Of all the subcultures that have shaken Britain to its stuffy, reserved core, skinhead culture is perhaps both the most influential and the most misunderstood. Marked by an instantly recognisable aesthetic comprising fashion, music and print media, it has seen so many markedly different variants, from rudeboy culture to neo-Nazism, that it’s little surprise it’s so often misinterpreted.
With their new publication Skinhead: An Archive, Ditto Press are looking to change this. “The book is divided into sub-sections looking at the original iteration of skinhead,” Ditto Press explain. “The fascist interpretation, the socialist counterpoint, queer skinhead culture, exploitation literature, skin girls, and everything in between.”
The book contains original essays, unseen imagery and archive material, and is accompanied by a custom typeface which was created by art director Jamie Reid who also designed the book. We spoke to Jamie about the challenges of working closely with such powerful archive material, the authentic references which influenced the book’s design, and his own connection with skinhead culture.
What were your first thoughts on being asked to design the book? Do you have a strong affinity with skinhead culture?
I wouldn’t say I have a particularly strong affinity with the culture, though with any niche culture it’s definitely something that really struck an interest with me. Skinheads are notoriously particular and strong in their beliefs and morals. The visual aspect definitely reflects that.
Were you heavily influenced by archive material when you were working on the book? Are there any examples you felt particularly strongly about?
I tried not to be overly influenced by the material, though it was definitely my intention to make something that felt authentic and that would be appreciated by people with an interest in the culture, along with anyone who might take an interest in the book without necessarily being too clued up on skinheads. It was important to treat Toby’s collection with respect and not to produce something too distracted by trend. I wanted to encapsulate the aggression and combativeness of skinhead culture without borrowing too much from the existing visuals.
Can you give us an example of where the design directly references such material?
The two main references would be the headline typeface, and cover illustration. The Last Resort was the only shop (there is a band of the same name) that really that embraced the skinhead revival and was adopted by skinheads as a sort of HQ. The crucified skinhead is a symbolic illustration that is synonymous with the shop and was used on most of their posters, flyers and bags. It depicts the prejudice that skinheads felt was taken against them. Of all those illustrations, we came across only one of a girl, and felt the unfamiliarity suited the cover.
The crucified skinhead is a symbolic illustration... It depicts the prejudice that skinheads felt was taken against them. Of all those illustrations, we came across only one of a girl, and felt the unfamiliarity suited the cover.Jamie Reid
What made you decide to create a custom typeface? What influenced you in the process of designing the typeface?
The headline typeface was redrawn from a Penthouse magazine article on neo-Nazis. It was important that visually the book felt true to the subject without being too much of a pastiche, and the font seemed to fit perfectly with what we were trying to achieve far more than anything existing I could find. As it was redrawn, I already had a few letters as a starting point to generate the rest of the alphabet, and then glyphs, though I also referenced some German and Swiss sans-serifs through the design stage.
What’s your favourite spread from the book and why?
There is a page of Weetabix “Bovver Boys and Girls,” a series of TV advertisements from the 80s which I absolutely love. I find it interesting how people visualise something so niche and reinterpret it into something so mainstream and corporate. I’d like to know what legitimate skinheads of the time would think about them.
Skinhead: An Archive is available to buy now from Ditto Press. The font will be available for licensing later on this month.