Interview with Fabio Raffaeli
about the past present and future of Hannibal Store
Interview Cecilia Arata, photo Davide De Funtis / Stefano Bosso / Fabio Cornero
Hey Fabio, we know that you are a 360 degree artist with nearly 20 years of experience in, first, music and then in the field of streetwear where you’ve specialized and reached important milestones with Flower Distribution, your shops Hannibal Store, Into the Wild and thousands other projects. Can you tell us a little bit about where this passion was born and what your background is?
Well I’d say that almost everything, as far as my passion being born, came during my first experience in the United States in 1991. I had the opportunity to move to Gardnerville in Nevada, in the heart of the desert between Reno, Carson City and Las Vegas to finish high school. As a space / time reference it makes me smile to think that at the time in Puglia, where I grew up, I had never even seen a video recorder or a dishwasher, there was no ketchup, we only had one pub. We had no type of cultural reference, if not some faded story from community centers that were still far away. Then as if it was a dream I was catapulted into a world of metal concerts, skaters, baggy pants, real cowboys with the 10-gallon hat, belt-buckle and spurs, punks in kilts, legal brothels, Bloods, Crips and girls pregnant at 16 years old. It all happened so fast, it was almost surreal. I have been extremely fortunate to have some of amazing people, who I became really close to, as examples and references, who unwittingly altered the course of my life forever. One above all a Norwegian guy, Torgny Amdam, the only European at my school. At that time he was already a singer of a hardcore group, ONWARD, a vegetarian, straight edge and millions of light years away from anything I had seen and experienced until then. One cold Sunday morning, I was skating with him and our other friend Kyle Volland in Reno when he pointed out to me this battered white van with black writing that said “Animals are my friends, I don’t eat my friends”. I was shell- shocked. I would have never even remotely thought or believed that from that day, my life wouldn’t be the same ever again.
Alright, so music, what kind of a role did it play after that?
Shortly after that I met bands like Minor Threat, Youth Of Today, Insted, 7 Seconds, Gorilla Biscuits, Judge, Bold and then Mouthpiece, Strife, Earth Crisis, etc. etc. who all profoundly effected my life, education, aesthetic taste and way to communicate, to say the least. After I graduated at the Douglas High School in America, thanks to my brothers ex-girfriend who was British, I got an interview entirely, by chance, to enroll at no cost at the Faculty of European Business with Technology of Brighton in England where I ended up studying the marketing that I would use in years to come, but in that moment I spent 4 years very close to and active in animal activism, the real pissed- off English one. Almost every weekend I was there in the vans of the HSA (Hunter Saboteurs Association) in the south of England with a lawyer’s number, who I didn’t even know, written on my arm in pen in case I got arrested. All I had was a mask and a hyper radical worldview which has fortunately softened a little with the passing of the years. Meanwhile, I also created my first band, vegan straight-edge at distance. I made the group with some friends from Torino with whom I had had some crazy work experiences with like working 6 months at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas of Turin, where I was working in the marketing department during the Mike Tyson rights and the all the media circus that surrounded it. I would like to include in my C.V. that I worked right there in Vegas in 1996 when Tupac was murdered. I still have incredible shots that I took with a Polaroid that evening inside the MGM. The first group that I started singing with was called Fallen Victim and our self-produced demo had the logo of “Animal Liberation Front” for the cover and came out in 1993. Soon after we changed the name to XABSENCEX and after years with some different band changes and things we became we became xDestroy Babylonx. We played everywhere in Europe, UK and also in Japan. During a festival in Belgium in 2009, I met a girl who would later became the mother of my daughter so I would say that the hardcore has had a undeniable and irreversible affect on my life. Fresh out of college I had no intention of becoming a 9 to 5’er so I put together a few pieces from all my experiences so far, along with my studies, and the 600 thousand lire that my father lent me (Thanks, Dad), I started the first real hardcore streetwear brand that was both connected to skateboarding and Hip Hop with a concept and production closely linked to veganism and animal rights: EBLOOD CLOTHING. For a couple of years I literally lived in a van that I made payments on thanks to my brothers job. I showered at truck stops and I slept on the couches of friends or in the van. I did everything for the brand, from design to accounting, prototyping, from the choice of fabrics to the management of the stores and contracts in Italy. One afternoon in April 2001, thanks to my drummer Gabriele, I met Raffaella in Piazza Castello in Turin. She, who is the current Hannibal store manager, immediately believed in me and in my project. Her contribution of the past 15 years, plus more to come, has been nothing short of extraordinary. After nearly 10 years of EBLOOD, FLOWER DISTRIBUTION was born, which deals with the importing and distribution throughout Italy of many streetwear brands and then subsequently opening HANNIBAL STORE and most recently INTO THE WILD.
