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    ‘We’re Top Gear for clothes’: the guys behind PAQ

    it is 1am and a queue of 300 teenagers, clad in near identical tracksuits, snakes down a street in Soho, London. The occasional scuffle breaks out, but otherwise the air is quiet and heavy with anticipation. Contrary to what you might think, this is not the entry for Tiger Tiger on a Saturday night. These kids have travelled from far and wide to camp outside the London Supreme store to get their hands on the brand’s weekly “drop”. For those who don’t know, Supreme is the skateboarding brand which originated in 1990s New York and has amassed an almost deferential cult following.
    “It’s crazy, people are queuing up, camping in tents,” says Elias Riadi, co-founder of PAQ, the YouTube fashion channel for young men. “In New York the NYPD is shutting up roads because Supreme has a new collaboration; kids will blow a grand on a new Supreme T-shirt.”
    Streetwear brands have monopolised male fashion for the past two years, but what originated as a subculture rooted in hip-hop music and skating circles is now the uniform de-rigueur for young men the world over. With demand for streetwear growing exponentially, Riadi was inspired to launch PAQ with three friends, Danny Lomas, Shaquille Keith and Dexter Black. It launched in February last year, with its inaugural episode dedicated to buying a “fire” outfit on a £50 budget. Today they’ve notched up more than 1m views and have more than 170,000 subscribers.
    “PAQ is basically Top Gear, but with clothes instead of cars,” explains Elias, a model from Watford who came up with the concept after noticing a demand for an inclusive platform for young men to talk about clothes without judgement. “High fashion has always been very serious. People, especially young men, have always been intimidated by it. We want to ‘un-boujify’ fashion.” Elias doesn’t look like he has ever been intimidated by fashion in his life. When we meet he is dressed like a Formula One driver in a scarlet Ferrari jacket with a matching bucket hat and a pair of Burberry tracksuit bottoms fresh from Christopher Bailey’s most recent catwalk.
    Wallflower-dom is not something any of these four could be accused of – each has a distinctive take on streetwear style, peppered with musical and artistic references. Danny, a skater, could be a 60s mod with his vintage Harrington jacket nipped in at the waist and halo of blond curls. Shaq, an illustration student and aspiring poet, has a more whimsical take on streetwear. Wearing a signature black beret and thick gold hoops, he looks like the aesthetic love-child of rapper Tupac Shakur and artist Basquiat. Dex is perhaps the least overtly flamboyant, dressed in a black tracksuit and matching hat. “I have tried to wear colours, colours is not my thing,” he offers by way of explanation for his dark ensemble.
    Although PAQ is primarily a fashion show, the boys’ repartee and tangible chemistry is part of the entertainment. Each episode sees the four undertake a fashion-related challenge, often with hilarious consequences. In one episode the boys are tasked with testing popular outerwear brands to see if they can withstand extreme weather conditions. To do this they embark on a romp in the Lake District, which begins with clay pigeon shooting and culminates in them scaling a small mountain, while decked out in North Face and sporting fashionable bum bags. “It was four times the height of the Shard,” exclaims Shaq, a comment met by guffaws from the others. “It was twice the size of the Shard, he’s just really scared of heights,” sniggers Dex.
    The four friends – all aged between 20 and 22 – are representative of a larger movement that has seen young men becoming more experimental with fashion. Only a few years ago the tracksuit was the uniform of the disenfranchised, a hoodie the ultimate signifier of anti-social behaviour. But in the last two years youth culture has reclaimed and redefined sportswear as a fashion commodity. The rise in the popularity of skate brands such as Supreme, Stussy and Palace, not to mention the big conglomerates Adidas, Nike and Reebok, has given men more variety to choose from and subsequently ample room for experimentation.
    “Internet culture has changed fashion,” explains Danny. “Instagram accounts like Poundland Bandit shine a light on stereotypes and no one wants to fit into those categories. Someone will tweet an outfit and you’ll be like ‘Oh God, I’m literally wearing that outfit.’ No kid wants to look basic.”

    We want get away from the stereotype of ‘This is how you dress as a guy’

    Music, as in most youth movements, is one of the driving forces behind this latest fashion for sportswear. Grime and hip-hop artists have been pivotal in changing the culture around streetwear, not only by giving it a platform through their own growing popularity, but also redefining what is acceptable to wear as a young man. Skepta, in particular, has been vocal about wearing womenswear and eschewing branded clothes, while A$AP Rocky has been pictured wearing dresses at events and fashion shows. This blurring of boundaries between menswear and womenswear is something that the PAQ boys are particularly eloquent about, dedicating one of their episodes to finding and wearing an outfit consisting only of women’s clothing.
    “We want to show people that you don’t have to go under the prescriptive stereotype of ‘This is how you have to dress as a guy; this is what the world wants you to look like as a man’,” explains Danny. When I ask if they would feel confident wearing women’s clothes on a normal day they all nod without hesitation. “I’d definitely wear a kimono as long as it was black,” says Dex. “The patterns on some are crazy.” Shaq snorts: “Dex, you’d look like a crap Memoirs of a Geisha.” They all start giggling. “Although I’d probably wear a skirt over a pair of jeans, and obviously my beret,” concedes Shaq.
    Beneath the flamboyant outfits, the ambition is palpable in all of them. Some of their episodes have had more than 1m views, and they see fashion as a vehicle to shine a light on bigger issues. Dex is particularly passionate about demystifying mental health for young men. “As a kid I was quite introverted with my feelings and I didn’t really know how to express myself,” he says. “There are so many young people who go through the same thing and, even though society is more open about these things, a lot for people still don’t have a solution or know how to deal with these feelings. I just want to show people my age, younger or older, that if you believe in yourself you will start to find clarity.” This is also where his penchant for black takes on a more poignant significance. “I’ve always loved the colour black, but as I’ve gotten older and my life has been up and down, I’ve noticed in uncomfortable situations it helps me feel like I can breathe.”
    PAQ is a refreshing example of what “millennial snowflakes” are capable of. At the age of 20, these guys are conscious of their position of influence and they want to use it to enact positive change. “We’re the four musketeers,” says Elias. “The Avengers,” chimes in Shaq. “I would say we’re Jedis,” says Dex. “But I wear black so I can be a sith.”

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