About a month ago, Dan Hwang, the co-founder of Freshness Magazine, and a friend sent me a DM, bearing heavy news that I wasn’t prepared to see despite the whole world broiling in the uglies of the pandemic. As death toll and cases of infections rose towards the incomprehensive, I dealt with COVID-19 with a sense of naïve optimism—“fingers crossed everyone I know will be okay.”
But, Poe passed away from COVID-19, on April 22, 2020.
Poe Hwang was the Managing Editor at Freshness Magazine when I first joined, and Dan’s brother. He ran and killed it at this one-man show- editor, writer, photographer, IT support, HR manager (he bought me a monthly Metro Card while I was still waiting for this to be officially approved, just so I won’t have to choose between food or transportation). He was always either one foot in or one foot out of the office, a Canon DSLR bobbing heavily around his neck. But, he always made time for people. Anyone, really. If you go “Hey Poe…”, he will immediately drop what he is doing, look you in the eye, and go “Talk to me…”.
I couldn’t really process any coherent thought. The following days raced by in a blur of work as everyone tried to pivot their way out of the economic crash and impending layoffs. Every meeting I went to, every sneaker CAD I looked at, every email discussing who should be featured in what campaign, reminded me of Poe, or of something he said. Such was the extend of the conversations we had about sneakers, art, music, cars, watches, that place down the corner which had Pineapple buns… that everything I encountered in those few days, I could match a mini Poe commentary to it. Somwhow, I never realized how expansive and timeless his knowledge was.
I picked through a website looking for a masthead reference, and saw that the Human Made Superstar that dropped recently. And there goes Poe in my head. On my first day at Freshness, we did a walking tour of lower Manhattan. We checked out the BAPE store in SoHo, and he kicked off the longest and fullest rundown about NIGO I have ever heard, even to this day when presentations were built to talk about the man. Poe went full biographical- where NIGO studied, how he met Hiroshi Fujiwara, how incredible Nowhere was… That day in 2009, we spent no less than half an hour there. I don’t remember anything specific from the store but only how he was still talking about NIGO, was about to move on to Pharrell. We walked something like 8 hours that day, and the induction continued for two more days after.
Over the end of April, people started posting their memories of Poe. How Poe was essentially and adoringly dubbed “the Wikipedia of streetwear” was a common thread. Poe loved two things- details and collecting new knowledge. At a press event, while most head straight for the bar, Poe dissects the shoe’s upper, obsesses about quality of the suede, then tries to find out from the PR manager which tannery produced the leather. Poe really appreciates brands that have the depth and put real effort into elements an average consumer might not care, and I always guessed it is so he can learn something from them. In the mid-2000s, Poe was on the forefront of getting on obscure Japanese brands (many of which are now household names) before they were really on anyone’s radar. Loopwheeler was one of them, and Poe was probably one of five die-hard fans in New York. There was a grey Freshness x Loopwheeler hoodie he wore almost everyday over a checkered button up and a bowtie. Anyone who asked him about his hoodie can be prepared to have their minds blown for the next half hour, and rest assured that they will never look a grey hoodie the same way again. To be frank, I’m not sure if knew anyone who would go through the trouble of learning to read a foreign language just find out more about these brands. But Poe did, and he all he wanted was to share the great things he found. He was a content curator and a real one, way before Instagram and so-called influencers squandered the word “curator” to a meaningless pulp.
Behind the knowledge, is a man who is deeply selfless – more than happy to share his knowledge—and extremely caring. In the 2010s, as streetwear became more mainstream, the sense of community seem to have dissipated slightly. Many people came into the industry for the money instead of passion or appreciation. They started popping up everywhere—trying to push new-limited-edition-collab-something to artificially replace love with hype. It was becoming hard pressed to be able to any proper conversation or get to know someone new in the industry. No one had the time or heart for that anymore. But, if you were ever lucky enough to have a conversation with Poe, he would take note of what brought a sparkle to your energy (be it about the best bait for fly fishing, even if he doesn’t fish; or what company makes the best wax for your new car, even if he doesn’t drive…). When you run into him the next time, he would have found out something interesting or new about what you liked and talked about, and remember to play it back to you. It didn’t matter who you are, or if you have anything to offer in return, Poe listened and paid attention to anyone he spoke with.
While the world around him changed, Poe stayed the same, and this will always be the loss the OG community would be hard pressed to recover from.
November 8th, 1975 - April 22nd, 2020
This group was created to celebrate the life of Poe with those that loved and were touched by him. https://www.facebook.com/groups/poehwang