Designer, actor, entrepreneur and sneaker collector Edison Chen has a deep appreciation for Jordan – the man and the brand – that has spanned his career, cross-continents. Chen shares a love for art, fashion and culture led him to connect with Elle Hu, whose talent he was quick to pick up on. Below, the pair breaks down the importance of creative connection and a modern model of mentorship.

It’s one thing to sit across from a person and ask them questions about their life, their career and their passions. But to facilitate a discussion between two friends and collaborators, as they talk about how they have impacted and inspired each other — it’s truly something wonderful to witness.

Los Angeles currently serves as the home for multihyphenate cultural legend Edison Chen, as well as his once-assistant, protege, and fashion world up-and-comer Elle Hu. I met with them during NBA All-Star Weekend to learn about their personal histories and to learn about how their relationship blossomed — and how it continues to flourish, both personally and professionally.

So, how did you two link up? A lot more people know stuff about you, Edison, than Elle, but I would love for you to talk about how you found out about Elle.

Edison: For starters, social media is crazy. But here’s how it happened — there’s a retail outlet in Australia called Sneakerboy. What brought me to Sneakerboy was that they not only sold sporting companies like Nike and Converse, but also high end fashion brands. I was like —  “oh this is interesting.” So then through their Instagram feed I would see Elle and I would be like, “oh, this girl looks interesting.” So, through the internet, we kind of started speaking to each other.

Which used to be kinda weird back in the day, but it’s just completely normal now.

Edison: Let me state — in no way was it a sliding through the DMs kinda thing, no, no, no way. But I knew the people that own Sneakerboy as well. And I asked them about Elle. And they told me she was actually planning on coming to America. And I think the first time that we met was at Undefeated in LA.

Elle: Yeah, that was like two years ago.

Edison: Yeah, so you know, what happened was she stayed in LA for a little bit and then she went to New York. I guess a year rolled around and this space in LA started poppin. I work on various other brands like Vlone and stuff like that. And when things started to pop off, I realized I needed a little bit more help. So I told Elle to come in and be sort of my assistant at first.

What does it mean, to be your assistant?

Edison: I bounce work off of assistants, I try to groom my assistants. My past two assistants now, one’s a retail store manager and the other one’s the Vlone brand manager. So I try to find people that I can nurture into bigger roles.

Elle, what was it like for you when Edison reached out? Was that a crazy moment?

Elle: I loved what Edison was doing in LA — LA’s such a great place for opportunities and that’s what I was really seeking when I moved from Australia. As for being brought to the table — it’s just been a dream come true. And I’m learning a lot, every single day.

What exactly were you doing in New York before?

Elle: So I worked at a showroom for a minute. And then I worked in PR for a minute. I think growing up in Australia, New York’s always had a pull. So I wanted to get that out of my system and then when Edison reached out at the end of my time in New York, I was like, this is perfect. Everything just kind of connected.

Edison: It’s crazy because she’s got her own thing going now.

Elle: Yeah.

Edison: It’s been an interesting collaboration where I think we both feed off each other and we both complement each other in a very good way. I like to say to everyone that I work with is, “I can open the door for you. I can get you in the room, but the next door has to be opened by you.” And maybe if it’s a door that I can’t open, hopefully you welcome me into the next room too.

I think that if you look at how you work with people and how you can mutually benefit each other instead of always thinking about so-called competing with each other or thinking about what I did or what you did. It’s what we did as a unit. Together. Without the team that I have, that includes Elle, I would never be able to do any of the stuff that I do. And that’s a testament to the team that I have and how good they are.

Edison, how is LA as a creative space for you? I know we were just talking about it, but do you feel like what you’re able to do in LA right now is different than other cities right now? Do you find that what’s happening culturally here is vibrant? For you, does it feel different than 10 years ago? Five years ago?

Edison: Yeah, it feels very different than 10 and five years ago. I think what’s really important about Los Angeles is the space that it gives you to not only physically do what you want, but mentally also. To feel like there’s space. You know, I grew up in Hong Kong and I lived in Hong Kong till I was 28.

Yeah.

Edison: So that’s until 2008. Stress-factors and the everyday hustle and bustle of life and just the immediacy of everything. It’s like, hey, we’re five blocks down, do you wanna come out? But in California, it’s like “I’m five miles away, are you sure you wanna come?” That’s good and bad because then you make an effort to be communal with your friends. And then when you do spend time with them it’s much more … I’m not saying anything about New York or anything. It’s just that when you have to make an effort to do something, you tend to savor the moment a little bit more, you know?

I think that that’s what Los Angeles helps with is that there is extra space for you to think and feel creative. But at the same time it’s also very community building. Because you don’t get to see people all the time and when you do get to see people you have to make an effort. Which means that you must like these people. These things start developing into more of a community and more of a positive energy force for your creations.

In five years, what type of stuff do you want Elle to be doing?

 Edison: I say this as a joke to people, but pretty sure I really mean it: I want her to be me. I want her to be able to help me handle all the things that I’m doing. Which she wants to do at the same time. So I’ve been kind of multi-branding trying to build a collection of brands to be this powerhouse in contemporary street fashion.

Yeah, yeah.

Edison: Honestly, I’m 37 and I’ve been doing this for 15 years, so that’s why I work with Elle. It’s just to let them go to the forefront. Be in the back, giving them the phone call that’s like “hey, this is what I think.” But while I’m watching Netflix though. That’s what I’m aspiring to do.

The joys of being washed.

 Edison: Yeah, so I’m nurturing that for a bunch of people. And Elle’s definitely at the forefront of that. Hopefully she can be creative directing. She can have her own brand. And she can be a force in the creative industry. And then wherever those opportunities bring her for her to live her dream. Whatever that is.

I guess for you, Elle, it’s the same question. What are your lofty aspirations?

 Elle: Right now for me I’m just kind of fine tuning my skills at the moment. Everyday I’m super appreciative for having such a great mentor in general. And learning so much. I’m just trying to be a sponge right now and trying to absorb as much as I can. Learn as much as I can and then hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have more direction of where I’m headed.

My last question, for both of you — what’s your relationship with kicks? Have you always been a sneaker person?

 Elle: Yes.

What does being involved with something like Jordan. What does that mean for you?

 Elle: It’s definitely very crazy. Growing up in Australia you don’t have that much opportunity, so being in this moment right now is kind of crazy to me.

Yeah.

Edison: She’s like the hometown hero, man. She goes back to Australia everyone’s like Elle, hey.

It’s really funny. Each person I’ve talked to, be it someone who’s playing in the All-Star game to a producer to you, everyone’s like … it’s still kinda crazy to be doing something connected to Jordan because I was a kid once and I couldn’t afford them once.

Edison: Yep. You know, I have to give a nod to basketball and Jordan for me actually being into fashion.

Yeah.

Edison: It started with the shoe. And then it was “oh look, they’re wearing their pants a little baggy.” And then bringing me into hip-hop and then watching how they talk and how Jordan was speaking on his, you know, Come Fly With Me stuff like that, you know what I mean? Definitely was a driving force when I was younger and still is today.

Yeah.

Edison: I used to draw Michael Jordan jerseys and shoes at school when I was bored. And now, to be even sitting down with the people at Jordan and talking about designs and stuff like that, sometimes is just like …

Where am I?

Edison: Really, like — like I gotta call my mom.

Yeah.

Edison: It’s like, hey mom, look. Look what I’m doing.

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