Keeping one step ahead of the biggest players in the game, the Poughkeepsie painter known as Mache is quickly becoming the go-to-guy, racking up a robust Rolodex of celebrity clientele and sneakerheads alike. With strong opinions on the state of the game and a taste for his own personal takeover, we caught up with the steady-armed perfectionist to get a deeper understanding of why he thinks customizing is the one element keeping the sneaker scene fresh. You might even bust a blood vessel when you see his Jordan x Air Force One mash-up, released years before Nike’s version! Osh Kosh, by gosh – it’s Mache!
First up Mr Mache, how do we pronounce your name and where do you hail from?
Yeah it looks like a weird one, it’s pronounced ‘Mosh’. I always tell people to just think mosh-pit! It comes from my last name Gamache. Not the most exciting story but that’s the best I’ve got for you. Anyway, my old stomping ground is Poughkeepsie, New York which is about an hour north of NYC. But now I call Bridgeport, Connecticut home.
Why pick sneakers as your canvas?
Even as a little kid I loved sneakers. I mowed lawns all summer to buy my first pair of Jordans and since then I’ve been hooked. I own over 300 pairs – my apartment looks like a stockroom! Like a lot of us, I felt that the big companies were getting a little predictable in their colourways so I grabbed a pair of beater Air Max 90s off the floor and some acrylic paint and got busy. The first pairs I did were obviously real simple. Through the internet and lots of networking I eventually made a name for myself but I never would have thought that five years later I would have celebrities hitting me up for kicks and be featured in such a respected magazine like Sneaker Freaker.
Aw shucks! Enough sucking up… Ok, let’s start from the beginning. What’s the first step?
I know a lot of artists do mock-ups on Photoshop or sketches prior to starting, but I don’t do that.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea, come to think of it, I probably should do that. But I just get too excited to prep that much. I usually have the idea in my head and that’s all I really need. I can see the finished product before I even start and luckily for me I’ve been pretty successful in replicating what I’ve thought of.
We know a magician never reveals their secrets, but what works best work for you?
It’s a common misconception that customizers don’t want to see others do well, or that if we tell someone how to do what we do that they may wind up being better. I can only speak for myself but I encourage the competition, so I’m never afraid to tip my hand. Even with that knowledge if the person lacks the creativity and work ethic to do this then they just won’t be successful. Those qualities are what separate the people who are successful and the ones who are just playing around, and I’m not just speaking in terms of sneaker customizing, I feel that way about all aspects of life. Sorry for my rant, but to answer your question, I just rely on good old Angelus paint and spotter brushes.
How much is trial and error?
Once I got my brush technique down I went out and bought an airbrush just to give me another way to customize. I had no clue and destroyed five pairs of kicks before I was comfortable enough to use it on a customer order. And now people seem to know me better for my airbrush work than my handwork, which I always get a good laugh from.
Is the scene getting stronger with this new generation?
Yes and no. I think it’s great that sneaker culture is getting its fair share of shine now. What used to be such a subculture is now mainstream. And from an economic standpoint, it’s great for the big companies as well as for us little guys who are scraping to pay the bills by painting sneakers. What I don’t like is how the creativity has dried up. It seems like all people want are these rehashes of themes and colourways that were successful in the past. Whether it’s putting a few SBs together or making a Jordan x Air Force One hybrid, it seems like companies are running out of ideas and all they can do is go back and use what worked for them before. That’s why they need to get some of us customizers up there!
Let’s talk about this Jordan x AF-1 fusion you had going on waaay before Nike dropped it. What made you want to create this bastard experiment in the first place?
Oh boy. Well, the Jordan V is my all time favorite sneaker. It was the one that I mowed the lawns all summer to get and it was my gateway drug. I even have it tattooed on my arm! So I had these beat white and black midsoled Jordan V retros from 2000. I balled in these so bad that the clear parts of the outsole were separating from the rest of the shoe! And then the Air Forces dropped with an all white upper and a black midsole and I put two and two together, it was like peanut butter and jelly for me. It’s going to sound pretty grizzly but I took a steak knife to the tongues and cut them right out! I then cleaned up the edges with scissors and sewed the tongues right into the AF-1s. Since I’m not that savvy with the sewing machine I went with paint to fill in the blank parts, such as the side netting and the famous ‘teeth’ on the midsoles.
I gotta ask… How did you feel when Nike eventually dropped their own version?
I can’t lie. I was disappointed because I dream of working for a big corporation like Nike, and if they really did use my idea that would have been a downer. I’m not saying that I’m even the first person to make a Jordan hybrid either, I know for a fact that my man Ghettro out of the UK made some Jordan IV x Dunk highs long before me. But as far as I know, I made the first AF-1 x Jordan pair. Now I know that the design process takes a long time before the actual shoes come out and it could definitely be possible that Nike had these Fusions in mind well before I did mine. I’ll never know the truth. It’s quite a coincidence that the first pair they leaked was the same exact colorway as the pair I had made earlier. I didn’t know what to think when I saw them and I still don’t. I hope that they were creative enough to think of that idea before me…
Do you think customizers are giving brand ideas for free? It’s not the first time this has happened…
I definitely think that the big boys are watching. I’m sure that they surf the internet and see what we’re doing. It’s called research. And you know what’s new and relevant right now? What ‘we’ are doing.
