The Fearless Ones: Edison Chen
The CLOT co-founder and streetwear connoisseur talks about his new Air Jordan I collaboration.
Interview: Elle Clay
Photos: Anthony Blasko
The “Fearless Ones” celebrates a new generation of defiant, talented individuals. Click here for more stories about the cast.
In one way or another, it’s always been about sneakers for Edison Chen, though many first learned of him through his film and music careers. Growing up between Vancouver and Hong Kong, he’d go out of his way to get the latest kicks from retailers, some of them at the famous Fa Yuen Street. Once he met his childhood best friend, Kevin “KP” Poon, on the basketball court, a bigger collaboration began. In 2003, they founded CLOT, a lifestyle brand originally based in China. Simultaneously, they built an archive of rare footwear, the “Sneaker Graveyard,” which became a well-known destination. Today, they also operate JUICE, a store that sells CLOT alongside other recognizable streetwear staples.
Now based in Los Angeles, Edison stays busy with multiple projects globally, including a range of familial collaborators. Friends like Nigel Sylvester and Aleali May walked in CLOT’s 15th anniversary collection show in 2018, and last year, CLOT and Jordan Brand released released a collaborative Air Jordan XIII Low. The new Air Jordan I collaboration is as special as the first; it has a fadeaway Swoosh and Chinese-inspired details spelling out “Jordan.”
The impact of CLOT, JUICE and Edison’s related endeavors are significant. Instead of moving the culture from West to East, Edison has worked to bring the East worldwide. In his own seismic way, he and his team have moved the needle. He keeps inspirations from basketball, streetwear and hip-hop central to the approach.
Below, Edison Chen talks about his new Air Jordan I collaboration and what’s next for CLOT.
What were some of the first shoes or clothing you remember wanting as a kid?
This might sound weird, because it’s a Jordan interview, but the first thing I ever asked for was Jordans. I kept asking my mom to get them, so she tried to go to the store, and they’d be sold out. So that was that. Another brand I wore when I was younger is Polo. So just Polo shirts and basketball shoes.
Were you asking for Air Jordan Is at the time?
I was born in 1980, so by the time I was thinking about what I wanted to wear, I was asking for the Vs or VIs, at first.
With this new collaboration in mind, how would you describe your connection to the Air Jordan I?
The AJI is obviously the most classic and iconic Jordan shoe. The silhouette marries both Nike and Jordan elements. It’s classic, and you can see it from a mile away. Other than that, I’ve always watched MJ rookie highlights; he really balled hard in these shoes. The shoe is iconic in every way, even beyond basketball. Years later, it became a fashion thing, with kids wearing them just to flex. I’m ecstatic that we got to work on an Air Jordan 1.
Though Edison is considered a cultural enthusiast of many things, he’s especially passionate about basketball and ‘90s hip-hop. These influences are apparent in the past and future trajectory of CLOT. In speaking about his references, his intensity, charisma and gratitude are apparent. It’s clear that these attributes are central to how and why he became a huge star.
Since you also grew up playing basketball, what’s it like to now have multiple Jordan Brand collaborations under your belt?
I can’t even really describe it. Sometimes, I can’t believe that it’s happened already. When I was a kid in school, I remember drawing Jordan basketball shoes and jerseys. Being given the opportunity to actually draw and design an Air Jordan is one of my biggest accomplishments. Working with Jordan Brand makes me feel like, when I was a kid, and I’d be like, “Jordan!” before going for my fade-away and hitting it. It’s an unbelievable feeling, and I can’t really explain it, other than that it feels awesome.
From your childhood until today, who are some of your personal style icons?
I’d just have to say Michael Jordan. When I was young, I didn’t really know anything else. I was just really into basketball. I went from comics to basketball. And MJ was god. Then I got into hip-hop and the style of that era in the ‘90s. With MJ, it isn’t just what he wore, it’s the way he acted, the way he replied in interviews, etc. I feel like that attitude is what led me to hip-hop, too.
How would you describe the foundation or essence of building a solid wardrobe?
