My entry into the world of streetwear didn’t begin with a coveted pair of sneakers or a fly-as-f*ck Starter jacket. I grew up pretty poor on the Eastside of Los Angeles, anything cool in my wardrobe came by way of hand-me-downs or from thrift stores. My interest in streetwear came from an appreciation of street art.
If you can’t see that streetwear and street art are inextricably intertwined, let me put you wise. Both mediums act as a telling reflection of the cultures that they spring from. They’re the lingua franca of the skaters, stoners, hustlers, ballers, and rhymers who make neighborhoods tick. Moreover, both have been on a similar trajectory. When I think about modern streetwear and its influence on high-end luxury fashion, I think about seeing the taggers on the walls of the neighborhood I grew up getting gallery space, or how popular the works of artists like Basquiat and Keith Harring are at the MOCA or Broad museum in LA. These “street cultures” haven’t just become recognized in their fields, they’re dominant forces. Believe it.
Troy “Kickasso” Cole embodies the streetwear- street art connection perfectly. Kickasso made a name for himself in the streetwear world thanks to his custom kick-work — which caught the attention of rappers and professional ballplayers alike, from D.Wade to TI. We spoke with the artist over the phone about his new show for FUSE, dubbed simply, Kickasso, which follows him as he gives an in-depth look at his process while designing sneakers for a range of celebrity guests that includes Young M.A., Gabby Douglas, and Chris Bosh.
Tell me a bit about your new show?
The new show is called Kickasso, which is basically my artist’s name. We take shoes and make them one of a kind for the artists and the celebrities that come in and just have a good time with it.
What are some of your favorite sneakers to paint on and why?
I like anything with a nice, smooth surface. Just smooth, like an Air Force One. You can pretty much paint on anything, but there are also shoes that are better than others, as far as what you can do with the artwork.
What kind of materials do you prefer? There are so many different types of uppers out there, I imagine some are more conducive to painting than others.
Yes, yes! Anything with leather or synthetic leather or vinyl. Anything like that.
What made you first decide you wanted to start painting on sneakers?
I’ve always collected shoes. My art was originally centered around Russian hot rods and stuff like that. So 2010, 2011, I put my love for art and shoes together and I actually started painting canvas works of shoes, not actually the shoes themselves. Basically like a fine art print of a Jordan 1 painted on a canvas and that’s where the name Kickasso comes from. Cause it was like Kickasso, the Picasso of kicks.
Then I saw a few people painting on shoes and thought, “Well let me try that,” the rest is history. Social media caught on and now we’re here.
Do you remember the first pair that you painted on?
The very first pair I painted on was a Jordan 6 Oreo.
What are some of your favorite kicks that you’ve designed? Who were they for and why do they resonate with you?
I’ve done a lot of NFL cleats with all kinds of themes. Some of my favorites are the shoes I’ve done for Jalen Ramsey, some Super Mario themed stuff. Odell Beckham is another I really liked, we did an Air Mag, that was really fun.
I’ve done like Dwayne Wade at All-Star, Klay Thompson we did for All-Star weekend, his grandfather. Yeah, that list is pretty long.
What about for this season of the show, what were some highlights?
Cam Jordan, we did some cool stuff for the New Orleans Saints. Kenny Golliday, we did some Lion King stuff for the Detroit Lions which was really fun. And then again, Jalen Ramsey, I’m always doing some stuff for him.
Could you walk us through how you approach a custom design generally?
My main goal is to just kind of get the important things about the person I’m doing the shoes for and capture that essence without being kind of over the top or kind of corny or anything like that. I really want it to be wearable and capture the conversations that I’ve had with the people I’m doing the shoes for.
For example, anybody can paint Joker on the side of the shoe. But if you take the essence of Joker and make the shoe Joker without actually painting a Joker on it, I think that’s the kind of the key to being able to make it wearable.
What direction do you envision or would you like to see in sneakers moving forward into the new decade?
We’re going to start seeing digital shoes that you can change the colors of kind of on the fly. You know, having LEDs on the shoes, stuff like that.
What do you think about streetwear’s embrace of the art world? Obviously, as the years have gone on, they’ve become more and more parallel to one another. What else would you like to see that’ll push that connection closer?
I mean I think there’s always been a great synergy between art and streetwear. They kind of go hand in hand and you’ve seen more collabs with street artists and streetwear brands or shoe brands and stuff like that. And that’s great to see for sure. And I think that’ll continue into the future.
Is there anybody out there who you would really like to design a pair of shoes for but haven’t been able to yet?
I’ve really been wanting to do a pair for Ronaldo Cristiano or Messi, either one of the two top soccer guys, cause I’m a big soccer fan and I really love what those guys have done for the sport.
Do you have any favorite recent sneaker releases? Whether to use as a canvas or just to wear?
I really like the Adidas Ultra Boost. It’s what I wear most of the time if I’m not wearing my own shoes. Just for the comfort level of everyday wearing and standing and walking.
What’s the ratio between how often you’re rocking kicks that have been painted on vs not painted on?
Oh yeah. I quite often just go with my Ultraboosts, so maybe 60% that aren’t painted and 40% that are.
Any other artists out there that are streetwear-inspired that we need on our radar?
Yeah, there’s a lot of guys doing what I’m doing. So it’s cool to be able to inspire those guys and really kind of push the industry and make it cool again and not something to laugh at.
Kickasso airs on Tuesday nights at 11 pm on FUSE.