I’d been aware of Donwan’s hand drawn M65 Vietnam jackets since we first shot him for Denim Dudes in 2014, but when Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods came out last week, I was struck by the parallels in both Harrell’s drawings and Lee’s film. As we know, from great adversity comes great art, so I decided to hit Donwan up to talk about these beautiful yet brutal pieces he has created and how his personal project came about:

“Firstly, I am enamoured by Vietnam and by the stories and the people I surround myself with, who have experienced it firsthand. They talk about the music and the clubbing and the fashion and the cars: so much came out of it, so much! Of course there was obviously nothing good about that war, but the artistic expression that came out of it was pretty amazing. There’s not been a war like it since”

Donwan for Denim Dudes, shot by Adam Katz Sinding

So tell me about the guys who owned the jackets: the drawings are based on their stories right? How did it all come about?

“I have a lot of friends who are older than myself because I’m also very into car culture. And a lot of my older friends are Black and Puertorican Vietnam vets and they would just talk to me as we were working on a car together. They would tell me these crazy stories of things they experienced at war. And they all still had their jackets so they would give them to me and I would draw their stories; first hand depictions of things that they experienced being minorities on the frontline in Vietnam”

A close-up of some of Donwan’s incredible work

It must have been a pretty emotional process for them, right?

“Yes, absolutely. And it was my way of communicating ‘I hear you’. Not to sound like a therapist in any way but it was very therapeutic for them to have me draw some of the horrific things they were describing. Things they wouldn’t even tell their wife or their kids. Stories that are never really expounded upon because it’s always coming from a different perspective; there’s always a Rambo or a Chuck Norris going in there saving everybody!”

And so it honours the sacrifice they made and makes them feel more a part of that history?

“I mean, long before photography, people used to draw history. And that’s how we used to understand history; through paintings, drawings in caves, the pyramids. This was my way of communicating because I wasn’t there in person, so all I could do was to listen to them and illustrate what they had seen, because there was no camera for them. There was nothing for them.

It was not pretty. It was not pretty being on the front line and being a minority. Fighting for what you thought was right and then not being accepted back at home. Can you imagine know how difficult that must have been?

You can see more of Donwan’s jackets on his personal instagram @kingkrash and his denim brand @artmeetschaos

Donwan for Denim Dudes, shot by Adam Katz Sinding
More of Donwan’s work can be seen on his instagram feed, link above
Website | + posts

Trend forecaster, denim designer, industry journalist and author of Denim Dudes.