Futura Speaks on the Converse Made by You Campaign

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Futura Speaks on the Converse Made by You Campaign - 0

Intro: Jesse Carr
Interview: Yu-Ming Wu
Photography by: Mengwen Cao, Daniel Dorsa, Yu-Ming Wu
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Futura 2000 is a name known to many as a graffiti innovator and OG legend. His iconic work went from adorning the sides of subway cars to finding company alongside Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Kieth Haring in galleries worldwide. With appearances and work with musicians ranging from The Clash to U.N.K.L.E. and collaborations with influential giants like Nike, Supreme, Medicom, BAPE, and many more, Futura has crafted a resume that spans decades and movements. His signature handstyle and improvisational orbs are so recognizable that during a 3 minute video for Converse’s “Made By You” campaign where only the Chuck Taylors of over a dozen anonymous people are shown, he is immediately identified by painting a yellow sphere in his signature style.

We got the chance to sit with Futura 2000 and talk about his current Converse Made by You campaign. The idea for the movement is simple--showcase the Chucks that artists and influencers wear or have worn in the past. Futura’s black Chuck Taylor All-Stars are splattered with paint from his studio work over many months and photographed against a plain white background. Other artists like Patti Smith, BESS, Ron English, Glen O’Brien, Andy Warhol, have their custom Converse All-Stars featured to show how real influencers have worn them over the years.

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This is not the first Futura-crafted Chuck. He worked on a limited edition box released with a Hennessy bottle he designed next to a black-on-black pair of Chucks with multi-color paint flecks. As we learned in our chat, the artist is no stranger to the Chuck Taylor, as it’s been a mainstay in his footwear rotation for his entire life. He tells us that he’s donned over a hundred, maybe even hundreds of pairs over the years. We also get a bit of a history lesson of a man whose pop culture involvement has spanned SIX decades. Futura has seen it all in the art world endured multiple phases of hype and popularity, but after all these years, he keeps coming back to the original Chuck Taylors. Click through to digest our chat with an art legend.
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Photo: Daniel Dorsa

Futura Speaks on the Converse Made by You Campaign - 1

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FRESHNESS: You mentioned last night that you've been wearing Chucks for a good half-century. What was it that drew you to wearing Chucks in the first place?

FUTURA: Yeah well, that's true. At that time, let's say 1969, I was 14 and I was trying to look cool. Really Cons, Converse, Chuck Taylor All-Stars, that was like the height of urban street wear for that era. I've always been a black high-top guy. I like the low-tops in the summer. There were really no other choices. There was no other footwear. I also liked Pro Keds. I'm trying to think if had Puma emerged yet with the Clyde. I had Clydes too, and there was a famous basketball player named Pistol Pete Maravich, who had a great low top Pro Ked. It was a gray suede. Chucks were it, but only because Chucks were the only game in town, I honestly think.

There were lesser brand shoes were what we would call Skippies. Like, "Oh you can't afford Chucks, you got Skippies?” They were kind of a fake brand. It was really because there was nothing else.

Sounds like choice were limited.

Yeah, and they always had what? 45, something years later, right? I mean damn. They're still the same, and I guess people feel completely connected to the brand. I didn't know they were 100 years old, though. Damn. Oh my God.

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What kind of music were you listening to at the time?

Hippie shit. '69 was the summer of Woodstock, so Hendrix, whatever, Stones. Anything of that era, but also R&B. I also grew up on that Motown sound, so Smokey, and Earth, Wind & Fire.

How does it feel to be part of one of the biggest Converse advertising campaigns after spending your life wearing them as a fan?

It's great. People say, "Hey, what companies would you like to work with?" I always used to say Apple, Sony, blah blah blah, but in the back of my mind I was like, "Man." I really wanted to hook up with Converse in some way, and I think when I defaulted back a few years ago to get away from all the hype of new releases of Dunks and any of the variations, I was like, "You know what? I'm just going back to Converse. It's a real simple look." I'm so happy. You're right, this is one of the biggest campaigns I think I've ever seen, but I like how they've done it with the Made By You sentiment, and it's just about our consumers.

It's about not just youth culture. I guess I'm not exactly part of that anymore, but it's like everybody wears Cons. I've seen them at wedding. It's a crazy show, but I'm super-happy.

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Futura Speaks on the Converse Made by You Campaign - 2

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In regards to your Chuck Taylors in the Converse Made By You campaign, what was the journey that they went through? What places in the world did they end up in, or what work did they endure?

That particular pair, that was more or less the shoes off my feet, the shoes I painted in. I'm pretty spontaneous. If we started working now, and the pair I'm wearing just got caught up in the process, then that would just be it. That particular pair, I've probably had them for a year or something and had them in my studio, so every time I went in, I'd take off the ones I'd have on, and I'd just rock those or something. Yeah, they've got a good story. I'm pretty sure I traveled in those too, although the sneaker selfie thing I was talking about, I stopped doing that, but those shoes have been around.

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When you first started wearing Chuck Taylors, who else significant did you see wearing them?
Well in the very beginning I was looking at those kids in my neighborhood who were a bit older than me who I felt were influencers of our community, and it's like all the cool kids in the neighborhood were wearing Cons. At that time, I didn't know anybody famous. I didn't know anyone on any higher level other than the kids in the neighborhood who just had seniority. It's like, "Oh my God, John. What's John wearing? Oh damn he's got those, I wish I could afford those." I think Converse has a mass appeal to a number of people, but I think I was taking my direction from the cooler kids, 3 or 4 years older than me, and aspiring to be as cool as them one day. Maybe that worked. Yeah. Yeah, I think it worked.
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Futura Speaks on the Converse Made by You Campaign - 3

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One of the other featured artists of Made By You is Andy Warhol. Did you guys ever cross paths?
Oh, absolutely. I knew Andy. I won't say I knew Andy well, but socially, yeah. I used to see him at stuff, and I was really good friends with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy would show up at a lot of things. I used to have a softball team and Andy used to come to my games. At that time, 30-something years ago when we were all involved in the New York art scene, I was very intimidated by someone like Andy. Just looking at him as some sort of an art God, and here I was an aspiring artist at the time. Andy was really sweet to me, he always had something really nice to say to me. I miss those guys. Keith, Jean-Michelle, Andy.

