The concept of ‘street art’ is extremely murky. Everything from yarn bombing and bottle designs to 3D projection and billboard defacements have reshaped the simple act of graffiti. Its influence on brands is an important recent development.
In our interview with artist Eric Haze and Ben Ewy, Creative Director at New Era, they reveal what exactly gives such a fluidity in the way that brands are influenced by art (generally), more specifically how an artist can influence urban brands like New Era and Nike.
How has street art/graffiti influenced your thinking and approach to product design and fashion?
Eric Haze: When I think of ‘graffiti’ I think of illegal activities, so I do draw a line between that fact and anything else I may have done for the last 25 years. That said, a lot of my aesthetic is informed by my history as a graffiti artist, and that is reinforced by my choice to use my graffiti tag now as my logo and brand.
The art side of what I do also informs my work as a designer with product, but ultimately I approach each design, product and job on its own terms – if it’s a happy marriage and good fit with my tag, I’ll apply that aesthetic. If not, then I won’t.
You’ve worked with brands like G-Shock and Nike. How is each collaboration different? And can you elaborate on you collaboration with New Era?
Ben Ewy: New Era’s brand values is individuality, so we are always going to be influenced by street art. We are inspired by the style we see on the street and want to be part of that dialogue with the product we create. We ask people to “fly their own flag” and use our product as a way to express themselves.
We gave Eric the challenge of interpreting our logo through his lense to create something that was truly a collaboration. He took our flag logo and added in some of his trademark icons, the cloud from his tag and stars, creating something new and street relevant.
Eric Haze: This collaboration is different in terms of the nature of the product. I look at every different collaboration and product as its own challenge, especially depending on the medium. In some ways, there’s a relationship between all of them in terms of representing my brand and the essence of my identity, but I do approach a cap much differently than I would a sneaker or watch.
The collaboration with New Era also has an extra level of depth and significance being that I’m a Flagbearer, an actual representative of the brand, not simply a guest designer.
I feel like we have achieved a number of things with this collection itself. New Era has given me a great deal of creative license and support in terms of my original concept, which was for us to split the collection effectively between the Haze signature cap on a 59FIFTY cap, while also giving me the opportunity to put my fingerprints on a classic New Era cap, giving my take and handstyle interpretation of their original logo.
How has street art’s role in the world of brands evolved over time?
Eric Haze: The last 10 years have seen growth in collaboration, and I’m happy to say I’ve been ahead of the curve most of the time because I have a brand of my own to contribute to any project.
I’m not sure most of the people we truly consider ‘street artists’ these days have much relationships to brands and products though. At the same time, the current trend has increased the visibility and expanded the range of public interest – which is a good and healthy thing.
How has street art’s role in the world of fashion evolved over time?
Eric Haze: Fashion has always been informed by what’s going on on the street – it’s a trickle-down effect. A small handful of us invented the concept and market of streetwear, going back almost 20 years now. In the beginning, it was a wide open playing field that we owned, then by the mid 90′s everyone from DKNY to major sportswear brands started taking their cues from what was going on in streetwear.
I do think the term ‘street art’ is a wildly generalized term, and perhaps often misused at this point. I’m a designer, artist, art director and director of a brand – I do public work, I do paintings, installations and murals in public, but I think the essence of ‘street art’ is more of this next generation’s version of graffiti. It’s been a positive and good for business that ‘street art’ has now become a buzzword in the boardrooms of America, but at the same time, there’s a loose and tenuous connection that can be suspect: the star on my New Era cap (the 9FIFTY snapback) comes from my tag, which I did on the streets 25 years ago. That history and its relationship to my work may be deep and profound, but I don’t necessarily think that my personal style is informed by the current trend of street art.
Ben Ewy: High fashion has always been inspired by street style in one way or another, but recently street art and style seems to be an even bigger influence. You can see it through super high end brands like Lanvin, Gucci and Louis Vuitton releasing sneakers in addition to their range of traditional more formal shoes. You can’t see something without looking at the edges and there will always be an interplay between street fashion and high fashion, right now, the line seems especially blurred.
Any final thoughts?
Eric Haze: I think this project and collaboration speaks for New Era’s growing understanding of these collaborations and how they can impact the market. I see our partnership as a solid foundation for a long-term relationship that we can continue building moving forward, with more product and collaborations in the future.
Thanks Eric and Ben!