Re-imagining city icons is one of Staple's on-going expertise
If there's one word Jeff Staple could describe himself with, it would be "consistent". Dripping in New Yorker aura, this creative visionary takes his duty as a designer to everything he dares to apply his vision.
Founding Staple back in 1997, Jeff was one of the pioneers who saw streetwear as a force that transcended social labels and could achieve the work-of-art status.
The multi-skilled creator has dived into graphic design, fashion design, footwear design, brand marketing, teaching, you name it.
The result creates fire sneakers, city symbols with his infamous Pigeon 🐦 (as you know it, one of HYPESTEIN's all-time favorite kicks), and shared insights as the host of HYPEBEAST’s podcast The Business of HYPE & as a teacher on SKILLSHARE.
To understand how Jeff Staple takes the ideas & clout around leather to elevate street culture as we know it, dive into part #1 of our face-to-face with the creative by tapping play or continuing the read 👓.
You are a designer at your core. How can you describe the aesthetics of your designs?
The first word that comes to my mind is "consistency". I've had quite a long career so far already, my company is 23/24 years old and I've been working as a creative for even longer than that. The people who I've always respected have been those who are consistent with their vision with the long-term thinking of being able to maintain one style and one message.
I think New York City has a big play because I learned to be a creative and grew up in NY as a working professional, so my work is always gonna have that inherent sort of DNA in there. I think hip-hop culture and street culture contribute very positively to people, no matter where.
I wouldn't say that I have a signature style. With a graffiti artist or a painter, you immediately know it's them, that's not what I'm trying to do. I like being a little bit more covert and behind the scenes, just letting the product speak for itself individually. Each project that I've done, I wanted to treat it as a unique project X tying it all together with other things.
What makes unique and off-beat aesthetics work and have the ability to become part of the popular culture?
I wouldn't describe my work as off-beat necessarily. I do think some people can make really unique off-beat work that catches a lot of attention, but it's actually kind of hard to keep doing that consistently for a long period of time. If every project you do, you have to keep being off-beat and unique, then you zoom out after 10 or 20 years and have very random-looking stuff.
I always really respected designers like Ralph Lauren that have just been able to create one thing and tell an entire story around it. And, quite frankly, that's probably why it took me so long to gain any sort of notoriety or success. I think there are a lot of creatives nowadays that are "overnight successes" who launch something and become famous. A lot of those people that get overnight success don't have the power to stay relevant for many years, and there's nothing wrong with that.
If you're a young creative looking at this, there's nothing wrong with trying to just make something really unique and amazing one-off and getting really famous fast, there's nothing wrong with that.
It's just not the way that I personally wanted to go about it. I wasn't interested in short-term fame or quick approval. I was always interested and really fascinated with crafting something deliberately, slowly, and considerably. Just really measured step by step improvement, I never wanted rocketship growth.
So having time to create and think about your design process is what makes you really inspired to create?
That inspires me and meeting people from all over the world inspires me as well.
I used to travel a lot and I loved it, and that was really my main source of inspiration: meeting people from all over the world. I think there's something really magical about applying that kind of consistent design ethos that I just mentioned to people all over the world. Even if you're trying to be really consistent and trying to do it so that it makes sense in Japan, Berlin, São Paulo, or New York, it's gonna inevitably morph and shift a little bit. That's something that I really love, listening to people, to what they want, love, and desire. Just having that global feeling is something that I really wanted, especially coming from New York. I still, to this day, love meeting new people and they could just be from the next town over and still have a totally different perspective than you do.
We can’t help but see the growing hype around leather used in street style. We've seen it from big names like Off-White's Pivot collection and Nike's latest collab with Supreme. How does this material best accommodate changing silhouettes, images, and symbols?
I think leather has always been an aspirational material for street culture. We as designers always wanna graduate from the t-shirt and be able to create with more advanced and luxurious fabrics that have a more premium feeling.
I think the fact that we see the bigger streetwear brands advancing into leather is a good thing, it's like people are starting to grow up essentially, and are able to move their brands forward.
We can also see that the pieces that use leather and other high-quality materials can even enrich their status to work-of-art, like your Pigeon at the Brooklyn Museum. So, how do you think that high-quality materials like leather elevate sneaker culture?
In sneaker culture, in particular, the quality of leather has always been really, really important, because if you know leather, you know that there are different grades of leather. Just saying "this is a leather shoe" doesn't mean that it's necessarily good. Sneakerheads, or sneaker connoisseurs from decades ago have been able to simply smell a shoe and determine its quality. When I buy shoes, it's still the first thing that I do ― open the box and smell it. I have a shoe here, it's a sample prototype, but you can see the detail in the leather, we used this like cracked tumbled leather here. And then the patent leather there, then the pony hair, the suedes, and then you got this really beautiful shoe. You can also hear leather. When you rub it, smell it, it's not just about the feel. This shoe is a three-year-old shoe, but the smell is still beautiful. I've always loved that.
It’s obvious that you’ll keep pushing the limits of every area you work in, and we've seen in your past work how skillfully & uniquely you use leather to push those limits. How will the innovative nature of leather drive you to continue to do that?
Leather is an amazing material and most of the footwear projects that we do have leather in them. I love the suppleness and the feeling of the material and what you can do with it.
There's a lot of new technology happening now with the material, particularly in recycled leather. I look forward to finding advancements in leather that we can use to keep pushing forward into it.
We were one of the first brands that actually did lasering on leather, so we applied laser onto leather, which then allowed you to perforate it, and make shapes with it. That was a technology that we worked on with Nike.
Nike introduced the laser technology back in 2003 and we were one of the first artists that got to work on it. So, I'm looking forward to more advancements in the leather industry like that.
Speaking about the jumping-off point for hype sneaker culture as it currently exists, what was your personal perspective as a designer on the concept and design process behind the Pigeon SB?
When Nike asked us to design a shoe dedicated to New York City, my team and I brainstormed on what would represent the city best. We were already developing this idea of a pigeon as an icon, but the matching of the pigeon and the theme of doing something for New York City was perfect because, to me, the pigeon is kind of the unofficial mascot of NYC. It's actually the mascot of every big city in the world, you go to São Paulo, Rio, Tokyo, or London – pigeons are everywhere in every big city, so I kind of associate pigeons with urban dwellers. People who have to live and survive in big cities are very much like pigeons, and, of course, when we released pigeons 15 years ago, they were kind of seen like rats with wings, or pests. A lot of people still see them that way, but I think because of the work that we've done to promote the pigeon, it's kind of become a beloved, cool animal now.
Here's to feeling like cool pigeons.
Keep your eye out @ metcha.com for more of Jeff Staple's insights in part #2 of our chat.
& tap here for more [metcha originals] inspirations.