All right, can you tell us why you chose Turin for your work?
In 2001, with Raffy, we decided to create a kind of base for operations in the small apartment that my parents had left behind in Turin after moving to Puglia in 80’s. We put two desks, carpeting, two computers, a refrigerator, a bed, television and a sofa. It was everything we needed. Ever since then Raffy has worked with the most committed and dedicated spirit I’ve ever seen, for which I will always been grateful. From then on, from our warehouse / garage off Corso Mediterraneo we were able to handle nearly 200 stores a season. The various subcultures were then linked by a thin thread and in Turin the situation was not much different. In a very short time, we began to do collaborations with EBLOOD, connecting with prominent personalities and bands associated with different scenes like Punk, Skate, Hip Hop, Hardcore. In addition we began to link up with international hardcore groups like Earth Crisis, Culture, Liar, Arkangel, Purified in Blood, Walls of Jericho, To Kill and others. Then we began to sponsor local acts like Double D (who later became the first clerk at Hannibal) Ensi and One Mic , the Colle Der Fomento in Rome, Subsonica, Masta 5, Dj faith, Prince, Next One, Clementino, and skaters like Xavier Sgaramella, Mario Marinelli now owner of El santo, Mattia Turkish, Marco Mina, Palombino and many others. It’s crazy to see, today, the evolution and the deserved success of many of these guys who at the time little more than teenagers. In 2005, almost by chance, my brother and I found this an ad for this empty shop in Via Accademia delle Scienze in the center. After weeks of studying the foot traffic and demographics, I took the idea that had been seared into my brain and decided to open HANNIBAL STORE right there on September 10, 2005. The name HANNIBAL refers to Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with his elephants in one of the most brilliant and strategic military moves in history. It was a stupid little metaphor that I wanted to win over Torino. My way.
What elements inspired you the most to open HANNIBAL? How did you choose the brands and what were the reasons that pushed you to open your second store INTO THE WILD? What are the differences between the two store fronts?
HANNIBAL STORE was born with the idea of mixing fashion, street art and culture, like it says on the window outside the store. We wanted to offer something more than just the selling for selling’s sake of clothes, shoes and accessories. No streetwear store in Italy at the time was selling books, toys, furniture, incense, organizing exhibitions, or really put love and energy into their own music playlists or took the time and effort to really curate an environment that the customers could connect with. Now you have to, back then much less. I liked the idea of giving an emotional experience, trying to recreate a similar feeling to what I felt when I walked into stores like SEED in Paris, Triple 5 Soul of Lafayette in NYC, UNION in Soho with the attention to detail that could and should make the difference. The selection of brands has always had a cross connotation but always very street. We immediately started selling brands like SUPREMEBEING, which was the first brand taken into exclusive distribution throughout Italy with Flower Distribution, then WEMOTO, OBEY, ADIDAS ORIGINALS, LAZY OAF, MISHKA. Over the next 10 years consumption changed a lot too with the explosion of fast fashion, stores like Zara, H & M and Bershka and again online shopping, the advent of social media and a type of contamination that the mainstream has had on the various existing subcultures and vice versa. An example of this for me is the case of NIKE. In the early 90s I remember how it was absolutely taboo to wear a pair of Nikes to a punk concert. It was a company to boycott, period. Years later, however, Nike remodeled and recreated its own market within that community, even though 20 years ago a skater would have never worn the swoosh, not even if tortured. In 2013 after the birth of my daughter Isabel, and a thousands of trips and personal upheavals I felt the need to get back in the game