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Jeremy Scott’s taken some time off, but he hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s been roughly six years since he’s released any sneakers or clothes with Adidas, the brand he started working with in 2003. Five years later, in 2008, he forever changed the sneaker world by attaching a set of wings to a shoe. The sneaker world took notice, the high-fashion world took notice, the hip-hop industry took notice. His footwear became as popular as they did divisive.
Wearing a sneaker with wings, or a teddy bear on the tongue, or a tiger tail on the heel isn’t for everyone, but Scott never cared about the detractors. The sneakers were selling, he’d gotten co-signs from the likes of Kanye West and A$AP Rocky, the latter who he’d end up collaborating with, and Scott was Adidas’ biggest name long before anyone knew what a Yeezy 350 was.
But the road to the top didn’t come without its bumps along the way. In June 2012, he caught backlash online for a pair of sneakers that came with orange ankle shackles, of which many labeled as insensitive. The inspiration, Scott says, was My Pet Monster, a stuffed creature from the ‘80s that came with the exact shackles around its wrists.
The collaboration would go on for another three years before Scott departed the brand, as he took on the role of creative director at high-fashion label Moschino and couldn’t balance the workload between both projects.
The world has changed in many ways since then, including the high-fashion world’s place in the sneaker industry. Balenciaga’s sneakers have become memes, Raf Simons created a popular line with Adidas, Dior has designed an Air Jordan, and Virgil Abloh is the creative director of men’s at Louis Vuitton and is working on Air Force 1s.
Scott is re-entering the sneaker partnership game and as much as it’s become something different, he feels right at home. It took a decade for everyone to catch up to him. He will release a collection of Adidas Forums on Oct. 2 that he re-worked the colorways on, and we got the chance to talk to him about putting wings on shoes, the controversy, why he left Adidas, what it’s like to be back, and more.
Growing up around Kansas City, do you have any early memories of sneakers? It seems like a place where normally a sneakerhead wouldn’t come from.
I wasn’t super attached to any one brand of sneakers growing up, to be honest with you. We grew up very poor to be really frank, so it was kind of more like having shoes on your feet was the goal more than which brand. I grew up in a very rural area of Missouri. It was more farmland boots than sneakerheads. I don’t have a real strong association of things other than things that happened while I was growing up, not so much about me personally loving or being associated with anything.
Do you remember the first time where you felt like sneakers mattered to you or were a canvas for you to express yourself?
Well, for sure, for as a canvas to express myself was definitely when it started being something I designed for myself for the very first project with Adidas with doing the “I signed.” Cause at that point I was wearing high tops pretty regularly and when they reached out about wanting to do a project I was really excited and thought, “Oh, this is cool,” cause it’s something that you can’t really just make as an independent designer so easily. I can just design anything in my studio if we needed to. But a pair of shoes requires all this other technology and machinery that is just, eludes one.
So I really got excited about that. And then from doing that and got the bug of just loving trying to figure out different ways to express my personality in the shoes and creating things that I ultimately always thought that only I would love. And that would only be something that would be for me mostly and then sometimes I’d be gobsmacked that they would become so popular or so successful.
The iconic image with your sneakers is the wings. How did you first come up with that idea? What was Adidas’ reaction to it when you had presented that you wanted to put wings on a shoe?
I had thought of it for the “I signed,” even though it didn’t happen for that moment because I was trying to think with that project I couldn’t really change the form, that was one of the stipulations. You can pick a form of any form you want, but you can’t do an alteration of the last. So I was trying to think, how can I alter a shoe without altering a shoe? And so that’s kind of where the idea came from. Then I thought, well, if I made something that laced on and it wasn’t part of the pattern, but an extra piece, well then that would solve the problem. So I drew something wing-like, it wasn’t actually still like the true wing, but it was kind of a similar shape and we couldn’t do it in time for that.
Then it just sat and hibernated with me for a while. So then when they came back and were like, oh, we want to do this continuing collaboration I was like, OK, I know this was what I want to do. I want to do this shoe. And I remember sitting on this sidewalk cafe in Portland, after a meeting at Adidas with the then president of Originals who was amazing, Hermann Deininger, and he totally got my creativity, understood it, all of that, but then comes and sits down the head of performance, it was Eric Liedtke at that time, and Hermann asked Eric, “Did you see Jeremy’s design with the wings?” Eric’s like, “Yeah.”
