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Best of 2023: Lei Takanashi’s NYC Buyer’s Guide

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The strong homie Lei has been published in NY Mag, been a guest on SHOWStudio, and for his day job writes his ass off for Complex (any time you see a banging style article there it was either Aria Hughes or Mike Destefano or Lei who did it). When I told him Finals was doing NY-focused year-end lists, he came through with his year in gear. Thanks Lei, you went crazy!


Peace Andrew, Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to all the beautiful people that follow Finals! You asked me to make a little “Best of NY” list and I’m not going to lie, it was kind of hard figuring out what to do. I decided that I was going to lean into my fashion bullshit for this one. So let’s see what happens!

However, you might have encouraged me to do a nice little round-up of my favorite graffiti flicks of the year, follow my substack for more ;)

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The Best Piece I Copped From A NYC Brand As one can imagine, I cop a lot of gear throughout the year. Personally, the best drop I picked up this year were some raw denim Born X Raised Levi’s 501s– Rest in Peace, Spanto. But I wanted to take this opportunity with Finals to reflect on the many local NYC brands I love.

Yes, there are a lot of New York City brands out. To be honest, many of them are hella corny—like what the fuck is a Bushwick Yacht Club? And with all due respect, I’ll stick to Polo before you catch me lining up for you know what. I’m not going to waste any words on any of the NY labels we all know about already. I’ll say that Awake is my favorite mainstream one at the moment though—who else got a JA throw inside their store?

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So let me run through my many local cops this year. When it comes to home goods, I own a decent amount of stuff from Blue Bodega at the moment. It’s a label that creates art editions informed by New York culture but particularly speaks towards graffiti—which is a common thread when it comes to the brands I love. A lot of Blue Bodega’s products give me a Subware vibe. It also reminds me of a time when art-toys used to be closely intertwined with graffiti. This water-barrier piece they made with the Uptown killa SKAM is just genius and I got to give them props for creating my favorite home decor pick-up this year.

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Another local I gotta show some love for is SHA. He stays posted up at All City Legends, wielding that airbrush like a magic wand, conjuring up tees that would make Phade’s head spin.

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Also shouts out to the Chadie boys in Queens, for this screen printed beauty blessed by the hands of CNONE.

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But really, if I’m going to wax poetic about any pick ups from a NYC-based label. I'm giving a well-deserved shoutout to this hoodie I copped from Brigade. I remember I first saw this joint on Papo 2oo4 when he opened for this YL x Starker show in Brooklyn.

Swish! Any Polo head knows how fly the OG K-Swiss hoodie is—peep Wreckin Shop if you don’t know what I’m talking about. But respectfully, Brigade made the new school version of that shit and this hoodie is not just quality. It’s cozy! I’m not gassing it at all. Let’s break down the science by what I mean by “quality” and “cozy”.

A Supreme hoodie is quality. You put that shit on and you already know that cotton spun differently because it feels like a weighted blanket. The only qualms I have about Preme’s shit is that it’s OD stiff. I think they intentionally do that so it literally feels like a statement. Like “I’m wearing a Supreme hoodie, the fuck you talking about?!”

But really, most of us prefer sitting on the other end of the hoodie spectrum, which is “cozy.” You know, hoodies that are actually just soft and comfortable to wear for serious lounging. So when it comes to cozy, my vintage Polo Bear hoodies feel like the creme de la creme. But with all due respect, they don’t feel like “quality” simply because of its age—the Dick Tahsin graphics are minty though and that’s what counts. This Brigade hoodie is the perfect marriage between the quality of a new Supreme hoodie and the coziness of a vintage Polo hoodie. I was flabbergasted when I first put it on and it has been my go-to since. Good shit Aaron, you did that.

The Best Merch I Copped One, I don’t ever really go see live music anymore unless I’m really feeling it. Two, I don’t ever cop merch unless it hits crazy. I was fortunate enough to find both at the only two live music experiences I went to this year.

After many long years of being a fan of YL and Starker, I finally committed to seeing them at Elsewhere this year. Naturally, I had to come correct for this show because anyone who collects Polo in NYC knows that Starker is the real deal. So I backed out a red wool RL2000 ski bear knit and a little Cross Flags duffle bag I ain’t seen anyone else wear. Just to clear the air, I’m not trying to flex like I’m some Polo god or anything of the sort. I just got a real appreciation for true Lo hitters. The rest of the fit was pretty mid to keep it 100—just a regular red 2017 Nuptse jacket and some brick red Denim Tears Asics that I’m beating into the ground.

There’s a good reason why YL and Starker are muses for brands like Aime Leon Dore at this current moment. Their music and personas represent a sense of New York style that can’t be bought at Rogue Garments or any of those sad Dimes Square vintage clothing boutiques trying to move bummy CdG Homme sweaters for bread. Put it like this. When I listen to RRR, I feel like I’m wearing something like an OG Front Page shirt by Julie Castillo. Their music has an air of authenticity that simply can’t be replicated, even though many respectfully try.

