Interview: adidas Designer Jeremy Scott

words & interview // Nick DePaula

images courtesy adidas Originals

In the footwear and apparel industry, brands can often churn out products season after season that simply fit into predetermined “target consumer” grids or fulfill a safely-planning retailer’s request.

And then there’s Jeremy Scott selt-titled capsule collection with adidas Originals. Always looking to push the boundaries of footwear and challenge our traditional apparel dimensions, Scott enjoys unparalleled freedom with his line season after season. Now strongly moving into his third year, his newly launched ObyO Jeremy Scott Fall 2011 assortment of offerings is no different.

A key component of the brand’s new “Iconics” campaign, it’s the brash creativity of Scott and the fearlessness of adidas Originals that makes the relationship so strong. Because of the continued success of the line and the instant-hit models like the Wings and Teddy Bears, Scott was once again given a clean slate to design this season as he saw fit — he wouldn’t have it any other way. As you’ll notice with several pieces from the apparel silo and new sneakers including the Bones, Panda, High Top Streetball and Camo Wings, the new range is classic unabashed Scott.

Last month, I had a chance to have a candid and wide-ranging chat with Jeremy Scott from the set of the “All Originals” commercial shoot. Read ahead for more on his decade-long relationship with the brand, his approach to design and what he thinks of the love / hate response his collections always evoke.

Nick DePaula: When did you first get in touch with adidas Originals and how did the relationship start?
Jeremy Scott: I was first approached to do a project called “! S!gned,” which was about ten years ago. They asked me to work on that, and for each person involved, we were tasked to create our own shoe. There was only a hundred pairs made, and they did distribution of fifty of them and I distributed the other fifty. I did a silk jacquard money print on the Forum, and that was the first thing that we did together. From that, we did some special shoes just for my shows, and then a few years later in 2006 we did the adiColor project with the Keith Herring Foundation. After that, we started talking about working on a continuing collection for apparel and footwear.

NDP: What was it about adidas that was attractive for you?
JS: What I love about adidas is they’ve always had a really organic connection to pop culture. It’s been about music, fashion and inspiration, and it’s always been very genuine in that sense. When rave culture was all about adidas, they weren’t freaked out about it, they said, “Ok, cool!” They even realized that their vintage logo has another meaning to some people, and when Run DMC said they loved adidas, they embraced it. I think that’s what’s really important about adidas, compared to nameless brands that I won’t get into that are kind of phobic of when pop culture embraces them. As compared to trying to be something called sportswear. Of course this is a sportswear brand, and it was founded that way and I don’t think anyone would ever dispute that, but that’s what’s cool about adidas to me, is that they have this really genuine and organic feel. I’m such a kid of pop culture and it’s such an inspiration to me constantly, so for me, that’s why I work with adidas. I really believe that, and it’s so genuine and engrained.

NDP: Since you launched your first collection, it’s included both shoes and apparel. What’s been the driving force behind the apparel for the past few years?
JS: I think it’s really important to expanding the whole vision. I’m excited to be doing shoes, because that’s something I don’t necessarily do on my own. Especially sneakers, and I’ve always loved icons. But, of course, I really love playing with all of the iconography of the brand, like the Three Stripes and the Trefoil. I love doing new things with the cuts, and I’m also fortunate that our company has such iconic apparel that other brands don’t have. There are very, very classic things here, and I love rifting off of that constantly, like taking a staple jacket and making a whole new contraption out of it basically. That’s something that’s so apart of my design DNA in a way. To see something and alter it, and I love that I have a lot to play with here.

NDP: When you guys first started talking about the footwear collection, did you have an approach in mind? Your direction is at times more abstract than what adidas Originals would normally do, of course.
JS: To a degree, sure. They came to me and said, “Hey, here’s carte blanch to design. We love what you do and we love what you’ve done with us on these other projects.” They all became such successes that it was evident to them that I love and respect the brand, but I also take it someplace that it hasn’t been before and that they’re not doing internally. Maybe that’s because it’s such a singular, personal vision. They really just wanted me to do something that continues on our past and it went from there.

NDP: When you designed the Wings model, which is definitely a model that people have really adopted, what was the concept behind that?
JS: Well, there was a few different ideas. First of all, I wanted to do something that brought a new volume to the foot.

NDP: That’s really interesting.
JS: Yeah, and I was thinking about how I could do that, and still not impede people’s walk. How can you bring the eye to a new volume, but not make it look like a clown shoe? I was thinking about this extension, and it just naturally gravitated to me as a winged shape. From ideas of Greek statues and antiquity, to the concept of basketball players flying through the air to do a slam dunk, all of those elements came together. I had used wings in my own work in periodic places, and it was always an image that I loved as an optimistic and uplifting image that people could have a good feeling about. There’s nothing sinister about wings. [laughs] I also liked the idea of making something that could be convertible. You could take it off, but I guess nobody really does. [laughs]

NDP: Exactly. Nobody takes it off.
JS: Yeah. [laughs] But that was the thought, to just always try and create something new.

