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Too Much Attitude for Milwaukee?

Off the Cuff with 414 advocate Fred Gillich

Sep. 27, 2016
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“I’ve advocated for Milwaukee my entire life,” says Fred Gillich, founder of Too Much Metal For One Hand and the designer of some of the most recognizable Milwaukee-themed clothing and gear available today. Gillich got his start designing shirts and posters for local acts like Citizen King and Willie Porter. In 2000, he founded Too Much Metal, and his double-fisted metal horns design became a regular sight at Summerfest and local shows. He has since introduced an entire series of Milwaukee shirts and designs, including one that has become an “unofficial-official” city flag. Gillich recently talked with Off the Cuff about Milwaukee gear, feeling at home and the drive for a new official city flag.  

It seems like in the past decade or so Milwaukee-branded clothes and accessories have really blown up. Why is that?

Because I was the ship that made the biggest wave. Everybody wanted a piece of this shit. At the time [a decade ago], Pride of Milwaukee, the Grand Avenue Mall kiosk, did a great job but Kevin [Callahan] shut it down and moved to Alterra, and now he’s the graphic designer there. The other competitor was Brew City. As a student, I ran into this Harley-Davidson café in Vienna and I thought, shit, if Milwaukee can make it here and we’re recognizable, I want people to travel and look cool. So, my design esthetic purpose has always been that if you travel somewhere around the world, you gotta wear something that’s cool about Milwaukee and not just something that says “beer, cheese” or some, I don’t know, some stereotype.

Why has the “414” design, which uses the distinctive Milwaukee house address tile font to spell out the area code, done so well?

Because it’s a real thing and it comes from a real place. When you try to create something on purpose for an effect it won’t work. But with the area code and house tile numbers, it’s the most meaningful thing that symbolizes Milwaukee. We’ve all seen those tiles growing up. Everybody knows what they are. It feels like home. There’s other things like that, too. The Brew City guys did one with the green garbage cans that said, “Help Keep Milwaukee Clean.” It’s the same thing. It comes from a real place.

You also use the “414” design on flags. In the context of all the discussion of the city flag recently, how do you want people to see your 414 flag?

I think it’s the official-unofficial flag. I’m not a big fan of the new one. I think it’s meaningless. It doesn’t say anything about the city. Where, with the 414, it’s clear the house tile thing, it’s an address to your home, visually and symbolically. So, when people see that, it automatically registers. I don’t mind the old one. And if someone outside of the city tells us we have an ugly-lookin’ flag…I take huge fuckin’ issue with people from outside of my community giving me talking points. As if we’re inept, as if we’re helpless here. We’re in the middle of the country, we don’t know anything, we don’t travel, we don’t experience. So, when did that happen, man? When is it OK for other places to come up with the best ideas and then, somehow, we have to reduce ours to conform to theirs? Fuck that. That’s nonsense.

To buy Gillich’s Milwaukee gear, visit toomuchmetal.com

To view “Make Milwaukee Rad,” Gillich’s video blog on Milwaukee, visit here.

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