It's hard to believe ... We're talking about me wearing Cons for a half-century; those guys passed away 25 years ago already. It's crazy to even talk about someone as famous as those artists are, and them not being here for such a long of a period. However, here we are. Andy's foundation, or his whatever house is handling his marketing, is very interesting to see. And the fact that Andy was wearing Cons also? That underscores how popular they were back then.
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Other than some of the artists that you just mentioned, who are some of the other artists that you say were a big inspiration early in your life?
Obviously the Picassos, the Michelangelos, the Rembrandts, those are people who you go and you're in awe of their works. It was mostly the graffiti writers of the 70's. It was mostly someone like Dondi, and once again, Dondi's not here. I've often said a lot of my role models are not longer here, unfortunately. I always thought, "Well maybe one day I'll be able to influence someone, a younger person, to be creative, to explore their self expression.” Once again, that's what the Made By You thing is all about. The self expression, that's very akin to what graffiti's all about in a way. Just having your identity and putting it forth, either legally, and back in the day, illegally.
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Photo: Mengwen Cao

Futura Speaks on the Converse Made by You Campaign - 4

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Were there any important moments in your life where you looked down on your feet, looked up, and said, "Wow, this is one moment I will never forget?"

I've traveled around a lot, and I don't take things for granted. I'm always like, "Wow, this is amazing," and, "Oh man, I'm so lucky to be here." I had some experiences in let's say at the pyramids or something. I remember being at the pyramids and there was an area ... It's like the one time in my life, I think it was mostly impressed of all my life experiences being somewhere, and stopping, and stepping out of myself and just looking at myself in the moment. This is like 10 years ago. I was sitting there and going, "Damn, I'm here." I was super-grateful, but just once again reflecting on all my friends who aren't. I just to wake up tomorrow and trying to be happy, and that is a good day for me.

I try to stay positive and appreciate life as it is, and not be super self-absorbed. I think that's the nature of graffiti. It's all about your identity, but at the same time, I never feel like I can't get with a social group and just be one of the guys, and help out in some capacity. Like go get coffee for somebody, or whatever. I still do that.

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Can you and are you able to recall how many pairs of Chucks you've had over your lifetime?

A good 100, no doubt. A clean 100. The thing is, years ago, when economics were different, and you're scrambling, you don't have really budget for stuff, it's when you're taking care of the things you have and preserving them. More recently, I found that Converse tend to be disposable, in a way. You just rock them, and then they get paint on them and you're like, "All right, whatever." Get a new pair. I think the price point has always been reasonable. For example, if I went into a shop and I saw the ones you're wearing now with the gold caps, I'd probably buy 3 of them. Just to have them on standby.

It's like back how people used to buy records, and then toy collectors used to buy toys. It's the same thing for sneakers I think, and people do the same thing as well. Not that my motivation is a secondary market. I'm not like, "Oh yeah let me sit on these, and I'll sell them in a year." It's more like, "Oh those are really cool, I'd love to wear them." They look great new, so you just rock them like that. I found a pair in a Foot Locker in Queens recently that were some digital camo. Super cool. Generic, but interesting because it was new. Visually I had never seen that before.

I bought 4 pairs of them and I actually have them in the trunk of my car. There's still 3 in the trunk of my car, so at some point I'll just be able to bring those out. Quite frankly, a year from now when people forgot about them or never saw them anywhere, they're still going to look dope. They're still going to be fresh, and of course they're going to be brand new. So yeah more than 100, total who knows? A couple hundred maybe over a lifetime, but in my recent 10 years? Easy 100, yeah. Which is what? 10 years, that's 10 pair a year. Eh, that seems excessive.

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Futura Speaks on the Converse Made by You Campaign - 5

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Well congrats on the campaign, it's amazing.
Thank you. Yeah, I'm so psyched to be in it.

It's one of the most authentic campaigns I've seen in a very long time, and I'm just blown away by it.

I'm in Brooklyn, and I remember the day this popped out somebody texted me, they were like, "Yo, your Converse are on Bedford Avenue," And I was like, "What?" I went to the stop literally 3 blocks from my house, and yeah, they started posting them. Then over the last 2 weeks, I think I've seen nothing but people posting from really everywhere, like South America, Europe, Asia. I have seen New Zealand, Copenhagen, Berlin.
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What city didn't get the campaign? I think every city got the campaign, so that in itself is amazing, and what Ian [Ian Stewart, CMO Converse) was talking about. What I think is really super cool about this is how it engages the public to send in their own stuff and say, "Hey what about me?"

People who weren't necessarily up on the campaign, or obviously weren't included, can now be included simply because it's like a casting call for, "Hey what about your individuality?" Just to see the reaction from the consumers and the kids that rock them, I've never seen that before anywhere else. You look across markets and wonder who really did that before? Nobody's done it. It takes the ID/customized thing to a whole 'nother level because it's not really immediately about buying something, it's just about expressing what you've already got and how you're living with it, and that's amazing.

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