MSCHF MAKES SNEAKERS – The New York Times
Back in June, when MSCHF, the Brooklyn-based creative collective that bills itself as the Banksy of consumer culture, unveiled its “Satan Shoes,” a collab with Lil Nas X featuring modified Nike Air Max 97s with a little of blood and devilish symbolism, it sparked a storm of controversy as well as a Nike lawsuit.
In the end, sales were halted and the product, if not its shadow, disappeared from the internet. Now, however, its inventors are back, and not just with another wacky, eye-catching stunt.
With a whole line of sneakers. Think Nike meets Supreme meets Warhol, and you’ll get the idea.
Called MSCHF Sneakers, the collection will be sold through an app and its own website, and will come in mostly monthly drops of various styles, priced around $220 a pair. Unlike previous MSCHF shoes – the Satan shoe; its predecessor, the Jesus shoe (a Nike that contained holy water); or the Birkinstock (a Birkenstock made from a Hermès Birkin bag) – none of the styles will be modifications of existing shoes; they will be entirely original. Which does not mean that they will be without reference or a small subversion of contemporary golden calves.
The first style, for example, the TAP3, slated to go on sale March 21, is a direct nod to recent history: a shape and leather sole that are very reminiscent of the Nike Air Force 1, wrapped in slashes of “MSCHF overmolded thermoplastic polyurethane wrapping tape” that were permanently fused to the body of the shoe (eerily reminiscent of the recent Balenciaga show, in which Kim Kardashian arrived wrapped in Balenciaga-branded duct tape) The shoes come in a seemingly familiar orange cardboard box complete with seemingly tape-covered signature pieces, and a roll of matching packing tape accompanies them.
Even though there’s no swoosh in sight, it feels a bit like tempting fate. What were they thinking?
Here’s what MSCHF, which is made up of co-founder Daniel Greenberg, creative director Kevin Wiesner and creative director Lukas Bentel, but, as Vetements and Maison Martin Margiela once did, likes to speak as collective, said when I asked. This extensive email exchange has been edited and condensed.
Seriously, why start with a Nike reference?
The AF1’s rough shape has become the platonic ideal of a low-top sneaker. The first thing all brands trying to get into sneakers do is create an AF1 nickname. This cultural ubiquity makes it an attractive target. And let’s be honest, it’s kind of cathartic for us to release this particular shoe almost exactly one year after the Satan shoes were released.
Plus, in some ways, the entire MSCHF Sneakers program is about making sure we can make what we want. Thinking about shoes, there are dozens of ideas that we had for years and years that we knew with mods just weren’t possible. We had to ask ourselves: Do we really want to do all this work for the reward? The clear answer was yes. We have been working on it in silence for almost a year.
Was it a steep learning curve, since you were starting from scratch?
Obviously, there was a significant learning curve. That said, while we didn’t necessarily know how to make shoes, shoe factories and designers didn’t necessarily know how to make our designs either. As the program goes on, our production gradually gets weirder and weirder. In some ways, not having a sense of industry standards freed us from constraints. We re-open the sole tooling for each shoe because we didn’t know that was considered crazy.
Finding people who weren’t scared off by the concepts we offered wasn’t easy. There’s a ton of global infrastructure to make sneakers, but they’re optimized for much more normal things than what we want to do, so talking to them was very difficult at first.
Sneakers are a rich cultural format. They sit at a strange nexus between fashion, collecting, hypebeasts, and investing — or more accurately, whatever financialized sneaker mess flip. It feels like the sneaker space has reached some kind of zenith where everything is a collaboration and companies are creating hype around launches practically on a daily basis. But from our point of view, everything can be taken so much further. Who cares about endless “new” releases that are just colorway iterations? For an object meant to embody final capitalism, sneakers can still get much funkier.
We knew there was more meat we wanted to play with in the future, and after Satan Shoes it was clear that we had to eliminate any outside dependency to have creative freedom.
What did you learn from the Satan Shoes experience?
Lots of stuff about copyright law, the first amendment, and the first sale doctrine, but ultimately it reinforced what we already knew: get off other people’s platforms. To anyone who has ever been at the mercy of big business lawyers, let’s just say it stinks. In the end, Nike says we did nothing wrong, and we say Nike did nothing wrong by suing us. That’s not to say it was a barrel of laughs.
What makes your shoes different?
The thing is, a lot of our sneakers aren’t what you think of sneakers or shoes, so you could say we have an edge over any other sneaker designer because we take what we have in mind and do it. We can literally go into Photoshop, take an iconic sneaker, liquefy it and then manufacture it. Some of our upcoming shoes really started when only a few members were playing Photoshop and now they are becoming real mass-produced sneakers. You might see something like this next month.
Any other clues to what’s to come?
In many ways, TAP3 is a bit of a fake in that it’s such a recognizable form of sneaker. We have shoes lined up that are collaborations with well-known musical artists, and we’ll be making some iconic sneaker shapes our own. Also, when it comes to shoes, we won’t just be doing sneakers. We will do whatever we want.
If it’s a boot, or a high heel, or a slide or whatever, if it feels like MSCHF, we’ll do it. Plus, we have at least one shoe lined up that’s significantly larger than our heads.