A word with Alex Fakso & Andrea Rosso of 55DSL

Words: Alex Synamatix
Photography: Alex Synamatix

On the success of Alex Fakso’s recently launched book “Fast or Die”, documenting life on the subways of the world, and his collaborative collection of t-shirts with 55DSL, we decided to sit down with the man himself as well as Andrea Rosso (Creative Director of 55DSL) to talk about the project and how it came about.

Alex Fakso is a household name to the graffiti world. His book “Heavy Metal” is a staple in graffiti related photography and he has made a very well deserved name for himself for following graff artists into the most dangerous situations for the sake of art. Italian born and raised, he has traveled the world for the love of his art, spending an obscene amount of time around subways. So it makes sense that for his latest project he decided to broaden his usual topic and look at life surrounding the subway as a whole, not just graffiti. “Fast or Die” is a fantastic book filled with grainy photographs that fill the pages with moody emotion, portraying the sinister alter-ego of the subways around the world.

Alongside the book, 55DSL have created a capsule collection of five t-shirts featuring imagery from the book itself. It’s a great little collection of photographic t-shirts, something that 55DSL have been getting very into of late, and a great way to tie together the two childhood friends from both projects. We sat down with both the guys to discuss everything from their earliest beginnings all the way to this collaborative project…

So, how do you guys know each other?

Andrea: I think the year was ’96 more or less – middle of the ’90s. We come from a small town, so it’s not difficult to get to know each other, but Alex was part of a big group of people very much into skateboarding and writing. So yeah, we had a friend in common and that’s how we met. He was going to school in a city and I was going to school in another city, but we took the same train, so we would always see each other. So we know each other for a pretty long time but very randomly, not like always every day. I think the end of the ’90s was the time that we got to know about each other. Also, we stayed together in New York, ‘cos I used to live in New York, and after that in random places and random spots we would keep contact.

Alex: Also, we’ve got the same interests, so he’s easy to see in different places because he’s gonna come maybe for an event or exhibition or just to travel, and I’m there maybe. So we always link in some way, some where.

When did the idea of this collaborative project first come around?

Andrea: I think me and Alex always talked between each other and said “Why don’t we do something together one day?” and Alex mentioned that there was this book that he was doing and explained the whole story. I already knew the work that he has done before with ‘Heavy Metal’ and I love the stuff that he does and when he introduced me to this new project that he had in mind I said “Wow! It would be nice to do it together”. Since then we talked more and more and we finalised it. So that’s how it all started.

The project took 5 years. How come it took that long?

Alex: A photography project, for myself, must achieve maturation. I mean, if you do a project in one year it can be not as heavy than five years. Of course in five years you’ve got more experience, more opportunity to think about it. Also, the other one before (Heavy Metal) took 7 or 8 years. So I think the photographic project, from my point of view, takes longer, it’s not like a fashion project where you’ve got a season or something like that. It’s a long process – you collect all the pictures, you put it together. Also, all the travelling I’ve been doing is for myself, it’s like an art project I’m doing for my photography – I’ve got to find the time to go, the money to go, all these kind of things, so that’s why it takes time. For me, I prefer it; the work is more mature.

Do you have any particular favourite places that you visited throughout the project?

Alex: Favourite? Of course, Europe. I love Europe, you’ve got many different cities where you can do a lot of things, you know? But my favourite city is Tokyo.

Alex, you’re best known for your photography based on graffiti, but this project is a much broader topic. What made you decide to expand that topic?

Alex: Because I love photography in general. I don’t like only graffiti photography, I like photography in general so I like to take photos of everything that inspires me, you know? The subway has inspired me quite a lot because I’ve been in the subway quite a lot with the writers, so I saw all the other different things, you know? Not only writers writing somewhere. I see all the crazy situations, maybe interesting faces to take photos. You could say my work is like, a bit anthropologic – in a way it can be, because I’m really interested in people doing extreme things. So a writer, they live an extremely edgy life between life and death because a train can come past or maybe an electric shock in the rail or security come and maybe you go against them and in the end they’re gonna shoot you or whatever. You never know. Also, it’s between legal and illegal. Well, it’s not between, it’s illegal completely, but you have to face the legal life, so you’ve got two faces of your personality in a way.

So where did the title of the project come from?

Alex: Well basically, I got an idea of what subject I wanna work with and then I’m thinking about the name of the project in the end, but it comes really natural. How I work basically is a more natural way.

Was it hard to select which photos to go on the t-shirts?

Andrea: We were talking with Alex and together we decided what could be nice to put on them. Of course, there are some things that work better and some that are a little more difficult, but I like to give the freedom to people that want to express what they think is the best, and I think the choices were done very good. When Alex proposed the images I was already happy with his selection. There is one t-shirt that is oversized photography all over the t-shirt; that was the most difficult, but we found the way to do it.

Alex, if you picked the photos, were they your personal favourites or what you thought would work best?

Alex: I picked some, but of course I needed a point of view of fashion from Andrea because he’s got more point of view of how it can be done, in which way, if it’s easy and also what can be sold. My point of view can be cool, but maybe in a t-shirt it doesn’t work, so it’s better to get my direction but also his direction. His direction is way more important because he’s got more taste on fashion, you know?

What made you guys decide to do the all-over print with just one t-shirt?

Alex: Well, I decided to do a lot of all-over print, but it was too expensive. It was too crazy, so we had to choose our only one and go for the simple one. The old design was like “OK, let’s put this one there and this one here” but it was too crazy because … I don’t know. I don’t know how difficult it is to print all over.

Andrea: It’s because it’s all front panel printed, it’s a photographic print and it’s also very soft. With Alex, it was good to work together because he has many many ideas. Of course, some things are possible to do, some are not possible [laughs] or it costs much more money, so we must find a compromise.

Is this the first time you guys have worked together professionally? And can we expect more in the future?

Andrea: Like this? Yes. Before, Alex together with some other people, Italian writers, he’s done inside the 55 stores in Milan.

Alex: It was ’93 yeah?

Andrea: 93? Woah. Quite a bit before. But from then on we did many events inside stores. We talked about it and what he was doing and decided it would be nice to do something together. I’m very happy that this happened, because we are Italian and come from the same town. We’ve got the kind of background that allows us to be proud to work together, and this has happened, so I’m very happy. If in the future something more will come out? You never know [laughs].


A huge thanks to both Alex Fakso and Andrea Rosso for their time. Make sure you head to the 55DSL store off Carnaby Street in London and check out the book Fast or Die … it’s well worth a purchase.