POETS' Founder Gino Iannucci Talks Skateboarding and Honing his Process

Michael Caloca / ONE37pm / POETS

With its cobblestone streets and nautical views of the East River, Manhattan’s Seaport District is an anomaly. Flanked by high rises and financial buildings, it calls to mind the quaint port towns of Long Island or even coastal New England. Even with its tourist attractions, it feels slow. When I meet POETS founder and professional skateboarder Gino Iannucci there, I’m reminded that skateboarding was one of the only reasons I’d been to the Seaport save a random dinner or occasional free concert at the pier. With several spots in its proximity including the Brooklyn Banks and a lack of foot traffic and moving vehicles, the Seaport and its wooden benches topped with angle iron became a hub in the late-’90s into the early 2000s. 

“You remember how it used to smell skating down here,” Iannucci says about the fetid odor that would waft from the fish markets over to the benches, especially during the summer. “I always liked that it was quiet down here—it was less stressful.”

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Anthony Pappalardo

Now living in the area, Iannucci’s spent the past year focusing on POETS, the brand he initially started as a brick-and-mortar skateshop in Long Island, where he was raised. While the shop didn’t prove to be a sustainable business venture, over its two locations it was an outlet outside of his skate career that led to brand collaborations as well as a space for ideas that would later inform POETS. For example, the shop was his introduction to a local skateboarder and wood worker who would later create board hangers as well as an irreverent wooden piece called the “Little Hammer” for POETS under the pseudonym Mitch Leary. Leary had previously helped create display cases and pieces for the shop whose clean boutique aesthetic contrasted the sticker clutter and product overload of most shops at the time. Now operating as a clothing and accessories brand, POETS pulls from design and interest in handmade objects gleaned from the shop as much as the movies, pop culture and even folklore of Iannucci’s youth. What it eschews is the structure—the constant maintenance, ordering, customer service, and upkeep necessary to maintain a store.

“Skate shops were so important growing up,” he says. “Checking out new boards or videos and having a space for that is great, but running one can get boring really fast. After a while it just becomes a business and stops being fun.”

He shows me an image on his phone of a skateboard deck, a Haro Jim Gray, mentioning that he purchased it from a booth selling skate products at a flea market in the mid-1980s. At the time, especially on the East Coast, there were few devoted skate shops as skating was viewed as seasonal with bicycle shops being some of the only places to find products. Ironically, Haro was a premier BMX brand at the time who only produced skateboards for a short period, and its few boards have become collectors items.

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Gino Iannucci / POETS

Along with working on POETS’ collections and mining ideas for new products, Iannucci spent most of 2020 working on capsules with JSP, including a bold, luxury flip on the Padmore & Barnes P500 shoe. In a way, working during the pandemic independently and free of the industry’s antiquated model of trade shows, tight release schedules, and seasonal production, POETS can breathe and move organically. There’s less of an emphasis on planning each line or collection based on time, but rather feel and inspiration. A vintage boxing poster or scene from a movie could be a reference for a T-Shirt graphic or the start of a larger deep dive into involved cut-and-sew pieces such as the Tinker Jacket the brand produced, or the Tomato, a piece handmade in Bergamo, Italy as homage to the movie Rocky. The disparate calls to Rocky, hockey, and the oddly surreal stop-action animation of Davey and Goliath all find a way to coalesce into the POETS aesthetic and make the pieces personal and fluid, rather than rigid or overthought; something Iannucci is aware of.

“I remember going to Los Angeles and seeing Huf’s (Keith Hufnagel’s) office and how he was just working all the time,” he says. “It was so proper and he was so professional but I realize I can’t really work that way. (Having a brand) It’s almost like skating. If you aren’t working on a video or project, it can be really unstructured and to be honest, sometimes I need deadlines because I can get lazy (laughs). With POETS, I don’t feel pressured that every line has to have some detailed piece that takes me months to source and figure out. I don’t search that stuff out, I just do it when I’m inspired. I could reach out to people but I’d rather just let collaborations happen on their own. Sometimes I find myself thinking, ‘Should I be getting up and working on this for five hours or whatever,’ but I’m just not that kind of person.”

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Anthony Pappalardo

In a time when the process of marketing or branding or process itself becomes more of a task than actual creation, it’s easy to feel that there’s an implied way that everything has to operate. Iannucci isn’t counter to that or intentionally shunning it. Instead, he keeps POETS fresh by staying detached from it and allowing POETS to be an outlet first over a job. 

“I ran into Gonz (Mark Gonzales) the other day down here,” he says. “He was asking me about skating and to be honest, going skating can be the easiest way to measure regression you know? It can be really frustrating at times. I was telling him that I’ve been getting out here and there but I have injuries and it’s hard sometimes. He goes, ‘Yeah, I see you've been jumping rope,’ (laughs) and it really made me think that he’s right, I feel fine doing that. Maybe I’m just making excuses. (laughs).”

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