And he was like, “I don’t know, who’s going to buy a shoe with wings on it.” And then I remember I just looked at him and I just said, “Watch I’ll show you.” And I was right . And it became not only a huge commercial success, it became an iconic shoe for the brand and for the times. So real proof to Hermann, RIP, because Hermann passed I don’t know you’re probably familiar with them or his career, but he passed unexpectedly. But he was such a visionary and he understood it and got me and understood that creativity.
And so yes, there was different people in Adidas, I’m sure there’s people that just get the sneaker world. There’s people that loved, loved, loved, loved what I do. And there’s people that hate it, think it’s an abomination. And that’s just what happens when you do things that are really strong. You’re going to elicit strong reactions. I can’t have that strong love from people that is so feverish that people are tattooing the shoe and things I designed and the bones and whatever on them, and being so passionate about it, without people also hating it. And that’s just kind of the yin and yang of the world.
You do that and it’s a success and you prove them wrong. And then your collection starts to get far more eccentric. You start doing teddy bear shoes, you put a tiger tail on it. Did you just kind of want to push the envelope and see how crazy you could get? Or was there ever a line where they were like, “That’s too far?” Or was everything OK from that point on?Everything was pretty much OK. Everything I could pretty much produce. I think the only thing that’s ever was a...and to answer the other part, it wasn’t even so much about seeing how far I can get it. It’s just designing things that I love.
I mean, I did do the teddy bear shoe purely because I was like, “Oh my god, I would love this. How cute if a little teddy bear’s arms are up like, ‘Pick me up’?” And I was like, fine. This’ll be for me, I’ll do this. And at least I have it. And that’s it. And then it was a huge hit so much so that literally Adidas asked me would you do another iteration? “Would you do another iteration? Would you do another iteration” Because at that time was, at certain moments. I was the number one, number two, and number three best-selling shoe at Adidas Originals globally.
So it was working. It was working commercially as well as creatively for me, and that was what was kind of the magical combination is this kind of, that I was able to kind of express myself so freely and so purely. And it was something that could still be produced and at a price point that was still accessible, with a distribution that’s global and accessible. And that it was working and resonating with people.
I know that you had said that around that time period, that, you had introduced Kanye West to Adidas at the time, like 2008, 2009. In that time period where he kind of flirted with the brand, did you ever create something for him that no one ever saw or did you ever kick around any ideas together?
Oh, no. Never. Kanye used to come over my house all the time, because at a certain point we lived not too far apart, and he would just kind of hang out playing music while I was working. Cause I used to, at that time, work at my own house. I had my dining room was with me and my one assistant and two laptops. And then my garage was my pattern making room. I knew how much he loved wanting to create sneakers. And then he was doing this stuff then felt stifled by Nike and was like, please, please, please talk to them. So I really did push cause at that time, the president or creative director, I forget the role, Ben Pruess.
And he was kind of like, I don’t think this is right. And I was like, “No, please you have to.” You have to. There’s such a brand rivalry between Nike and Adidas. And so Kayne’s already dipped his foot in Nike. And at that point it was pretty much like separate lines. Now things have gotten a little more blurry. People have kind of bounced back and forth, but at that point it was like a strong division, and I just pushed and pushed and pushed and I started just talking to Hermann about it. And then Hermann started meeting with Kanye and then that’s how that happened.
But we never did anything, I never created anything with Kanye. At different times he’s talked to me about doing things and wanted me to do things. And I love him, but I love him as a friend, and I don’t want to work with him. I don’t want that relationship with him. I want to keep just the friendship relationship.
One artist that you actually did end up working with was A$AP Rocky. You guys were on the Complex cover together with the Andy Warhol thing, and then you ended up doing the all-black American flag shoe. What was it like collaborating with Rocky on that sneaker?
