There are a vast number of artists and creatives that Nike has collaborated with over the years. But the funnel gets considerably narrower when you start looking for people who have worked with the brand on multiple models across multiple eras. New York City graffiti artist STASH is one of the few members of that select group.
Whenever STASH collaborates on a sneaker, he brings a distinct POV. While he has become widely associated with a blue palette, true connoisseurs value him as much for creating iconography out of spray paint can nozzles on an all white Air Force 1. And even when he does work with blue, whether it's an Air Classic BW or the recent Air Spiridon, each sneaker manages to feel unique, yet unmistakably STASH.
We recently had the chance to sit down with the legendary artist at the Stadium Goods store on 47 Howard Street in New York City. The outspoken STASH discussed everything from being known as the "blue guy" to the Nike sneaker he would still love to work on.
What's the first memory of an Air Max that you have?
It definitely falls into the BW category. It wasn't until the [Air] bag was exposed that you really got it. Drawing back to my own history, that shoe really excited me.
What was it like to get a chance to collaborate on a shoe that you had such an affinity for?
I've been asked to work on different shoes, and every time I think I've thrown a curveball at the company. They think you're going to go with whatever's happening at the moment. But I prefer to be a bit more obscure. So when I did the BW, they were like, "Wow that's an interesting choice. A graffiti artist from New York, you're not going to do an Air Force?" Later on, I asked them to do a Darwin. This was an early basketball shoe, 3/4 cut with a side Swoosh. They were like "Nah, we killed the mold. We can't redo the shoe." Then I did a Talaria before they brought it back out, which was another shoe that blew my mind. If you look at the shoes that I work on, as technically advanced as they are, you can still see the construction. If you look at the Air Force 1 or the BW or the 95, you can see how they are sewn and put together. I always found that very fascinating on a design level.
What did you learn from working on the Air Max Classic BW that you took with you when you worked on the Air Max 95?
We didn't have the opportunity besides picking fabric and color. We had a very limited ability to do a makeover on any certain model. For me I, think the standout was trying to make a waterproof shoe that a sneakerhead could wear and not be caught out there in the middle of the day like, "Oh, shit. It's raining. I'm wearing my grails." The fact that years later I still get to talk about it, I think we might have hit it. It's amazing that I've become known as a blue person. Any time somebody does a Nike iD they tag me and say, "Look I did a blue with a blue and then the grey." It's amazing that I get recognized for my contribution. When you look at this wall and the countless amounts of colorways, the fact that I've managed to resonate, I feel blessed. So every day is Air Max Day for me in that way.
As an artist, what are the challenges you find when you bring your vision for a shoe to a big company?
It's quite easy for us to do. Usually the challenge is on the company side. We want to get creative. They're only allowed to get creative to an extent before it hits legal. When I think of Nike, I think they're on a superhighway. They have to downshift and get in the auxiliary lane to get on the dirt path that we're on. They understand what we're doing but it's hard to infuse it into the mechanism. The machine is so big already. So to me the challenge is always how they market it and tell the story versus making the product.
What is the strangest thing that you have experienced with your shoes?
We did the "Blue Pack" drop in New York, and it was on the news. I thought that was amazing. Then the next day I was in San Francisco because I had a shop there at the time. It was on the news in SF. It was in the newspapers. None of us had PR agencies at the time. It was all word of mouth. So I'm at the airport [leaving San Francisco] taking off my shoes. I was wearing the 95s and the guy at TSA goes, "Didn't I see these on the news last night?" For me, I was like, I'm good. I didn't say they were mine. I didn't get into a dialogue. I was just, "Yeah, I think these are the ones," and then I went about my business. Those are the times when you're like, Really, I made a difference? Wow, who would've thought?
Is there a model that you haven't collaborated on that you would love to work with?
I love a lot of the new footwear. I'm a huge Air Max 270 fan. The Air Max Zero. All my friends are say why do you even like that? I'm like, are you kidding me? This is Tinker 2017 over here. Anything that man spits out I would be honored to just stand in the room and eat the scraps. Everybody's like, those are dad shoes. Guess what? I'm a dad. The mentality of where we were and where we are now shifts. I'm older. I'm wiser. I have different tastes. But there's so much great modern day stuff. I'm sure if they put an epic Flyknit in front of me, I'd be like, I'll do that. I recently got to work on a Spiridon. It wasn't my call. But I first bought a Spiridon when they opened Niketown in New York. So when I got invited to work on it, itt was an opportunity that I couldn't say no to.
What is your go-to Air Max model?
The Zero has been my move hard. I'm not going to lie. Also, these Sean Wotherspoon 97/1s. Sean really put a hurting on the game right here. He went outside the safety net, and it got validated. I don't follow trends though. You can quote that. I don't wear it because Lil Yachty or somebody is wearing it. I wear things that I respect and like. And [the 97/1] to me is beauty. I love them.
Having stayed relevant for a number of years, how do you strike a balance between what you came up with and what's current and modern?
I only can attribute that to living my life. It's not not giving a fuck. I think it's the reverse. I do give a fuck. I pay attention to a lot more things than I can articulate. I soak everything up around me and I've figured out a way of dispersing it through my creative energy and projects that I work on that allow me to have relevance. As I've grown and matured, I've also recognized how to receive my audience and give back and be a part of it. I can't do this without you, and you couldn't get this without me. It's a big mutual melting pot.
Interview by Justin Tejada