Ssubscribers to the Blackbird spy plane newsletter never really know what will arrive in their inbox. An article could be devoted to business shirts found on eBay, an essay on the trend cycle in the Internet age, an “aunt’s mecca” in Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden or style interviews with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Rashida Jones, André 3000 and Nathan Fielder.
With her playful snapshots and crudely spliced Photoshop aesthetic – reminiscent of the dial-up internet – the “sletter” describes herself as “your #1 source for style, culture and ‘unbeatable recognition’”. The combination of ahead-of-the-game insider insight, a wacky sense of humor and private language – a mix of streetwear slang such as “jawn” and “swaggy” and jargon fighter jet – saw BBSP rank high in Substack’s culture newsletters. His subscriber numbers number in the tens of thousands and include John Mayer, Lorde and Ezra Koenig. The Instagram account, meanwhile, is followed by Lena Dunham, Mark Ruffalo, Rashida Jones and Ella Emhoff.
BBSP was founded by cultural journalist Jonah Weiner and his partner, Apple design talent scout Erin Wylie, in April 2020. Weiner, the more vocal of the duo, describes BBSP’s tone of voice as “a filtering effect “. Speaking over a video call, he said: “X out of 10 people are going to hit that wall… and their eyes will meet and they’ll say ‘this isn’t for me’, it’s for the Y in 10 who stick around, they’re gonna smell something.
The duo are obsessed with long-term style, which gives them an uncanny ability to predict what might be in mainstream wardrobes six months from now. Although he downplays the “crystal ball” factor, Weiner admits it does happen. “Last November, we did something about silver sneakers, the kind of aesthetic of the year 2000 running era,” he says. “There was something that seemed almost gross to put in the newsletter…Now one of the hottest sneakers is the Asics Gel Kayano, which is exactly that kind of shoe.”
BBSP is an arbiter of what comes in and goes out, but he doesn’t have the snark you find in fashion publications or sneakerhead forums (his chat room, Classified Spytalk, is endearingly fervent) . In the world of Spyplane, it’s a “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” that prevails: “I almost have to bite my tongue when I’m in newsletter mode, because we’re just leading with this that we love and if we don’t. I don’t like it, it doesn’t come. The exception here is Amazon, regularly the object of derision. Weiner describes the site as “an enemy in Blackbird Spyplane cosmology”.
The relaxed “posi” view can be influenced by location. The couple hail from the East Coast – Weiner was born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, while Wylie hails from outside of Philadelphia (“Additional note, ‘jawn’ is originally Philadelphia slang “, proudly declares Weiner). They moved to Oakland eight years ago.
Weiner says being in Oakland “allows you to encounter different ideas ‘in terms of style’ like crusty old people in the organic section of the grocery store, wearing very Bay Area-specific outfits.” There’s also a bicoastal synergy that works to BBSP’s advantage: “For a number of reasons, the cool kids in downtown New York, a lot of them want to dress like old cuties in the produce section of the Berkeley supermarket. So it’s a happy coincidence.
This outdoor California look — fleeces, hiking sandals, boonie hats — is often described as gorpcore or, to use the BBSP term, gorp. It’s the one that the newsletter has continually championed. But, with the look now on the radar of mainstream media like Vogue, is it over? “The original gorp moment actually happens in the early 90s when you have kids in the outer boroughs of New York, then the early Wu Tang videos and the early Mobb Deep videos, taking wind of these brands like North Facing…and wearing these clothes.in an explicitly non-exterior adventure context…I feel [it’s] part of my own biography, and so I’m eternally interested in wearing clothes like that.
Finally, it is this idea of personal style above all that BBSP tries to promote. “Fashion is a language and you can’t get out of language, but I think you can be more or less indebted to this trend-hunting manic fashion,” Weiner says. “We’re interested in trends, but it’s more than ‘This is the thing you need to worry about this month.’ It’s more how you weave [in] your own biography and things you hold to be true on a recurring basis about yourself and your interests.
The profile of the newsletter is growing.
BBSP released a small series of products – caps and t-shirts – in 2022, and a spin-off newsletter, Concorde, helmed by Wylie, launched this month. Weiner says there is no “gender coding” at BBSP. Concorde is more focused on female readers, but “speaking as a guy who’s into clothes, I’m interested in reading Erin because even though she links to, say, dresses or other clothes which I don’t personally wear…how she covers it will help me understand clothes better and dress better.
Weiner resists expanding far beyond the inbox. He says the pair earn a small amount of money from affiliate links to eBay and bookstore.org, but any branded content – the bread and butter of many newsletters – would be viewed with extreme caution. BBSP subscribers pay $5 per month or $50 per year, which, even though only half of all subscribers pay, is a decent amount. This impacted the life of the BBSP, with Weiner now working on the bulletin most of the time. Was that always the plan? “I did this interview with the painter, Issy Wood, and she does music on the side. She had a flirtation with a label and her main takeaway was: don’t professionalize your hobby, because every time you do, you reconfigure your relationship into something that gave you a quote-unquote thrill.”
BBSP’s essential style guide for fall
1 Wear two button-down shirts at a time. You spent spring and summer wearing a single shirt like an ascetic. Now the weather is cooler, which means you can get greedy with shirts. Is one shirt open on the other? Both are buttoned? Are they both patterned? It’s yours.
2 Wear a hat over a hoodie. Another deceptively simple gesture that conveys just the right amount of what some would call ‘ridiculous’ but which we correctly identify as ‘joie de vivre’. It’s an attractive and unconventional way to layer, and it creates a nice shape, especially but not exclusively with a bob – knit beanies can look really cool over hoodies too.
3 Mizuno and Brooks running sneakers from the early 2000s to the early 2010s. A treasure trove of neglected epiphanies whose time has come.
4 Don’t buy anything from Amazon or Doordash or Good Eggs etc. Convenience is overrated. Get out of the house and be around other people – a small step with many beautifully and deeply pro-social ramifications at a time when corporations want us to be alone all the time for whatever reason.
5 Look at things through binoculars. Trees, songbirds, lichens growing tall, farm animals if you live near a farm… These are all beautiful things to look at through binoculars, which means, among other things, the time you won’t look not a screen, and a great way to experience the simple yet powerful truth that sustained attention can be trippy.