Everything with Rocky is so easy. It’s just really natural. He and I are like family and from that very early days of that cover and how that all happened he just really became like a brother to me and family. And so when Adidas was talking to him about doing a shoe and they were proposing things internally and nothing was resonating with him and they were like, “Well, would you be open to this?” I was like, “Absolutely.” And I just knew exactly what I wanted to do. It just, it made sense at that moment he was wearing so much like all-black. Flags shoes had been iconic for him as he wore them them famously also in music videos and in concerts. I was like, “What if we just did all-black and did all the embroidery, that texture and almost like a bulletproof vest that’s been embroidered.” I don’t know if we drew it out and then I showed him or if we did a mock up, I can’t recall because it’s been so long, but he just loved it. And it was so as easy breezy.
I want to ask you about the My Pet Monster shoe that became a big controversy. That wasn’t your intention, any of the backlash on it. What was it like designing a product that you had no intentions for people to perceive it one way, and then it going the wrong way at the time?
It was heartbreaking. It’s people tagging on a thought or a feeling that’s totally not you, as far as you’re concerned, the antithesis of who you are and, demonstrated yourself to be. And also when, to me, it seemed so clearly obvious that this was an homage to this ‘80s toy. And you know, that right there is. This is why I didn’t answer the part of that question about was there things I couldn’t do? Well, the things that sometimes became a problem at Adidas were trying to license with a third party. That’s exactly the problem that happened there is like, you can do something that looks like this, but we’re not licensing this, so I was kind of trying to like create half and it becomes halfway there.
It’s like, OK, here’s this kind of rubber chain that’s identically the same color as the one that’s made in the same materials and here’s all the colors, but I don’t have the monster head from My Pet Monster that I wanted to be as part of the lineage of stuffed animals shoes. It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking to have people that misinterpreted that and kind of ran with it so flagrantly. I think that people sometimes don’t think about what people’s intentions are and would rather point a finger. And that’s where we’re at in culture right now. Smack dab. It’s extremely intense and people don’t want to give people a little bit of consideration. We’re in a very divisive moment. That was an early, I guess, bellwether to where we’re at now.
The partnership comes to an end and you go to Moschino. What happened in that situation? Cause I feel like it was never clear of when the partnership officially ended.
When I took on the job with Moschino, I was still under contract with Adidas. I still had, I forget how many seasons left, but I was trying to restart a luxury, sleeping beauty, iconic brand, and then still have my own company, as well as my obligations with Adidas. It was just a lot, at first it seemed like, OK, I can juggle all of this and keep this all going personally, but I just didn’t feel like I could. And I’ve always made a deal with myself that if there was a time, I wasn’t happy doing my work, I’ve chosen to own my own company personally, so that I could do with it as I wanted timewise. And that was kind of the same thing as like, well, OK, I can kind of manage to keep this for a minute and try to do everything, but it was just going to ruin me personally, as a person to do all that.
I really needed to focus on Moschino. I needed to get the brand on track. And there were a lot of things internally there. It kind of just lapsed in that sense. It was never like I had a contract offered, it didn’t sign it. Then it was like, well, maybe we can pick up something, then maybe it’s like, can we reevaluate and do something different? Then it was just kind of was talks and then it slightly dissipated. And then it came back and now I’m in a much more settled place. Moschino’s running like a track star at this point. So I don’t have to worry about as many little things getting launched. So it’s a better moment for me to be able to do more things creatively.
What’s it like to be back with Adidas now?
Feels like being home. I’m so excited for the first shoes to hit the streets. I’m excited now for the second wave of things where there’s now some apparel and more shoes and getting it out there. Cause you know, the one thing that I always felt badly about was not continuing was my relationship to the fans and the people that love the clothes and wear them. And that part is what broke my heart, because of course I love my Moschino world I’ve created, but I understand the price points of it are a lot more difficult. And that’s just the way it is. It’s manufactured in Italy. These are the materials that are used. The amount of productions, a smaller thing than the kind of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All those reasons make it this price point. And so all my first fan events for Moschino, like perfume launches in stores and everything, all the kids would come in all my Adidas designs, and it was so cute, but it was so telling. They’re all head to toe in everything I’ve designed for Adidas.
So I realized after a while, it wasn’t really servicing that side of my fan base, and it broke my heart. Cause I love that. And it’s a different fan base, too. And that part’s also wonderful. It’s like having connections with different people and for me, as a designer, I’m a communicator. So I love being able to be in different people’s lives and on different channels in that way and different frequencies so that I can kind of be with more people and connect with more people and do things that end up in more people’s lives.
