THE CIVILIST MAN: The Berlin-Based Skate Imprint Won’t Make Millions, But It’s Not About That
I’m not a skater. I have never owned a skateboard, nor felt the urge. Growing up a rebel in Toronto and Montreal (‘75-‘91), before moving back to my native London, then Barcelona, New York, LA, London again, and now Berlin, my choice of sport was ice hockey—I wanted to be between the pipes, and I excelled, because you have to be a nut to risk life and limb to stop a puck.
Skateboarding however has always intrigued me. Everything about it, from the anarchy, the Vans, the empty swimming pools in those LA backyards, the mythology, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Spicoli, getting high… Stories of the Z-Boys kind of filtered their way up to Toronto. I wore Vans, hoodies, tapered 501’s and “tuques” as we say in our socialist enclave Canada. If you were a dope-smoking, poker-playing, hybrid-serious athlete who failed gym and got an A+ in calculus, skating seemed totally logical. I was quietly enthralled, but I obsessed over hockey, all winter and summer long. Then I became too old to learn new tricks, but the attitude became more me than hockey.
Contrarily, I never watch hockey, but I love watching kids skate; I love the attitude. I still wear Vans, tapered jeans (maybe more leaning towards Japanese denim), hoodies and tuques. I can sit and watch the kids at the old-school skate park on Invalidenstrasse here in Berlin for hours. I’m kind of hoping my five-year-old daughter develops an appetite. I want her to nurture her own rebel spirit. It seems to me there’s nothing quite like a board and a skatepark to get the led out.
This brings us to my first of several dispatches from across the pond. First comes from my new hometown, Berlin, and the most authentic skateboard/wear/culture spot in town, Civilist, and its owner Alex (aka Foley) Flach.
Foley is a native West Berliner, born in ’74, a former serious skater and professional photographer, and now owner of Civilist. Everything about Foley is Civilist—and Berlin. The store is one of those spots that resonates as a genuine representation of its owner and its crew. This is not by accident, and probably not even by design. It just feels totally natural and real. It’s not slick, it’s not hype, it’s not mainstream. It’s Civilist, and it’s cool. Foley is always there with the crew, Julian the store manager and Colin on stock. They have the Berlin touch: highly skilled at being super busy and yet totally available.
Berlin is time and space. It’s a paradise that Civilist represents.
The physical store itself, the crew, and the online site are all gateways into the skate scene and culture over here. In coming dispatches, we’ll go deeper into Berlin’s skate life and times. Foley starts us off.
He and I are from completely different worlds, but a shared appreciation of some of his brands and a similar lo-fi attitude (style over hype, slow fashion, ‘chat’ as in actual face-to-face dialogue, shooting on film, showing up on time, limited means limited, no sub-zero sleepovers for any kind of coveted release that isn’t life or death, for real) make it very easy to chat.
We talked a lot about Supreme; this was a good frame to understand his approach to life and Civilist. He doesn’t sell Supreme, and doesn’t chase after it. But it’s a solid reference to speak about hype vs. mainstream. I had never really broken it down, but Foley explained how Supreme have hit the absolute sweet spot. They remain critically consistent in keeping availability very limited (as per the rules of hype), but the name is everywhere. Everyone knows Supreme, hence the mainstream dream.
Civilist is just as much me at 50 as you at 25.
Civilist has cultivated this same sense of integrity-meets-paying the rent. His customer base is the totally familiar 14-60 demographic! You jest, laugh even, but coming from a guy with a playlist that includes Nas, Chopin and Led Zep, plus the latest sing-a-long for a five-year-old, Civilist is just as much me at 50 as you at 25. The brand list reaches everyone within the demographic. It touches the anarchist young and old with Fucking Awesome and Hockey Skateboards, both by Jason Dill and Anthony Van Engelan (aka Ave), and reaches the practical, understated style requirements found in Norse Projects. Civilist are one of two shops in Germany to carry Palace. They have the German exclusive on Paradise—the brainchild of Sean Pablo, coming out of the Fucking Awsome/Supreme orbit. They have staples like Vans, Converse and Nike, and they have recently launched their own in-brand line of clothes, accessories and boards, also available in limited quantities and only at home base, Labor Skateshop NY, Doomsday Melbourne, Street Machine Copenhagen, and Ben G Amsterdam.
What’s most compelling about Civilist is the sense of authenticity. These are real guys who stand behind their work and associations. Foley doesn’t diss the kids who sleep out for days. Sure, he has it with Palace, but at the same time he won’t let his buddies do it. He’ll put pieces aside for them. He understands hype, and obviously it doesn’t hurt, but he wants to be careful with building his brand—as well he should.
When you step into Civilist’s world, which for me is the physical space, near enough my place in Mitte that I pass by often, you realize it’s not really about great gear. It’s more about the attitude and outlook the gear represents, and that’s the critical issue of survival in the hip-hop-skater-hype-limited edition-latest drop-fast fashion jungle. I don’t see Foley getting rich off Civilist, but I see him cultivating his quiet power in said jungle for a long time to come. Check them out at civilistberlin.com.