NDP: You’ve also looked to design around the tongue, whether it was the triple-tongue or even the Teddy Bears model. What was the mindframe behind designing around the tongue?

JS: I guess I was just thinking about what I have to work with. If I’m extending from the side or extending from the top or the back, the tongue seemed like such a territory that had not been traveled. It’s such an obvious one to travel, and the first collection had the tongues where the oversized Trefoil came up from it, and I’m constantly doing new things with the tongue, from the Teddy Bear to Mickey to the three tongues.

NDP: And the Panda coming up too.
JS: Yeah! The Panda is getting ready to launch soon.

NDP: What kind of response have you gotten from friends of yours and fellow designers?
JS: Everyone has always been really supportive of it. Everyone is also a little jealous sometimes [laughs], because they can’t believe I have the freedom that I have. But, it’s coupled with the fact that the shoes make really good numbers and they sell out, so it’s working both ways. Yeah, I’m thrilled to get to do something that I love and believe in and it’s something new for the brand, but also, it’s very successful. Normally, that’s not something that goes together. You can get great PR and have the story of a collection like this, but you might not have the overall sales. Or, you can have an executive saying, “We sold the hell out of this!” But it might be a boring shoe that no one really loves to talk about. We’ve been able to enjoy this odd mix of success and creativity that doesn’t always happen.

NDP: I think that’s because a lot of the reasons you mentioned earlier about why you wanted to work with adidas. There’s a cool blend of pop culture, clear originality and creativity behind this project.
JS: Absolutely. That’s where I come from when I design it. It’s all very organic and very genuine, and it’s not methodical. There’s no planning committee, or anyone in the room, you know, like, “This is how we’re going to design the line!” Obviously with giant brands, there’s this whole other way of trying to roll something out before it’s even designed.

NDP: There can definitely be marketing briefs that can get in the way of the sneaker itself at times.
JS: Yeah, and sometimes they’ll market it and then design it. But I design everything. I don’t have a team that designs it. It’s not designed by anybody at adidas. It’s not like there’s a staff that does it. Everything that I design, is designed by me. No one at my studio designs it, and I design everything for my own brand also. It’s very purely, organically, and genuinely my vision, and I think that’s why it is unique.

NDP: Because some of the designs are so non-traditional, do you have to get a lot more involved in the development process?
JS: Absolutely. It is a challenge, but it’s something I’m really used to. When you want things to be only a certain way, I’ve long since learned that I have to follow things to the very end, because there’s no other way. There’s just no other way. I have to give implicit instructions, details and information. A lot of the apparel and sometimes even parts of the shoes, I’ll create them hands-on in my studio with my seamstress and my pattern maker, so that it’s….

NDP: Precise.
JS: Exactly. Then, when something is given to adidas, even though it’s not as refined as the quality we’ll need to get it to and that I know I’ll have, it at least gives the three-dimensional volume and effect that I’m looking for. The first wing, first big tongue and Teddy Bear head were all created at my studio with my hands so that it could be turned over to adidas and be that much closer to the way I needed it to be.

NDP: Have you ever had any ideas that were maybe too far out there or that got resistance from adidas?
JS: No, no, not at all. The only thing we’ve ever had problems with is deadlines, because when you’re doing something that is so new, sometimes it takes time to get it correct. I don’t want to put anything out that is not correct, so I’ve pulled things because of timing, and then got them to launch later. There’s no censoring. [laughs] It’s kind of shocking to people.

NDP: Are there any materials or colors that we won’t be seeing in a Jeremy Scott shoe, because you personally just might not care for something?
JS: Actually, I was just talking about that with someone from adidas. They asked if I have a favorite color, and I thought, “You know, I don’t have a favorite color, because I love so many different things.” There’s a reason for them at different times and in different meanings. There’s nothing that I’d say you’ll never see or that I’d never do, except for maybe something boring.

[everyone laughs]

NDP: That’s one thing I was going to ask. Will you have a season where you take a more simple approach, to throw people off? Or will you always be pushing boundaries for footwear?
JS: [laughs] Just make people lose their route huh? [laughs] There’s really only what I am, and I’m very pure about that. So, no. [laughs]

NDP: Great to know. What are some of your favorite models from the brand that you’ve taken a liking to over the years?
JS: I do love the Attitude, which I base a lot of shoes off of. I’ve always loved high-tops since I was a kid. I found a picture the other day where I was like eight and I had on high-tops and sweats pushed up to my thighs. I just thought, “Oh, I still dress this way.” [laughs] I love the Attitude, and I would really do every shoe on the Attitude. Sometimes I have to force myself off of the Attitude, because there’s really no one else to tell me no. I’m like, “Ughhh, try another model!! [holds hands over neck] Try…another…model!” [laughs] That one is always one of my all time favorites.

