BRANDBLACK: Form and Fashion

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[column width="50%"]In today’s basketball sneaker landscape dominated by monster-sized companies, a few bold brands are elbowing their way the into the arena to compete. BRANDBLACK is one such competitor. Founder David Raysse is no hack new-jack designer looking to simply slap a new color scheme onto a retro model. With 15 years of experience, ranging for designs for Tracy McGrady as director of design for the basketball division at adidas to crafting the crafting the iconic Grant Hill II for Fila, Raysse has a strong resume of experience in the sneaker game. As he told us in our recent discussion, he’s grown tired of the look and feel of today’s court shoes, and he felt compelled to change that.. In an effort to design and manufacture footwear that melds high-fashion aesthetics with court-ready functionality, Raysse conceived BRANDBLACK.

In todays crossover climate with sports and fashion, professional basketball players can be spotted sitting front row at fashion runway shows, so the time seems right to offer a shoe like the J. Crossover that features metallic paneling atop a lightweight and responsive sole. More frequently, it seems that high fashion brands are crafting items that can be worn as athletic wear, but BRANDBLACK looks to return the favor with court-ready that have an eye towards Paris and Milan.[/column]

[column width="50%"]BRANDBLACK set out to evoke a time like the 90s in sneaker design when a baller could walk off the court and still rock his kicks to his next destination without swapping out his sneakers. While BRANDBLACK’s models themselves don’t have the same clunky and disjointed technology of 90s shoes, he is after the appeal of a footwear choice that with all the contemporary lightweight, supportive specs that has the look of something more than a contemporary court shoe. Raysse knows that the reason we still see retro models from the 90s selling out today is that those particular designs transcended sport and nudged their way into becoming cultural staples.

While the on-court models have the technology and technical specs to handle the nimble, ankle-breaking style of Jamal Crawford, the brand’s first endorser, their other offerings seem equally at home on the hardwood at the gym or a reservation dinner. In our exclusive chat with David Raysse we learn of learning about his early years working in design with Philippe Starck, the influence of art on his work and approach, and his dream collaborator. Click through the article to get inside the mind of a man hard at work sketching the next BRANDBLACK model that aims at comfort on and off the court.[/column]

A conversation with David Raysse, Founder of BRANDBLACK

[column width="50%"]Jesse: Tell our readers a bit about your background in both the footwear and fashion industries and how that knowledge led to your vision for BRANDBLACK.

David: I was born in Paris and raised in New York City, and my parents were founding members of the Kenzo fashion house. My family was always around fashion designers, photographers, and stylists, so fashion was always a part of my life growing up. My two great loves have always been design and basketball. If I wasn’t drawing something, I was on the playgrounds or playing high school, and later college basketball.

While in college I started working for Fila, I went on to design the Grant Hill 96 and Stackhouse II shoes. I then went on to Adidas as director of design for the basketball category. We built products for athletes from Kobe Bryant to Tracy McGrady.

The whole time I was at those two companies I was hoping to fuse the two worlds I knew best: fashion and sport. Now almost twenty years later, I’m finally in a position to realize that dream with BRANDBLACK. Over the past few years there has been a huge shift in the aesthetics of athletes, who routinely attend fashion week and are far more adventurous when dressing. That phenomenon, coupled with a paradigm shift in the way kids are dressing, let me know the world was ready for BRANDBLACK. [/column]

[column width="50%"]With a distinct background in design and working with Philipe Starck, how is your brand influenced by your work in Europe?

I would say BRANDBLACK is influenced by the world, not just Europe. I have been fortunate to work in an industry that is truly global, where I might be in Paris one week and Hong Kong the next. As a curious person, I feel like I learn things from everywhere I go, whether it’s specific design things, or a sensibility. Japan, for instance, is really more about a view of the world and culture than particular items one might come across while there. The Japanese have a culture built on precision and attention to detail. They fold a shirt you just bought as if it's an origami piece fit for the MOMA. Just being around that level of aesthetic purity is really inspiring.

Philippe Starck is the same way, as he draws influence from creativity and people the world over. That said, I learned a ton from my time with him. Philippe Starck’s number one goal was to find a simple, yet unexpected solution to a given problem. I would show him 50 sketches, and he could immediately see which one was the simplest and most innovative. Most designers fixate on whether something is pretty but not on the actual core of the idea. The ability to let something be weird as long as the idea is bold is what really moves a designer to a new place. I had to be willing to make product that I wasn’t comfortable with to move away from the tight aesthetic cluster most performance shoes are grouped. Like anything weird and new, the real reward will be two or three seasons away as we begin to understand and evolve our crazy new design direction.[/column]

[column width="50%"]You've hinted at some innovations as far as the technical specs inyour shoes. Tell our readers about a few of the innovations that havealready made it onto some models and then tell us about a few tech goodies to come.

