Sam Lambert & Shaka Maidoh - ACF

ART
COMES
FIRST

Art Comes First is on its skin a duo but at it's heart a collective. What you now see as a two headed dragon, is a hydra that gracefully allowed its eight other heads to follow their dreams.

 

I had the privilege of sitting with  self-made fashion giants Sam Lambert & Shaka Maidoh. They alternate, telling me all that Art Coming First is.

Sam tells me that Art Coming First is a personal event that takes place when passion eclipses person and person is obscured by purpose. 

Shaka says, Nice but not quite. 

He says, like an oyster swallowing a parasite and secreting as a defence mechanism a substance that covers and calcifies its intruder thereby making expensive and beautiful what was at first a nuisance, so is art comes first. 

Almost. Sam interjects. It's more like a mother, whose second pregnancy ended in birth gaining the emotional composure to write publicly about her first that ended in miscarriage.

Oooooh...close, brother.

ART COMING FIRST IS A PERSONAL EVENT THAT TAKES PLACE WHEN PASSION ECLIPSES PERSON AND PERSON IS OBSCURED BY PURPOSE.

Art Coming First is more like the soul's response to the problem that for too long all that is not art,  has deferred dreams and forced aspirations and ambitions to come last. 

Shaka leans back satisfied.

Okay. Sam nods his head.

You're getting warm. 

But Art Coming First is more like the skeet shooting of all wishing stars and the melting down of their useless fragments that were just as useless as their whole into the tools of your trade.

Wow!! Okay, you're close. 

But Art Coming First is the most like the dropping out of the university of popular opinion to join a school of independent thinkers, where the only periodic test to be taken is that of your nerve and will to thrive against all odds and the limitations of small minded men.

Yeeessss. Sam agrees. That's exactly what I was saying.

They both laugh. 

Art Coming First is most like the dropping out of the university of popular opinion to join a school of independent thinkers.

Art Comes First is a brillIant name. It says everything that needs to be said right out of the gate. It also seems to double as a mantra. 

But on first listening especially to someone who isn't an artist, can't it sound a little selfish? 

Sam said, We've gotten that before. 

But the answer to that question is in the name.

I said, The name?

He said, The name.

I said, Explain.

He says, The name is a earth and air cocktail. It is as organic as it is divine.  It's ingredients are 1 part strain, 1 part struggle, 4 parts strength and the last part, he said, was a secret formula borrowed from God. 

I said, God?

Sam said, God.

I said, Secret formula?

He said, More of a scripture.

I said, Which scripture? 

He said, Well... Just five words, really. Genesis 1:1. "In the beginning God created..."

See, He said. 

God puts art first.

Who's more selfless than God?"

I smiled. 

One of the single best things about our success has been our ability to be a positive influence.

Sam tells me that in all seriousness, There's been times where a lack of balance has also put a strain on his relationship with his mom and relatives. Says, I reached a point where I became a little too good at making Art Come First. And I once lost good woman, who would've been content for me not to have my Art come last but to every once in a while, have it come in an occasional second.

There was silence.

(Clear throat) I said, Everyone knows Art Comes First for their couture outlook and epic role in bridging the chasm between classic man and the rock star. But who I ask, is Art Comes First as an organization? And what are your individual roles? 

Shaka takes this one.  

Art Comes First is on its skin a duo but at it's heart a collective. What you now see as a two headed dragon, is a hydra that gracefully allowed its eight other heads to follow their dreams.  

But their hearts still beat in unison within the single chest of the entity we refer to as Art Comes First.

We started as 10 likeminded kids. Fighters. All shadow boxing with good but different ideas. An affordable basement space - our minds gymnasium. But we were out for different belts, mostly.

As far as roles, Shaka continues... 

I am the digital and Sam is the analog. Concepts come to me when they're ready to be showered and groomed. After their nude celestial bodies are purged; every cuticle cut, every follicle waxed and trimmed to precision, they are robed in ink and paper and sent into Sam's fitting room. It is there where they stand on his pedestal and the alterations begin. When the corridor between day spa and studio is one over 20 years spent in the narrowing, the parallel doors are but a breath apart. 

When one department wishes to influence what occurs in another, all that's needed is a whisper. In the beginning we wasted time doing a lot of the same tasks but roles have become more defined and skills refined as we progressed.

"Art Comes First is on its skin a duo but at it's heart a collective."

ACF has nearly 200,000 Followers. The masses love the fact that you love to push the envelope. Do you feel that because of how much your aesthetic and political views clash with and go against the mainstream ideals it is gained you more enemies than friends?

