Dr. Noki on rule-breaking, ’90s Shoreditch, and the rave uniform

Following his presentation at London Fashion Week, the masked designer caught up with Document to reflect and reminisce – and envision the future of his iconic brand

dr Also known as JJ Hudson, Noki has created a brand that never gets old. That’s probably because NOKI was founded on the tenets of youth: anti-institutional rebellion, the endless search for style that sets one apart, an almost religious love of partying. After all, Hudson founded his label in the late ’90s Shoreditch rave scene – as he refined his dress uniform, he began upcycling second-hand clothing and eventually came up with something akin to the daring, irreverent mashups he’s in today London Shows Fashion Week.

Despite and because of Hudson’s unpredictability – he always wears a mask that obscures his features and is cut with the same safe, haphazard technique as the rest of his clothes – the designer and artist has become something of a cult figure on the London fashion scene. His last show was proof of that: NOKI’s audience resembled more concert-goers than the typical Fashion Week crowd. Multiple soundtracks played from portable speakers, t-shirts were hurled into the crowd, and the models created their own visual noise: each look was less predictable than the last, and featured items ranging from tulle skirts to fencing gear to Disney merchandise Tape, to fur boots.

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Immediately after the legendary production, Hudson caught up with Document to debrief and reminisce – and envisioning the future of the NOKI brand, “with big open arms and a happy heart for the future of fashion education.”

Morgan Becker: How was the energy at tonight’s show?

JJ Hudson: Like this weekend, it was the anticipation of a mind-bender rave.

morgan: What was your intention behind the presentation?

yy: This presentation was intended to serve as a platform for the NOKI NESTT – an educational endeavor to start my own school and studio. The idea is that students learn to build these silhouettes themselves [their own] interpretations.

morgan: NOKI has been described as “anti-fashion”. How do you think it fits in with institutional events like London Fashion Week? How does it relate to the mainstream labels shown alongside it?

yy: It’s about presenting a new way of interpreting fashion design: as an individual assembly of already created garments into fresh, sustainable styles and silhouettes.

morgan: Tell me about the manufacturing process of a NOKI garment – from the procurement of the material to the end product. Do you have a first vision in mind or is it created bit by bit?

yy: Initially, in the 90’s, I had to come up with new ideas that I had never seen before by experimenting with my own rave uniform – I suppose adapting it with an inner instinct. The classic NOKI zine consists of two t-shirts sewn together, which I believe makes for a Shoreditch textile zine instead of a traditional paper zine. I would graffiti and subvert any t-shirt as its sides and enjoy seeing my buddies wear them to the rave scene – like a raging spread. It felt like 90’s fresh zone vibes. Every custom build comes from a vintage find. Then my mind switches to 3D build mode. I know if I cut them with scissors for the first time it will work. It’s blind faith that I like to exercise.

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morgan: How should a NOKI piece of clothing feel on the wearer?

yy: It should feel like a liberty uniform.

morgan: You have taken the iconography of streetwear brands, pop culture symbols, repurposed these disparate elements and made them your own. What do you think of ownership in the art industry?

yy: I had a stupid idea in the 90s. i broke rules I made an impression by not being afraid to disregard them in a healthy way. my [rule-breaking] has become mainstream, which makes me happy as an artist. It makes my avant-garde peers more relevant in 2022. That’s a great youth development.

morgan: NOKI was born out of the legacy of the 90’s London DIY rave scene. How does that legacy live on in the collections you bring out today? How have your designs evolved since the brand was founded in 1996?

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yy: To be honest, I feel like nothing has really changed in the way I make a NOKI collage. The tailoring approach has become more professional, but what has definitely changed is Mother Earth’s ability to provide this first life garment. I have only one solution to what an adjustment can look like in the second, third, and fourth lives.

morgan: Are you still involved in underground party scenes in London? How do you stay connected to this original source of radical inspiration?

yy: I have my moments, yes. But it’s not my mashup motivation like it used to be. i know my limits You need to. it says. This show had JBL portable speakers that played my muses’ own musical tastes. I wanted to celebrate this unique rave liberation. As if you had your own custom-made beat.

morgan: What was an unexpected creative reference this season?

yy: Crunchy packets and crushed tin cans and my buddy Jiv’s plastic scraps. Our work just fits together.

morgan: How are you celebrating this new collection?

yy: With big open arms and a happy heart for the future of fashion education.

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