For creatives, adopting an alias can be a purely artistic decision, a means of creating mystique by pairing a persona with a portfolio. But in his formative years, Samuel Ross’ many aliases were a necessary means of gaining traction in the industry, largely by hiding his identity.
“The idea of having four aliases came from realizing quite early on that there wasn’t any space for creative black men,” he recalls. “So creating this alias allowed me to produce this work without it being instantly discredited from external viewers.”
By choosing an ethnically-neutral name and omitting photos of himself where possible, he used this approach as an advantage in his first commercial projects. “It did help me get jobs without my work being looked at as ‘Black Art.’”
But beyond serving as necessary shields against stereotypes, these aliases allude to a creative passion that could not be confined to a single medium, much less a single pseudonym. It was this passion, combined with a willingness to sacrifice, that pushed him beyond the limits of circumstance.
When discussion of Samuel Ross and his brand A-COLD-WALL* comes up, anecdotes of his origins bootlegging adidas and Nike clothing in his teens are inescapably referenced, but they fail to capture the breadth of his design acumen which is influenced by his upbringing.
In our talk with Ross, he gives an honest recount of his beginnings growing up in London’s council estates. He describes them as “not as harsh [as projects in the US], but it’s the same type of environment, so not much money. There’s usually a lack of education around peers but a lot of aspiration from quite a young age.”
He describes his own lack of access to fashion at the time. Granted, a deeply-rooted football heritage assured the status of sports brands like Nike and adidas, but their items remained inaccessible to working class families and their culturally-attuned children. “My experience was going into a bag store and breaking down in tears because we couldn’t afford the £21 GBP Nike bag or couldn’t afford the £17 GBP adidas bag,” he remembers.
Moments like these seem like disproportionate reactions to material things as they certainly did to his parents. But the desire alludes to an unperceived or underestimated relationship with brands, one that connects aspirations and ideals with tangible experiences. To go even deeper — as Ross would come to demonstrate — it serves as a subtle agent of social change.