In case you missed the history lesson in Captured, the documentary about the Lower East Side documentarian, the Clayton cap was created in 1986, when Patterson discovered a couple of mom-and-pop shops on Avenue A that did iron-ons and embroidery. “A lot of the street gangs would go in there and cut out their letters and iron them on their jackets,” Clayton remembered. When Clayton realized the shop could also make custom baseball hats, the first Clayton cap was born.
“That was a whole new concept with the baseball cap,” Clayton says, referring to the hats he designed with embroidered images, words, and his signature all around the cap. Some of his earliest designs— featuring cartoon skulls, the devil, and a Checker cab pattern— are now being brought back in collaboration with DAMEHT, the band and “think tank,” as Clayton describes them, that he has taken under his wing.
One of the reissued hats shows a primitive drawing of the devil– it’s based on one of Clayton’s first designs, once worn by Keith Haring.
As Clayton caps became popular, thanks in part to a 1986 blurb in Elle magazine, they were discovered by artists Jim Dine and David Hockney and eventually developed a “big Hollywood following,” per their creator. Rob Reiner and Matt Dillon were photographed in them. Clayton and his wife Elsa Rensaa eventually invested in some sewing equipment and even designed a jacket for Mick Jagger, but they were never able to take production to the next level. “All the sudden you have to go to midtown and talk to some in-between guy who goes to Taiwan or Mexico or Haiti,” he recalled. “That’s the obstacle you run into as a small company now.”
The caps eventually fell by the wayside, but Rivington Starchild, frontman of DAMEHT, managed to talk Clayton into bringing them back. They found a company in New Jersey that could help with manufacturing, and now the reissued caps are selling online for $49 a pop. A commercial line is also in the works.
In addition, Patterson is teaming with Overthrow, the boxing gym that recently debuted a “knockout Trump” truck, to roll out a custom Overthrow cap and boxing gloves. The cap will feature a skull inside of a boxing glove and the number 9, to represent the gym’s location inside of the old Yippie building at 9 Bleecker Street.
Those items will debut at a party at “No. 9” on September 22 along with a fanzine titled Overthrow’s 12 Rounds With Clayton Patterson. The zine, to be sold for $5, features a dozen interviews that Patterson conducted with “interesting people that have done major things,” he said. The debut issue will feature Jose “Cochise” Quiles, a former gang member who co-authored Patterson’s book, Street Gangs of the Lower East Side. Other subjects will include Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Hailey Clausen, controversial humorist Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky, and Gilbert Baker, the artist who designed the Pride Flag.
“Essentially, we interview 12 different people about their fights and struggles,” said Overthrow owner Joey Goodwin. “It’s a wide range— from real activists and downtown New York characters, to the more sexy downtown characters.”
The Clayton-designed boxing gloves will sell at the gym for $120. Each glove will be emblazoned with a Patterson photograph that evokes the turmoil of the late ‘80s, when Patterson shot his famous Tompkins Square Park riots footage.
According to Goodwin, Clayton has become an “elder statesman” for the gym—hence the photos he took of the Trump truck.
Clayton, in turn, says the gym is one of the only “happening places” left downtown that isn’t a bar, and he is energized about his collaborations with Goodwin and DAMEHT. “These are the new youth coming into my life,” he said.