It must become frustrating to have your ideas jacked!
It is a little tough to see people wearing those Jordan fusions on the street and thinking to myself ‘Damn that was my idea!’ I just wish that the corporations would give us a shot. I know SBTG and Methamphibian and now Sekure D have had their shoe deals but what
I’m talking about is actually hiring us. I want to clock in and just brainstorm on how we can flip the shoe world on its head. Imagine what we could do with the resources of a real shoe company? These companies have to wake up and let us help!
How is business going then? Is this a full time gig?
It’s going well. I do get plenty of customer requests and orders. Now that I have a few years under my belt I’m now learning how to manage my time and balance my projects with my life. It’s not a full time gig but I sure do dream that one day it will be.
Rubbing shoulders with Pharell must be a bit of all-right too!
I always have to pinch myself to realize that these scenarios with celebs have really happened. I just think of them as people who are just like me, they’re all really good at what they do, it just so happens that they get paid a whole lot more! With Pharrell, I made some Ice Cream board flips with his face on the side a few years back. Last year I found out he was going to a signing at his BBC store in NYC. I wasn’t able to get in the store to see him but I gave the security guard the kicks with a bunch of business cards.
About five minutes later Pharrell came outside and personally thanked me! The next day they were on his blog like he promised. The man kept his word!
A few months later I was called by his people to make him another pair. You don’t make connections like that just sitting around hoping for them to fall into your lap.
And the GZA?
I’m a major Wu Tang fan and I love the Liquid Swords album. I made myself a pair focusing on the album artwork and posted them on my MySpace page and GZA saw them and hit me up. He told me that he was performing at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago in a week and can I make him two pairs? Long story short, I didn’t sleep for a few days. He was so grateful and as soon as the concert was done he sent me pics of him rocking them onstage and posted them up on his website. On top of all that he got me a pair of the original yellow Alife pumps for my time and effort. We all know how tough it is to get those…
It was the same deal with Questlove too. I couldn’t get his AF-1s that dropped so I made my own using the St. Patty’s Day Air Max 90s. They got posted everywhere and Quest saw them and hit me up! I swapped him for a pair of the AF-1s that I couldn’t get. That experience was special to me because a guy who actually has his own Nike shoe hit ME up for MY shoe. It’s one of those situations that when you really think about it, is really ironic.
The Kanye West 808s shoe is a killer! Was that made for someone in particular?
I love those things but I can’t take all the credit for them, they were a collaboration with my man EmmanueLabor who is based out of Seattle. I don’t know if you know the back-story with those but we had both made Kanye West shoes when the Graduation album came out. He made Dunk highs with teddy bear fur (which I’m going to say for the record I gave him the idea for) and I made a pair of AF-1s. I have a friend who works for a particular magazine that Kanye works with frequently and he got them to him for me.
Anyway, both Emmanuel and I got a lot of great feedback and we figured when 808s came out we should form like Voltron and make something really dope. He is more the textiles guy so he did the tweed treatments on the uppers and I replicated the Kaws artwork from the album. We really wanted the shoe to clash with the uniformity of the tweed and the boldness and looseness of Kaws artwork and the end result worked! We made pairs in his size 13 and one in my 12, which also happens to be Kanye’s size. When the pairs were done I decided that I wanted Kanye to have my pair. So I went to my connects and set it all up. I guess he really liked them from what I heard. Now we have to make another pair for me…
Your customs replicate other artists work such as Kaws, Haze and Futura. Have you had any comments from them?
I highly doubt that any of those guys have any clue as to who I am, but if they saw what I did with their vision in mind, I’d certainly hope that they are flattered. But I want to clear something up about these ‘replication’ customs I have done in the past, excluding the 808s and Heartbreak AF-1s, all of them were customer requested, every single one. Of course I would much rather do something that’s original all the time. But when I have to look at it as a business, I have to work with what’s thrown my way.
Ultimately, is that what your customization is about? Replication to forge authenticity?
Whenever I do a shoe I know that my name is attached to it and I have way too much pride to ever half-ass a pair to meet a deadline. I treat every pair as if I were to wear them myself. I really am a perfectionist and I do the best to make it look as if what I did was supposed to be on the shoe in the first place.
What’s up next for Mache? Any dream jobs in the pipeline?
I’m still trying to put myself out there as much as I can, staying relevant with my work and the culture. And while I do that I’m hoping that all the stars align and some big company sees what I’m doing and wants to take a chance on me so I can make what I love to do a career. Right now I’m working solely off myspace.com/machecustomkicks. My work isn’t sold in stores… yet!
Holler at Mache on: firstname.lastname@example.org