Shaka Maidoh Tells Us About Art Comes First

by Gaylor Mangumbu - Published on 31/01/2016

Art Comes First is indeed one of the most interesting and creative projects in menswear around in the last ten years. If names like Ozwald Boateng or Spencer Hart don’t ring a bell… it’s either because you don’t know how to dress or you need a compass to find your way to Saville Row, the beating heart of English sartorialism, in Mayfair, London. But if you are nice and empathic, Sam Lamberts and Shaka Maidoh would kindly be available to help you find your way around, being born and bred around garments and with a great knowledge of the coolest and most prestigious tailor shops in the area.

Both Shaka and Sam live in London, says Shaka, whom I have met for a brief chat at the last Pitti Uomo Firenze [we have written about it here and here], “we really like Pitti, we have been coming for about six years”.

His voice is very relaxed and his words are weighted, he does not move his hands at all and has the attitude of an artist rather than of a designer or tailor. This only fuels my serenity and so I start: “So when and where?” and says “what?!”. Very well… and so I start again:

GRIOT: When, where and why the Art Comes First project?

Shaka Maidoh: Sam and I have known each other for about eight years and five years ago we created Art Comes First. At the very beginning it was just about artsy installation, simple consultancies and collaborations with other brands.
griot-mag-art-comes-first-sam-lambert-shaka-maidohAnd then?
Then nothing, it was all born almost by chance. Sam was coming from a very important experience as art director for Spencer Hart at that time and we found ourselves working together in the creative team of Ozwald Boateng. From there we revolutionized, little by little, following our perspective, some codes in sartorial menswear. I admit that “revolutionized” sounds a little drastic and almost catastrophic but truth is we really are tailor addicted, with a great passion and respect for the ancient tradition of this craft but at the same time with an eye on the dynamics spinning all around us and a taste very close to our personalities. Nowadays, many brands enlist young designers for more or less long lasting collaborations, with different aims.

What is your vision about this new creative strategy?
Well, to us it is fundamental to have a thorough vision, because this is what drives our energy in the moment we start a collaboration. It really does not matter what kind of brand it is, what matters is that there is a common language among the concerned parties.

I noticed that music is quite present in your work as in your “The Hard Graft – The DJ Technique Applied to Menswear” project. Do you want to tell me anything about it?
Music is indeed very present when we create as it is a huge source of inspiration. Mos Def is among my favorite artists but I also listen to some good jazz or punk with much enthusiasm. I am really excited by the exchange of the two worlds because while I create garments inspired by what I listen to, those who compose music will want to translate their artistic message into garments while on stage.

And so the circle closes. I would say it is a special relationship, almost like husband and wife.

You told me it is not your first time at Pitti. As you have been several times to Italy, the question comes by itself: what do you like so much about this country?
First of all, we have many friends in Italy…and our hats are made there. Then, food is great, even for us vegans. Then, the elegance in clothing, that typical Italian vocation that new generation has a hard time following.

If you want to work with Art Comes First on their comic series [oh…it’s a paid illustration job], you can apply here –

Main image | (c) Karl Edwin Guerre

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Gaylor Mangumbu
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Growing up in Rome and not being influenced by art it’s quite impossible; so I eventually studied all those things my mum believed to be wrong for me: Fine Arts at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and Fashion at Accademia di Moda e Costume, mixing my passion for sneakers, cinema, photography, music and mango-flavored ice cream.