Sam tells me, 

We love to piss people off. That said, pissing people off it is not our goal just a byproduct of truth that we fell in love with. 

But as it comes to speaking the truth, Art Comes First is unique more as a dialect than a language. The more we stepped out of ourselves the more we began realising we had some pretty tough comp out there.

I said, Competition? 

He said, No. 

Company. There's no competition in love. Only companionship.

We realised this when we stepped off the plane — our soles touching Japanese soil. There goes Street Etiquette! Someone shouted in our direction. Not even certain what a Street Etiquette was if we saw it, we turned around to look for it. No one else was there. Since that moment, we have long researched and allied with Joshua and Travis of Street Etiquette and Ouiji from Brooklyn Circus who told us that they too at times have turned to look because someone shouted for Art Comes First, only to find no one else.

Since we all have the same dream, he said, Is it a robbery or benefit that we share a pillow? We call our community of visionaries "Global Village". 

It takes a village to realize a reality.

"It takes a village to realise a reality."

I ask Sam where their fire began. 

The religion of fashion has many denominations, he says. My father baptised me orthodox Disciplinarian. 

Unphased by their weight, he carried order and structure with him like two stone tablets. He would not wait until we were in private to refer me to the teachings of the good and honourable prophet Backhand. And I couldn't see it then but the older I got, I had to admit it. The doctrine of  discipline just makes plane sense. That wise old shepherd was onto something. To this day as it pertains to making or wearing clothing I'm a devout disciple of purpose. When I make fashion statements, I treat garments like grammar. Pants, shirts, and jackets are nouns, verbs and adjectives. Accessories are punctuation marks. And every outfit is as meaningful and declarative as scripture. While I can appreciate the miracles, signs and sacred textiles produced by the gods of other colour pallets, I adhere with monotheistic devotion to mine. It also doesn't hurt that the same discipline to not buy something just because it's cool stops me from buying more pieces than I need.

"My father baptised me orthodox Disciplinarian."

So what lit the stem of your dynamite, Shaka?

He says, My earliest creations were out of need. What do you do when you see your friend wearing a suit that you could never afford? Some folks would be moved to envy. Others might be moved to self loathing. I... was moved to a sewing machine. I soon figured out that my needle and thread weighed more than 1000 pounds as each of the thousand pounds suits I was attempting to replicate, I ended up outdoing. I realised at some point that strong imagination makes one a terrible follower. The friends who I attempted to follow were lining up behind me to buy my creations. Eventually, we began going to vintage stores and thrift shops, buying and customising pieces to sell at Portobello market. We sold out every Saturday. We were forced to bring it to the next level because the demand quickly became greater than we could supply at the level of just customisers.

"Other's might be moved to self loathing. I... was moved to a sewing machine."

I ask them to tell me if their culture shows up in their work and I can't tell whether it's the beam in his eye or the smile parting his lips like the ground above an Indonesian Fault line but I can tell, Sam feels in his bones this is his question. 

Hand Craftsmanship is a trademark of African culture. Hand work is what really fuels my love for the craft. 

It's like I'm a sculptor, he continues. And on each project my hands and the rocks become like distant lovers on a weekend get away. The days spent with my hands on the rocks are the happiest they've been all week. 

While my hands and the rocks weekend together frequently, our time spent together always feels fleeting. 

And as a lover, It's not staring at the completed checks on the list of weekend activities I most enjoy. It's the space that occurs in between the making of the checkmarks. 

Perhaps it's because l find a peace in the process that is not present in the product due to the fact that my hands and heart are in constant communication with one another when i am at work. Yet, it's only in the moving of my hands that the communication shifts from lecture to conversation and real dialogue can be furthered. I have an unorthodox approach. Often I present the answers, that is the completed garment, and later pose question, or the sketch."

"Hand Craftsmanship is a trademark of African culture. Hand work is what really fuels my love for the craft."

You are two self taught artists who arose from third world obscurity and poverty to celebrity status. You style and consult artists as well as celebrities. You have your own couture clothing line in shops throughout the UK. You have unequivocally made a life and legacy for yourselves. You serve and inspire an entire continent. What is it like to have made it? 

