StrangeLove: Exposing Sean Cliver’s Sneaker Kinks
Legendary artist, and the electric brain behind the StrangeLove label, Sean Cliver has made a career dilating pupils with his irreverent skateboard illustrations. Beginning his journey at Powell-Peralta in 1989, Sean sketched his way into the badly-behaved Big Brother magazine, before becoming a writer and producer for the Jackass series.
He’s also no slouch when it comes to sneakers.
Sean dropped the fiendish Nike SB Dunk High ‘Krampus’ in 2012 (the design was an ode to the beast that punishes bad children during the Holiday season) and again busted-up the Internet (and his own website) earlier this year with the super sexy ‘StrangeLove’ Dunk on Valentine’s Day.
Now, Sean’s back with the ice-cold Nike SB Dunk Low ‘Holiday Season’. To celebrate the release, we caught up with Sean to discuss first sneaker loves, Christmas treats, and the always-battering ‘botbarians at the gate’.
What sneakers are you wearing right now?
Damn, I’m almost embarrassed to say, but I’m wearing the StrangeLove Dunks. I’ve actually been running them since January, when I first put them on in San Francisco while the team riders were filming for the promotional video. I guess it’s a comfortability thing. They just feel like old slippers at this point – albeit slippers that look like a beat-up pink stuffed animal.
Have you vibed anything in particular this year?
There were definitely a lot of interesting releases – some to the point where they’re more of a display piece or collectible, which I can thoroughly appreciate. But I guess I personally prefer to toe the line in design where the bells ‘n’ whistles don’t overpower the whole of the shoe. I’ll readily and happily admit that may be too conservative of a viewpoint, especially for someone entrusted with ‘designing’ a shoe, but I’d also be the last fucking person to ever put that label on my resumé. I’m just tickled to have had the opportunity to mess around with the shoe I could never have had as a kid. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was partial to the Supreme ‘Jewel’ Dunks that dropped last year – even though it feels like 12 years ago now – and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a pair of the upcoming Dunk ‘Habibi’. I guess I’m just a sucker for the red, white and black scheme.
Do you remember your first pair of sneakers as a kid? What kind of shoes excited you growing up?
I was told I had narrow feet growing up, so it was through a combination of our limited household budget, and the guidance of shoe salesmen, that I always got pushed into low-rent New Balance or PUMAs (although I think that certain basic style of PUMA did later become popular in the 90s, kind of like the adidas shell toe but to a lesser degree). I do remember when the first Jordans came out, though, and I definitely had a mean case of shoe envy then – again, budget and salesmen dictated otherwise – but I think the only shoe I ever actively sought out was the ellesse high after seeing photos of Natas Kaupas, Tommy Guerrero, and Jim Thiebaud wearing them. I eventually found a blue and white pair at a tennis-oriented shop in Santa Barbara, CA, when I moved there from Wisconsin in 1989.
How do you view sneaker culture in 2020? You recently had to cancel the StrangeLove deluxe packaging because of ‘botbarians at the gate’. Does it dishearten you?
Well, it certainly was an eye-opener to the current climate. I’d done a few Dunk projects in the past, but nothing that would’ve prepared me for that debacle. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever received so many threats and accusations in my whole life, which is saying a lot considering I once worked on Big Brother skateboard magazine. But here’s what happened with that release. First off, contrary to the rumours, we only had 200 or so pairs in all to sell. That’s it. And as soon as we posted about the upcoming release, commenters immediately started bragging about ‘raping our joke of a site’ and how all the shoes would be theirs.
After all the work we’d put into the special packaging, the last thing I wanted was for them to just end up in the hands of resellers. So, we made the decision to reach out directly to StrangeLove’s earliest supporters in an effort to sell them into as many good hands as possible. On the infamous night before the drop, when my partner went to activate a ‘coming soon’ preview and accidentally let 3000 bot-assisted orders burst through a 40-second crack in the site, we had no more than 25 pairs left in stock. Shopify simply crapped-out under the strain and oversold the inventory to a ridiculous degree. Apparently we really did have a joke of a site! But to avoid getting hit with bank processing fees, we had to spend the next several hours manually deleting each and every order and ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the hassle to still try and go ahead with the release the next morning. We tried to be as transparent as possible in our communication, but people will only believe what they want to believe, and accusations of ‘back-dooring’ and everything else began to fly. What a mess. Haha…
The StrangeLove Dunk is one of our favourite sneakers of 2020. Can you elaborate on the initial concept and how it came to life?
When we were first approached with the idea of collaborating on a Valentine’s release with Nike SB it just made thematic sense, what with the ‘love’ in our name and all. Plus, not to get all sentimental, but skateboarding truly was my first real love, and a strange one at that given its life-consuming nature. So with visions of cherubs dancing in my head, I made the plush call for velvet materials, all in pink and red, with a durable suede for the wear-and-tear of skating. That’s basically the nutshell I pitched to the SB design team, who in turn proceeded to cobble it all together and pretty much nailed it on the first sample.
We only made a minor tweak to the hearts on the bottom of the sole, bumping them up in size with the addition of blue ones to lace everything up with our red-and-blue StrangeLove logo colours. Half the fun of a shoe story is in the packaging, though, so harkening back to our days in grade school, making class Valentine’s boxes out of old shoe boxes, we produced a custom box replete with accompanying Valentine’s Day cards, stickers, and a screened print unique to our release. Since that time, this has all been bootlegged and muddied with blue and green pairs that were initially touted as samples, but were most assuredly not.
Did you skate them?
Hell yeah, for sure. I much prefer skating in Dunks to any other shoe, but I’ve also had some where the materials were too stiff and actually rather uncomfortable, so I purposely wanted these to have a suede that was supple and easy to break in.
Tell us about the upcoming Dunk release?
I learned my lesson back in February, and there’s no possible way to please everyone. That said, we’ll be doing a special Friends and Family deal for our part of the release as a way of saying thanks to all the customers who supported us throughout the year, because if it weren’t for them I doubt we would have survived 2020. Oh, and because we do love a good holiday theme, we went out on a vinyl limb to make an accompanying toy to the shoe – that was probably the most exciting part of the whole project, because I’ve never had the opportunity to create one of those before.
What’s next for Sean Cliver in 2021?
Shit, I have no idea… especially after the year that was 2020. Right now, I think the focus will primarily be on StrangeLove, and continuing to grow the brand. My partner Nick Halkias and I have a small but good crew involved, all passionate about skateboarding, and I’m excited to be in the position we are after successfully weathering the past year.
The Sean Cliver x Nike SB Dunk Low 'Holiday Special' drops on December 18. Make sure to check out our extensive 'Where to Buy' list.