NDP: Can you talk a bit more about just how much control you have here? You have so much autonomy with this line, and most designers that work on collections like this don’t always have that freedom.
JS: Yeah, and I feel blessed about that. But, I also don’t know if I could work any other way. I know I’m very lucky to even have that with my own brand, which I 100% own and control and have no one telling me I can or can’t do something. I’m very pleased and lucky to also have that with this brand, and even with Swatch or Longchamp or everyone else I work with, I have the same approach and same relationship. It feels really great, because I feel like everyone realizes how much I love what I do. I wouldn’t do something unless I loved it and I really believe in it. At that point, to trust my vision, is why you liked me in the first place. I’m not just trying to ride off a name or an image, as much as I’m going to believe that every design that I give is going to be coming from my heart. That’s how I work.

NDP: I once wrote an opinion column titled “I Love That I Can Hate These,” and it was about the pink Teddy Bears. That might not be something that I would necessarily wear, but I just love that that’s able to be a shoe and something that a company would stand behind. Some people weren’t as positive about them, of course, and what’s it been like listening to the responses of people that haven’t taken a liking to some of the models you’ve done?
JS: Every now and again, someone will tweet to me a link to something online about a new shoe and how excited they are. So I’ll click on it to see what they’re talking about. Then, you’ll see other people talking, and obviously I see it sometimes, and a couple of times, I’ve thought, “You know, this is so fucking annoying.” [laughs] People can be so mean.

NDP: Well, it’s digital courage.
JS: Digital courage. That’s brilliant! I’ve never heard that, and it’s brilliant, but it’s true. Sometimes they’re just cruel and evil, and you know what, they’ll say, “Oh, well who would buy it or who would wear it?” Well, it’s not like this is a charity that’s going on here. My contracts don’t get ruined just because I’m cute. It’s because I’m doing something successful on both realms. You also just have to realize that something might not be for you. There’s a huge world out there, much less, our brand is a huge brand, and we have all kinds of variety in there. I am speaking for certain people, and sometimes people will say, “Oh, well that’s just a popstar wearing it.” Well yeah, I can go through a litany of lists of popstars that wear it. The fact is, it’s affordable and available for real people too, and that’s what was important to me about this whole thing. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do it, to help make interesting, exciting and avant guard items affordable and accessible.

I don’t believe that there’s not people out there — and I’ve been proven that it’s true — that don’t want something interesting or exciting or new. Often, that’s not affordable or even available, because so much of that is only existing in high fashion, my original home where I’m at. It doesn’t get anywhere else from there sometimes, because we’re this other separate thing — fah-shun!! I’ve always been a populist, even though I’m in a very elitist category by being a fashion designer in a lot of respects. I love that people wear my clothes. I want to see people wearing my clothes and I feel very fulfilled by that. When I say people, I mean people on the streets. Of course I love seeing Rihanna wearing my clothes, for multiple reasons, besides the fact that she’s just an adorable person. [laughs] Of course I love that millions more people will see it, and all of that is exciting and I’m happy for that. It’s not that I’m not as equally happy or excited when I see someone on the street wearing it though. I’m always like, “That’s amazing. I just walked by someone that’s wearing a piece of me.” It makes me very happy, and I’m thrilled about that. I usually just say (to criticism,) “Come on people, there’s more than just your view out there.” I don’t go around talking shit about things that people wear that I think are boring. I just let it go.

NDP: Like this black shirt and black hoody that I’m wearing — probably boring.

[everyone laughs]

JS: No! [laughs] But, you know, a lot of these sneaker blogs have things that I think are completely innate and I have no idea why people are even excited about it. [laughs] I don’t get it! And it’s fine, and I don’t have to, because it’s great that people love that and it’s great that people love my stuff. I’m just lucky to have so many people that like my stuff, and I never want to digress and get mad when I see people’s comments sometimes and they’re being disrespectful or childish.

NDP: And that’s just part of how that world works. We’ve done collaborations before and not everyone will always love everything you do — and you would never want everyone to love all that you do because maybe then you’re not pushing the envelope enough. But I always use that phrase — digital courage.

JS: It’s true. It’s true. When I see people saying nasty things about celebrity friends of mine that are wearing my clothes, I just think, “Would you really say that if you met her?” Would you be like that?

NDP: Exactly. Let’s talk about the Iconics and All Originals campaign that you’re apart of today. What’s it like being an “Icon” and a major piece to this new initiative?

JS: I’m really excited to get to do this and it worked out perfectly for me. I was already coming to Portland to hand over my new Fall ’12 collection, so we were able to push the two together a little closer. I’m happy to continue doing the ads, and I had a great time doing the last one with Katy [Perry]. This time I have my girl Sky [Ferreira] with me and I love introducing people that way. It’s based on some of my prints really coming alive through a blacklit party scene. I’m excited to always be a part of things here.

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