I'll tell you when I get there, is Shaka's thoughtful response. We are beyond grateful to the Father who has brought us where we are. In fact, we liken gratitude to gas in a vehicle. The farther you've come the more you've used. And the farther you'd like to go the more you'll need. But the fact is each time we've heard that question, it's made us unbuckle our seat belts and lean forward looking out our windows to find nothing but sky for miles on either side of us. And we know folks aren't trying to kill us, but we also have common sense to know someone who had arrived shouldn't see that. Men have fallen to their death, leaping without looking, mistaking compliments for GPS signals. I've learned that it's a good practice to stop counting the miles as miles can be accrued moving in circles.

I ask the brothers, What motivates Art Comes First?

With all of its disappointments, difficulties, heartbreaks, and vanities, the world is a well that is still breathtaking and thirst provoking. We drinking it in, draw our inspiration from it all —  shallow and sweet to bitter and deep.

Last year," Sam interjects, We said good bye to a lot of amazing people.  We held a fashion show in their memory showcasing a line that some respectfully viewed as the mourning of death. While we rightfully regarded it as a celebration of life. In it, we celebrated the home going of My father Nsingi Lambert and 8 mutual friends who each transitioned in the last year.

There was a reverential pause. 

"The world is a well that is still breathtaking and thirst provoking."

Can you think of a common and more comforting inspiration? 

The two reply in unison: Music.

Music is a huge influence on us.

Shaka continues.

We are familiar, each of us, with the saying that there is nothing new under the sun. 

Ecclesiastes.

There is also a saying that designers are frustrated musicians. 

I forget what book that's from.

That said, because we are so heavily influenced by music, what we offer to fashion is the remix. We take what people have done in the past and make it relevant now. As opposed to seeing at what has already been done as a hindrance to creativity we use what is already been done as a diving board and we cannonball hard. We love making waves.

In fact, if Art Comes First were a genre of music it would probably be punk rock. Fast-paced, hard-hitting, turned-up, piss-you-off, in-your-face rebellion. There was a time that we would've called ourselves hip-hop. But then again, there was a time when we would have called hip-hop punk. Times have changed.

"If Art Comes First were a genre of music it would probably be punk rock."

For the sake of fun I asked them, Which of the five elements are you most like? 

Sam leans back in his chair, chuckles and repeats the question. Shaka smiles, his hand propped under his chin.

The two reply in sync overlapping each other.

Fire.

Water.

We share a laugh.

I ask Sam, why fire?

He replies, The more the winds of resistance rage against me the bigger I grow.

Shaka. Why water? I'm an Aquarius. I like water. It's a solid beverage. I'm not deep like this guy.

We share a bigger laugh.

You guys have had A-List celebrities wear you. You've gained the respect and admiration of your fellow colleagues. What has been your favourite reaction to these successes?

Sam thinks briefly closing his eyes.

One of the single best things about our success has been our ability to be a positive influence. Having our young black brothers hit growth spurts and come up to us telling us that after being exposed to our mission their fitted hats, baggy jeans and basket ball sneakers just don't fit as well as they used to. We love that.

 

"Our success has been our ability to be a positive influence."

Shaka takes the baton adding that mentoring in Africa is another deep-seated  passion of theirs. He referenced earlier in the interview when he mentioned that his road to creating stylish clothing being one of necessity. 

I am well aware that my "need" to create a stylish piece of clothing is the word need written in the light grey ink of a skipping pen when compared to the thick, black, bold, chisel point sharpie of deprivation that consumes my home. Held up in the light of necessity, my lack is invisible. 

ACF is nuts about music. But no cause inspires us more than need. Our chief  motto is inspired to be inspired.

We periodically visit our home and run ACF pop ups schools. We believe that giving dies if it isn't reciprocal so we assist and inspire other people who are also looking to give back. 

We have a brand-new accessory line we call "Heavy Metal". It's our jewellery line. 100% of the work is done in Senegal.  This is another way we give back to our home.

"This is a way we give back to our home."

As I close with these Titans, I realise that an hour with them has flown by swiftly and with it any trace suspicions that Art Coming First has more of a focus on self than on others. I now see it as Art Comes First as a metaphor for Heart Comes First.

I ask if there's a final word for any artist designers or would be innovators? 

Sam leads,

Always Go with your gut.

I won't lie to you and tell you that 9 times out of 10 you're going to make the right choice. That's mysticism. You don't know the future. But do you really think the other guy does? You are going to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are going to be more costly than others. But ask yourself especially when it comes to the expensive ones, would you rather pay for your friends car insurance or your own?

Shaka Continues, 

The moment you find out who your true self is, be it. You don't have a second more to loose. You are the groundhog and all the world is watching. Embracing yourself, shadow and all, can bring early end to the frigid winter of insecurity icing over the hearts of men. 

 

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