with new ideas and new business projects. Hannibal was already doing well and found its own road, as well as the Flower Distribution showroom. I wanted to create a new space that would represent almost pure poetry for me and to give me the chance to fully express who I was and what I had enjoyed in my recent travels from Torino selling brands such as Norse projects, Soulland, Olow, Ucon, etc.. A space decorated with pieces of my Berlin home, pieces of my parents’ house in the country and a lot of recycled pieces from markets across Europe as well as, personal effects, like the first vinyl bought in 1986 with my brother: Walk This Way Run DMC and my precious copy of OUT oF STEP Minor Threat. Everything is so personal and intimate. The whole planning and preparation process itself has given me a lot of positive energy and the most amazing thing is that I opened INTO THE WILD in old space of one of our most important and direct competitors. Let’s say that initially we wanted INTO THE WILD to be the natural evolution of Hannibal in terms of target, age and type of consumption. Now after 3 years we have noticed that almost 90% of customers are accustomed to come in and buy from Hannibal and ITW. Two stores that have the same attention to detail, each with its own image and its own well-defined personality. On one side there is Raffy, with her sweetness and precision, and then on the other side there’s Oggy with his charm. They are in good hands.
We know that much of your time you spend in your office / showroom of Via Bologna. What do you actually do over at FLOWER DISTRUBTION?
Flower Distribution was created to distribute EBLOOD in 1999 but only in 2005 did
we start to import other brands exclusively and begin to distribute throughout Italy. Over the past 11 years we’ve worked with brands like Supremebeing, Wemoto, Ucon, Mishka, 10Deep, Rocksmith, Chunk, Lazy Oaf, Federation, Olow, Army Of Me, Lasonic and many others through our showroom in Via Bologna in Turin and thanks to the collaboration of the many representatives from different agencies. Seasonally we serve 280 stores throughout Italy. And now, more than 10 years after ‘opening HANNIBAL, we decided to make a change to further Flower launching our very first clothing line, inspired by the cuts, colors, fabrics and graphics of the 90’s, revisited in a hyper modern way. The brand will be called, HANNIBAL THE ARMY PROJECT and will be developed in collaboration with Giorgio ANML Dazzi who recently joined our super team. We will personally select the stores to distribute and collaborate with around the world, and everything is going to be ready for the Spring Summer 2016.
What can we expect in the near future. What are your short-term projects?
Very very soon, with the valuable support of Fabietto, Emanuele and Isa, we will be launching our on-line store, www.hannibalstore.it, where we will offer the best selections of HANNIBAL and INTO THE WILD. To kick-off the event, we will bring “online” to the streets and for the first time we are going to open HANNIBAL and ITW for 24 consecutive hours. If you can buy online 24 hours a day, its only fair, and fun, to do it physically too, even if only for a day. We’re going to intensify our collaborations with the different Turin clubbing scenes like Astoria and We Play The Music We Love. We will launch a capsule collection of photographic t-shirts, ICONOCLAST x HANNIBAL THE ARMY PROJECT which is a very personal project related to a photographic journal that I’ve been carrying out in recent years (www.theiconoclast.it). In our HANNIBAL FACTORY space in Via Bologna there’ll be a series of events related to the world of street- art, and we will, as always, design, production and distribution of the Made in Italy brand pants WE MAKE SUPER DENIM, we will be at Pitti in Florence with the WEMOTO and UCON stands. Soon, I’ll be visiting Nashville Tennessee for the fourth time where I think I will invest the time, energy and valuable resources in the near future and will continue with the Italian and European distribution of overground, one of the most beautiful editorial projects that Italy has ever seen given birth to. Stay super tuned. XVX