A lot of people, especially in China, ask me how to dress. I feel like owning the right items for yourself is enough. Every week there are new things, and it’s easy to get confused. What’s good for you is actually what’s cool. I tend to say that a wardrobe only needs 10 to 12 items that you can mix and match. That can really explain your character. Though if you went into my wardrobe, I have thousands of pieces in different colors, which is very contradictory to what I’m saying.
I think being able to express yourself can come from having a few sneakers and T-shirts that you like and represent you as a person. When I was a kid, for example, the only things I would wear are Nike shorts, a Jordan T-shirt and maybe a headband. Less is better.
The AJI shoot with Edison took place at a massive church in L.A.’s Koreatown. Edison made his way to set — clearly a familiar environment for him — after getting lost like most of us. He was in great spirits, though, despite having to wear holiday-esque layers in a super hot space. Throughout the shoot and interview, he communicated an understanding that style is more than what you wear.
What inspired the design of this AJI, and does it have any ties to the recent CLOT AJ XIII?
The only thing that really ties the AJI and the AJXIII is the Chinese heritage in the aesthetic and design of the shoe. When I first got briefed, they mentioned this Fearless Ones campaign. So we added a secret layer underneath that. The colorway definitely champions certain feelings. We did the shoe in a white silk print, so you can dye it. You can tear the shoe away. You can be fearless by creating your own version of it, so that you’re not wearing the same shoe as everyone else.
There’s this idea of fearless creativity but also the inner beauty. The inner person might always have a shell that shows strength and dominance. Fearlessness comes from within. It’s not something that you show. It’s a feeling inside that you have to harness yourself. That comes with hard work, dedication and failure, in order to become fearless. All these things are amalgamated into the design of the shoe.
As a rapper, actor and all-around creative, how do you isolate your focus to execute a project?
I don’t. I’m super ADHD, maybe, but I feel like after 40 years of being that way, I’ve mastered it. I’m more of a timeline guy, where I focus on the day things need to be done.
Edison has been in the spotlight for a while. He knows himself — what he represents, how he does things and the platform he occupies. Even though he’s now based in L.A., he speaks energetically about Chinese culture and supporting the youth.
What’s the most thrilling — design, acting or making music?
I don’t see any difference in them. All of them are creation. I approach all of them in the same way. I see the end of a project the same way, and I critique everything the same way. So, I can’t say that I like one more than the other.
How has your approach to design changed or evolved since you started CLOT in 2003?
I mean, before, we were just winging it. We didn’t know what we were doing. Now, we have more institutionalized thinking about how to make an abstract design real. Before, we’d want to make shirt glow but never make it, because we couldn’t figure it out. Now, even through working with Nike and Jordan Brand, we’re much more able to push through different limitations, and we know more.
The spirit of CLOT is inherently defiant. How would you say that’s represented in the design of the product or how you design?
We are proud to be, supposedly, the first Chinese streetwear company. We’re trying to bridge our backgrounds, which has Western influences, and merge them with Asian inspirations. Throughout the years, we’ve been compounding on that. It’s not cool to everyone, but we’re speaking to an international market, so we just run with it. We believe in what we want to say. We’re 15 years deep; to be around for this long means you can’t be scared. You have to fully believe in yourself and hopefully become a master at what you do
“We're 15 years deep; to be around for this long means you can't be scared.”
Are you motivated to continue the work you’re doing by the people who come up to you?
Yeah, especially recently. A lot of people, when they see me, it’s almost like they have a demo tape, but it’s like a demo T-shirt or demo pants. Like I said, we’ve been doing this for about 15 years. For us, it’s like, what’s the next step? Right now, we’re actually looking for someone to replace me as creative director of CLOT, and we’ve found some great designers.
In the past two years, I’ve seen amazing talent be able to express themselves. We see the market growing, and the youth are more willing to speak out. It gives us extra energy to keep going and pushing the envelope. Supposedly, we’re at the forefront of this industry in China. What we’re trying to do is fill the market with more creatives, so that it’s a more healthy market, and not just us. We want to show that “Made in China” doesn’t have to be a stigma. Moving forward, there should be pride in that. Our job is almost complete. We’ll see how many more years it takes.
The Air Jordan I Mid SE Fearless Edison Chen is available starting December 7 on Jordan.com, SNKRS and at select retailers.