You knew this was a YL and Starker function based on how many flavorful North Faces filled the room. Big shout out to my guy Brarnold, another true Lo collector based in Philly. Bro pulled up all the way from steaktown in a ‘92 America’s Cup jacket—he also shot one of my favorite Starker videos to date. At the end of the show, I perused the merch and this Starker long sleeve naturally caught my eye. He later hit me in my DMs and put me on to the reference, a mom and pop sneaker store chain in Brooklyn. While I can show a flick of this long sleeve, I’d rather show this Starker spread put together by the good people at Living Proof New York—the greatest graffiti magazine/podcast out right now–that showcases Starker’s untouchable flyness.

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While this was the hardest piece of merch I copped, I must say that a worthy contender is this T-shirt designed by Ain’t Wet for MIKE’s Young World 3.


I love how I can pick up one of hundreds of graphic tees I own and just remember everything about the moment I picked it up. I ain’t going to delve too deep into how ill Young World 3 was since anyone who follows music in New York City already knows what’s good with that. I will say though, it was a trip going from 454, to MIKE, to 2017 Jay Critch, and then closing out with a NoName show without spending a dime—I still gotta upload videos to my YouTube but some footage is there. But word to Ain’t Wet, they snapped on the event poster and T-shirt, as they always do. I’m going to likely need that GTA-inspired Burning Desire tee before the year closes out.

The Best NYC Pop-up I Went To New York Fashion Week is always stacked with activations, shows, and so many other events that it sometimes feels like a competition of what brand has the biggest marketing budget to spend. I’m not knocking fashion shows. What I’m saying is that so much goes on during NYFW that a lot of it truly feels soulless, bearing little to no connection to actual New Yorkers. Aside from Abrons Arts Center's excellent ‘Objects of Permanence’ exhibition by Mellany Sanchez, the one event that really stuck with me from NYFW this September was Primer Rebelde De America’s pop-up at Graceland New York.

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I’ve been closely following Victor Vegas’ label all-year and have resonated with the fact that his clothes are saying something real. Each T-shirt, hoodie, and crewneck he’s dropped is telling a story about Indigenous people in the Americas. I love it when I could research a T-shirt graphic and actually learn something from it—like how this tee put me on to César Chávez and Dolores Huerta’s United Farm Workers of America. After the pop-up, he shared at length why he wanted to do it in his hometown of Ridgewood, Queens and I admire any designer who stands on their brand’s ethos like that. I ended up picking up this “Broken Arrow” T-shirt he made in collaboration with Learn & Destroy—another dope NYC label by Ray Morales that’s also making some tough AF clothing locally.


The Craziest Street Rack Find Man, I think I went to the ‘Figures of Speech’ exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum like five times. It kinda gave me the same therapeutic experience of walking through a good brick and mortar store—much love to 867 Madison Avenue. While I certainly do wish that it was laid out in multiple sections of the museum like the original one at the MCA in Chicago, Antwuan Sargent’s rotunda of Abloh’s greatest works just hit like a perfect loop. Of course, like everyone else, I took a L on the Brooklyn AF1s. While I was walking by Village Works on St. Marks this summer, I stopped by a random street rack and found this sitting there for just $50. It was an instant purchase and I couldn’t believe the vendor just found it at a thrift in Brooklyn.

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The Market Market Sale
I feel like most sample sales aren’t even worth talking about or going to in New York City. They always look hella mid on Tik-Tok and really are you saving THAT much money? I don’t know, I’m not a sample sale fiend by any means. But I would say from what I’ve seen on social media, it’s a lot of line waiting for deals on weak designer clothing that’s still breaking your wallet.

But then, there’s Dover Street Market’s Market Market sale. This is really one of those things where if you weren't there, you smoked a crazy fat L. Chris Chance really documented how nuts this shit was for MadeintheURL. Put it like this, if you went early, you could have been like one of my Grailed peeps and copped every embossed ERL puffer ever co-signed by a famous rapper. I won’t lie, it was hella weird shopping during one of the worst days of that Canadian wild fire smog, because you really feel dumb af for risking your health for some garments.

But as someone who collects graffiti artist collabs, the sale blessed me like crazy. I came out of Market Market with a Futura x CDG Shirt zip-up, and legit, every colorway of a CDG Shirt x Supreme top that was graced with Earsnot’s handstyle.


The Hardest NYC Merch

These days, between vintage clothing trends and Only NY having every New York City agency in a chokehold, super distinct merchandise from various NYC organizations feels tougher to find these days. For the record, I love Only NY’s collaborations in this realm and happily own that trash can pen holder. But when Grailed sellers like 4GSeller are trying to sell a Bronx Science hoodie—that was released when I was there during the 2010s—for $890, you know this market is getting nutty. While I have been trying to chill out on saved eBay searches this year, I’m always on the lookout for this type of gear. This piece by Sebastien Meijias, a photographer and artist who actually works for the DSNY, just goes dumb. I personally feel like vintage DSNY merch always hits.

Lastly, here’s a playlist of music that made me feel as fly as Max B spitting bars out the whip in a B.B. belt.


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