What can we expect from you and Adidas going forward, as far as your designs go?
I’m working on now is it the third and fourth drops? I just keep trying to tap into all the things that I love and the things that I think resonate from my history with Adidas and some of the things that I’m creating new. I’m very excited, because there’s going to be some new silhouettes that are coming and that’s been exciting that obviously takes a little longer. So maybe the first ones have been treatments and some fan favorites. There’s a new silhouette coming and I’m very, very excited for that to launch it, for that to be seen.
You talk about your fans and the impact that you had on people. One of those people is Kerwin Frost, who has his own Adidas collection now. I think he’s put it out there publicly that you are a big influence on the stuff and the stuff that he wanted to do. Have you had conversations with him about it? What’s it like for you to see your work inspiring what he’s doing now?
I love that it inspires him and I love that he is so passionate about all my work and my history and has been such an avid collector. He contacts me all the time when he finds some rare piece of something, whether it’s the Adidas or a Swatch piece or anything that I’ve done, and the passion and enthusiasm is unbridled and I appreciate that. And I’m excited for more creative footwear, more creative people and things out in the world. I think that that’s wonderful. I love the Superstuffed. I think it’s so fun. Funny and clever. I think that that was a genius idea, and I love it. I think it’s great. It makes me happy. It makes me happy. His enthusiasm, his passion, his love is very, it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. It’s very, very, it’s very, very well appreciated.
Is it crazy for you that at the time that you were doing shoes, it wasn’t that high fashion brands weren’t doing sneakers, but it feels like in the time that you’ve been gone, the whole high-fashion sneaker thing has completely blown up and now you’re kind of getting the chance to step your foot back in it. Does that inspire you? Or what do you think of that?I just think, well, you know, here again, I was ahead of my time. That’s certainly is like, I’m the generally very humble person, and that’s true and that’s how I was raised, but I will say I don’t get a lot of credit often for a lot of things that I’ve done before and how much some of my designs have infiltrated pop culture. I mean, just every brand from Fendi to any other shoe brands, Supreme, anybody breaking the logo of their name and two shoes into two slides into two high tops. That’s me. It came from me. So like just something as simple as that, it’s like a nice, you see it’s so ubiquitous and it’s like, wow, that actually came from me. I mean, you see, even Nike having Swooshes that now push off the shoe and extend in the back, like a little whatever you want to call it a wing or anything that would, that was never happening at that time.
And I’m going to tell you I put that forward for things like that to happen. So even the whole way that the high-fashion brands became so obsessed with sportswear, from footwear through apparel, like track suits, hoodies, all that stuff. Even prior to me having the Adidas collaboration, I was doing fleece on the runway. And that was when it was not some kind of a high-fashion category that’s now like a staple. Like it has to happen. It’s in the show. It’s fine, on every level from a Valentino to a Versace, obviously all the way down. I definitely was a real proponent of American sportswear in that way. I’ve always twisted my stuff and how to, I think a little more subverted than what maybe other people do, but it feels great, because it’s a world that I love and I’m happy to see the world shape around that.
I’m just mainly thrilled to be back with Adidas, to really, like I said, reconnect with the fan base and the new kids. There’s so many kids and some of them are famous, like Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert who would tell me about like, “Oh man, I saw that when I was too young to get it, I couldn’t get it. And I wanted it.” And even when I first started working with Cardi B she was reminiscing to basically A$AP Rocky wearing stuff when she was like in junior high and how mind blowing it was for her. Cause she, that was like the pinnacle for her was to have some like Jeremy Scotts. So it’s wonderful to like in one way to have had a break and kind of come back and there’s a whole new generation of kids that didn’t get to experience it.
Even though for me, it seems like yesterday. I don’t think of it as a big span, but when you’re talking about kids that are now like 18 and 5 years ago or 2000, what was it? 2008 was the first Wings launched? They were little babies. I do some baby wings, too, but having that real moment of having those shoes that are yours and you’re an adult and you’re fly and you’re representing who you are in your tribe. There’s just nothing like that.