All of our innovations are function based. They're not as flashy as “Marketing buzz” word technologies, but they work. One key area of innovation was Cushioning BRANDBLACK developed our own proprietary foam called “Jet-Lon”. It’s a high rebound, highly-resilient compound that outperforms EVA in all categories from cushioning to compression set (the flattening of foam over time). Due to these great characteristics, we were able to make a lower midsole which makes for a lighter, more responsive shoe that gives an athlete proprioception or “ground feel”.

For The J.Crossover 2, launching in Holiday 2014, we have focused on making an incredibly lightweight shoe that’s more responsive, allowing Jamal Crawford to cut faster and jump higher and cause less fatigue over the course of the game. The J.Crossover 2 weighs 10 OZ in a men’s size 9.

The biggest innovation and contributor to the J.Crossover II lightweight is an all-knit forefoot, and ultra supportive molded synthetic collar. The forefoot has been engineered to be supportive where the athlete needs support and flexible where comfort and pliability are needed. This is the benefit of knitting; we can apply material exactly where it’s needed in a super-lightweight and breathable package. [/column]

[column width="50%"]In your opinion, when were the best eras of basketball shoes? Why?

The 90s rule in terms of design, aesthetically speaking. There’s no question that one of the prime motivations for starting BRANDBLACK was to get back to the feeling of genuine performance shoes that you’d actually want to wear off court. Something happened in the late 90s early 2000s where performance footwear got so technical looking that it was hard for most people to wear them off court. It’s why the retro market is so hot right now. People miss that feeling. We’re trying to get back to that feeling, but in a new way that isn’t retro or referencing other peoples shoes.

As a basketball player, I can say that shoes now are infinitely better than at any time in history. So from that perspective, now is the best era to play in basketball shoes. If you disagree, I suggest you try and play in some throwbacks, and after your knees start aching and you tire from wearing 17 OZ bricks you’ll be back in your 2014 shoes![/column]

[column width="50%"] Who is your ideal BRANDBLACK wearer?

Someone with a strong sense of personal style and someone who is confident and independent. We see ourselves as futurist minimalists, so we anticipate someone who appreciates what’s next but done in a quiet restrained way.

What are your influences from the art world?

I’m mostly inspired by design and architecture. I think that art by definition should have no use whatsoever, so I tend not to look at it from an influence standpoint. In design, I’m constantly looking at product and car design. I majored in transportation design (car design) in college, so I pay very close attention to trends in automobiles. The surfacing of automobiles in the past few years has heavily influenced the new product you’ll be seeing for holiday 2014 and beyond. One major influence from architecture has been the use of parametric patterns in our designs. If you look at the work of some of my favorite architects like Zaha Hadid, you get a real sense of the future through her manipulation of these complex parametric patterns that adorn her buildings. We have a designer on our team who created software for us to create these patterns and control them in truly unique and innovative ways. You’ll see this as a central design theme on everything we release from the J.Crossover 2 on.[/column]

[column width="50%"]Can you explain the logo for the brand and how it expresses the overall vision?

The logo is called the “jet”, and it's actually a stylized side elevation of the SR71 blackbird, which is probably the most badass spy plane ever made. It was a top-secret mysterious plane that represented the feeling we want with BRANDBLACK. From a practical standpoint, after working for other brands for over 20 years, I knew how hard it can be to place logos on your design. Often times, they fight your design or slow things down and make your shoe look worse. We worked really hard to create a simple clean brand mark that was immediately recognizable, could be used large or small, and could be placed almost anywhere. I really love the design and think it achieved all of the criteria I set out.

What’s the inspiration for your "Alleycat" and "BEAST" designs on your apparel?

The alleycat is a metaphor for the BRANDBLACK consumer, and us as a brand. It's the animal that does his own thing and walks around anywhere and isn’t afraid. In fact, it's the animal that people are scared of, that has mythology around it. His name is Shooter, and he’s smiling because he knows all of this, but no one else does. Plus we think he looks cool! The “Beast” shirt came from playing basketball in NYC playgrounds. It's a term that we always used for a guy that was just killing guys on the court, either physically or with skills. Kids would say so and so is a beast! I like it because it’s an inside basketball kind of expression that ballers really know. [/column]