caps, another local brand a long with Beasts of Peace. Yeah, a massive list.
On top of that, I also sell artwork from local graffiti legend, Days One who also did my feature wall. Much love and peace!
What’s it like working with all those labels and their reps?
Man it’s great, really great. As I said before, everyone’s so supportive so it’s really good to feel like people are always behind your decisions.
Do you think you’ll ever do anything yourself?
Yes, definitely. I’ve already released two Notorious & Co tee’s and they sold like hot cakes.. I’ve already got a few more ideas..
Nothing you’ll tell us though, right?
(laughs) Nah man! That’ll have to wait. Although I want to bring out a Notorious & Co snap back with ’2026′ embroidered on the front with Notorious & Co around the snap area.
How bout labels for the future, anyone in mind?
Yeah, I want to get DGK on board, I just had Stevie Williams in the store not long ago so that will be great if we can get follow through with that. I just hit that Only account and Quintin which is great because it will make me a destination and my I’m gonna work on my Adidas account. I was surprised when the Nike rep came in when the store was still a skeleton and put me up straight away, it was dope.
Is there anything specific you look for in the labels you get involved?
I try to go for predominantly NY and LA labels that are made there for the authenticity. Obviously Zoo York is made in China, but we still really need that customer, and hey, they make great gear. I’d like to think I’m a trend setter, I don’t really follow any trends and I like to keep it heritage with look. I can go for printed tee’s and sometimes it looks really good to have the labels name in say, a letter style, but I often opt to go for an illustration design aspect when buying as it has more flavour and, to be honest, I hate seeing brand logos sprayed across someones chest. We’re not about that.
You’ve had a few heads come in over the last 4 months, how’s that been for you personally and as a small business?
Man, for guys like Stevie Williams and Young MC to come in and love the outfit has been really dope. They’ve hooked me up with labels in LA and helped me along with contacts overseas that I’m so stoked on, so it’s really been so positive and so humbling. Again, no matter how big some cats get they know what it’s about. To meet KRS-One, I mean, he’s just a legend.
It seems like it’s only the tip of the iceberg, though really?
Yeah for sure, and that’s what I mean where it’s taken its own life. It’s growing so well organically and reaching into areas where I didn’t think it would.
It’s been so good to have a sit down with you, Daniel, any last words or shout outs?
Definitely to all my suppliers. Without me having that much trade history and references, all these guys have jumped on board and have been so supportive of what I’m trying to achieve and to help fulfill my dream. To all my local friends who helped me get shit done, have a paint here and there and help move things, there’s so much love. I have to give a big shout out to Australia for letting me do this! In Europe I’d never have the chance, it’s beautiful!
And to the kids and customers who keep coming back and who write on my Facebook wall saying this is the one stop shop, thank you! When people walk through the door and go ‘FINALLY, a shop like this in Bondi’ it’s like ‘Yes! Finally!’ Peace!