Earl Sweatshirt is designing sweatshirts and they’re not very good

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Musikexpress/Courtesy

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Earl Sweatshirt, the critically acclaimed enfant terrible of the provocative rap collective Odd Future, hasn’t released new music in two years. What he’s been up to in the meantime is producing… sweatshirts?

While this may be a surprise, Earl’s fans are used to not knowing what will come next; his career has been filled with more hairpin turns than a roller coaster. This is a rapper who came into the limelight at the tender age of 16, spitting dense lines such as “I’m a hot and bothered astronaut / crashing while jacking off / to buffering vids of Asher Roth eating applesauce.”

He rose to fame only to disappear off the face of the earth for two years, apparently sent to boarding school in Samoa by his mother. When he emerged again from radio silence, his music was unrecognizable. From gleeful, immature wordplay he became the leader of “a New Breed of Conscious Rap,” suddenly introspective, sombre and nakedly emotional.

But does his prodigal gift as a rapper translate to brilliance in the design studio? Kanye, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, hell, even Odd Future’s own kingpin Tyler, the Creator run fashion labels of varying quality. Earl’s brand — a newer addition to the rap-streetwear complex — is characteristically called “Deathworld.”

The title is moody and evocative, a good quality to have in the world of branding-obsessed contemporary streetwear. It is reminiscent of ‘90s touchstones such as Daniel Clowes’ comic “Ghost World” and legendary box-office flop “Waterworld,” and the apparel appropriately evokes a vague nostalgia. When the collection debuted in 2017, Earl’s PR rep said it was in part “a response to the practicality and nostalgia of sportswear and the current sociopolitical state of this spinning orb.”

That’s quite an ambitious thesis statement.

Deathworld has been interested in the dark since its debut — besides the ominous brand name, its logo is a threatening spider hanging off a branch. To say that this aesthetic is informed by the dour mood of life under the Trump presidency isn’t a difficult reach, but to find any commentary deeper than that within the line is a reach.

In fact, the latest collection from Deathworld moves away from that early image of darkness. The bleak aura still appears, but it is mellowed out. What might be the best piece in the collection — a military camo pattern printed onto a collared chore coat, with the spider logo in blood red on a breast pocket — is a perfect example of this. It’s edgy yet not on the nose — visually interesting without being overwhelming. If only that was consistent throughout the rest of the collection.

It’s hard to detect any sort of consistency among the various offerings: largely shirts, a few jackets, and one pair of nondescript red cargo pants. Stripes seem to be a recurring visual theme, along with “Deathworld,” the spider, and the cryptic phrase “Feral Hands.” For example, there are three tees with blocky horizontal stripes that are reminiscent of Ralph Lauren with a spider subbed for a polo player. If there was an attempt to revitalize the bland preppy aesthetic within this line (as Raf Simons attempted earlier this year), it failed.

Another issue is the embroidery of the logo “Deathworld” itself. Earl never fixes the logo to one font or style, the logo variously shifting from all caps to lowercase, lithe sans serif to weighty serif, cursive to print. Consistency is key to establishing a logo, and considering how heavily many of the pieces depend on it, this small inconsistency drags down the collection as a whole.

There is another highlight that is largely atypical of Earl’s work so far — it’s a blindingly yellow fleece jacket that reduces the stripes motif to just three black bars demarcating the zipper and the pockets. It is a welcome boldness for a collection that is mostly derivative.

If there was more of this style in the collection, maybe then it would be a success.

Contact Adesh Thapliyal at [email protected]. Tweet him at @AdeshThapliyal.