Angelo Baque Is Waking Up New York’s Streetwear Scene

Founder StoriesBy 2023-06-30T16:54:48-04:00June 30th, 2023|
  • Photograph by Flordalis Espinal

By the time you read this Angelo Baque will be chillin’ on a boat somewhere on the Mediterranean coast. “Ideally Sardinia,” he jokes over email. The Queens-born streetwear titan is taking a well-deserved break after the recent opening of his Awake NY brick-and-mortar store. The brand’s aim has always been to capture the eclectic sensibility of the five boroughs, so it comes as no surprise that the recently-opened storefront is located in the heart of the Lower East Side, just outside the fashion hub of SoHo.

The Awake NY storefront’s interior — elegantly blending artwork, graffiti, checkered wall patterns and vintage boomboxes amid a curation of fresh threads — harkens back to the days of early 90s streetwear in New York with an elegant flourish that’s all Baque’s own. He takes great care to curate the vibe of the store, the hangers on the rails are straight, that the musky scent of Awake’s in-house Aguanilé incense is wafting through the space, and that the sound system is bumping something hot. According to Baque, it’s likely Björk these days, although he’s a known jazz-head: an image of the legendary Miles Davis playing his trump adorns two of the brand’s initial t-shirt designs.

Awake NY storefront, photograph by Adrian Gaut

“When customers come to visit the store, I want the space to evoke emotion,” says Baque. “I want you to just take it in and feel. Recently I was talking with a dad and daughter visiting the store — she was about 12 years-old — and I asked her [what she liked] about it. Her answer was [all of the different textures]. I was blown away; it’s not about the hype. It’s about what is real and tangible.”

The hype doesn’t hurt either, though — and there’s plenty. Baque made a name for himself in the world of streetwear, working for a decade as the Brand Director of Supreme. While still working at the globally-recognized streetwear brand, he started Awake, in 2012. He eventually left Supreme to establish his boutique creative agency, Baque Creative, and further develop Awake as a brand. You can now find his threads in retailers from Los Angeles to Japan, at high-end stores like Dover Street Market and Union LA. He also created Social Studies, a digitally-driven, multi-day experience in partnership with photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis and the Something Special Studios agency, which unites artists and brands via community-driven programming.

Photograph by Flordalis Espinal

Awake is no stranger to collaborations, having partnered in the past with brands like Levi’s, Carhartt WIP, ASICS, and others in the streetwear space. The launch of the Awake NY storefront features new store-exclusive capsules by established streetwear giants Verdy and Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God.

One of Baque’s dreams is to create a space for young folks to loiter outside. He recounts the places nearby his store that he once used to spend time in front of — “Fat Beats, Bobbito’s Footwork, Union NY, Unique Boutique, Wendy’s and McDonald’s on Broadway, Shakespeare Underground, Mondo Kims, Alife” — and channels his biggest hope for the Awake NY space: fostering a community around it.

Photograph by Flordalis Espinal

“Every job I’ve had I’ve made sure to have side projects that allowed me to stay inspired and hold on to my identity,” he says. “Awake was an outlet to get my ideas out. I wish I could take credit for the energy around the brand, the credit goes to the youth that believe in Awake and support it.”

Baque’s approach to community is as much about uplifting and giving back as it is about gathering folks together. Growing up in the South Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens, the child of two immigrant parents from Ecuador, he’s eager to bring attention to up-and-coming Latinx creatives.

Last September, UPS worked with Awake NY for a pop-up during New York Fashion Week titled “La Bodega Baque.” The effort featured exclusive products from the collaboration alongside a curation of up-and-coming Latinx brands chosen by Baque himself. The proceeds from the Awake NY x UPS collection went to Manhattan’s High School of Fashion Industries to support a scholarship program for Latinx designers and entrepreneurs, matching a $50,000 grant.

“I’m super proud of my roots,” says Baque. “We didn’t have much growing up. All the best music, art and fashion moments come from creating something from nothing. My mother taught me my work ethic. I swear, [she] could make magic happen with $50. My mother taught me to never accept the first offer: it’s always open for conversation and debate. Never take no for an answer.”

Photograph by Flordalis Espinal

It wasn’t easy. After leaving Supreme in 2016, Baque had hit a plateau, running Awake NY without a space to ground the work. In 2020, he spoke to the late Virgil Abloh, who nudged him toward opening a space for Awake NY. Watching everything come to fruition as it has, Baque nods to his friend’s advice coming at a pivotal time. At the core of everything — the community that has rallied around Awake NY, the years of getting inside knowledge of the business, the work ethic his mother passed on to him — Baque ultimately points to his perseverance as the beating heart behind it all.

“Nothing has been handed to me,” he says. “I’ve had to fight for what I have today. I think the perception is that this business is easy, the truth is the real key to success in this industry is hard work. The idea of opening a store didn’t seem impossible; once I have my mind made up, no one is going to stop me.”

E.R. Pulgar is a Venezuelan-American journalist, editor, poet, and translator based out of New York.