In the lead up to the launch of the exclusive Jordan X KAWS collection on 3/31, we talk to the artist about the process behind the scenes of one of the year’s most anticipated drops.

There’s a long-standing cliché in the art world that goes something like this: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Ironically, it’s a misattributed quote that supposes originality is in short supply. When it comes to KAWS, however, creativity is never in short supply. He’s an original—with a capital OG.

 

Hailing from Jersey City, New Jersey, KAWS honed his skills in the ever-competitive East Coast graffiti scene. Painting trains with New York City legends, he made a name bombing highways, and using street-side advertisements as personal canvases. While KAWS has since become synonymous with street art and design, Brian Donnelly is not one to be pigeonholed. The breadth of his catalogue includes limited-edition toys, jaw-dropping sculptures, T-shirts, prints, kicks — essentially, rare collabs for days.

“KAWS is an icon, and we saw this as a chance to celebrate two iconic brands by incorporating the style and soul of Jordan Brand with the larger-than-life story of KAWS,” says Gemo Wong, Head of Energy Projects at Jordan. “We hope to transcend sport and art with our unique collaboration.”

 

Blurring the line between product and art as only KAWS can, this unique take on the Air Jordan IV silhouette is an exercise in detailed craftsmanship, and for those that truly appreciate the art of sneaker design, a masterpiece. His mark is easy to spot—Xs in the most literal sense. However, it’s the subtlety of each design detail that distinguishes KAWS from copycats; the original from the fakes, if you will.

 

“KAWS gravitated to the Air Jordan IV from an aesthetic point of view,” Wong says of the artist’s silhouette choice. “He’s not a sneakerhead, so he picked what he liked from a pure design perspective. KAWS uses the color grey in the process of building his companion pieces and dolls that he sells. And for us, grey has been a key color within our Jordan palette, so the colorway made sense for both parties.”

Amidst his hectic schedule leading up to the release of the KAWS Air Jordan IV, Donnelly took a few moments to chat about his latest iconic collaboration, the design process and how his creative approach has evolved since painting trains as a teen.

You get approached by countless brands. Why work with Jordan Brand?

KAWS: I’ve always liked the image that Jordan Brand has maintained over the years, and I like that the company started with an individual who excelled at what he did. I also thought this was a good time to work with Nike again. It’s been 10 years since I first designed a shoe for them.

Which design detail did you spend the most time on during the creative process?

I never look at the clock when working on something. I’m often working on several things at once, and I like this process because it takes a lot of pressure off knowing I have to finish something and it lets the creative process happen naturally.

How does your creative process differ from when you were operating with a more “fly-by-night” approach in the East Coast graffiti and street art scene?

I don’t think you can call graffiti “fly-by-night!” When I was making that type of work in my late teens and early twenties, I was focused and committed to it just as much as I am focused on what I do now.

How has your approach to product design changed over the years?

It’s hard to say how or if I’ve changed my approach. I try to make objects that I feel good about and ones that could exist as part of the family of work that I’ve been slowly building over time.

Your collaborations immediately stand out for their unique design details. There’s a lot of iconography in the forefront and mixed into the subtle details that certify your mark. Fans of your work know what to look for, is there any intention to keep them guessing?

I think this time I just made a shoe for myself. I love grey suede. It’s nice when other people like the shoe, but in the end I just have the shoe that I want.

The Jordan X KAWS collection drops at select retailers and kawsone.com on 3/31/17