MILAN — Suggesting an ongoing appetite for ’90s and early Aughts-inspired fashion, Prada has been resurrecting its America’s Cup sneakers and reissuing them in their original design.
Now the Italian luxury brand has tapped artist and musician Cassius Hirst, known as Cass, to develop a 22-item capsule collection of four styles in different nuances based on that design, known by the product code PS0906 and introduced in 1997 as part of the Linea Rossa technical collection. This is not to be confused with the Luna Rossa line, which is named after Prada’s sailboat.
Since their introduction the sneakers, which never went out of production but have been revisited design-wise over the years, have become a pillar of the Linea Rosea collection, resonating with consumers far beyond sailing enthusiasts and ranging from young shoppers in Milan and Paris to hip-hop stars in the U.S. They somewhat anticipated the luxury sneaker trend, as WWD reported.
The son of acclaimed artist Damien Hirst, a longtime friend of Miuccia Prada’s and a serial collaborator with the Prada brand (he recently teamed with it for Moscow’s iteration of Prada Mode), Cassius Hirst has made a name for himself in the sneaker world almost by chance, turning him into the best candidate for such a project.
The 22-year-old Hirst doesn’t have teenage memories linked to the America’s Cup but found in them the perfect canvas to deploy his art and spray-paint them based on abstract designs, with different effects, from crackled and distressed to white-out. Experiments included 3D design and hybrid models combining two different shoe styles together. “I created loads of this absurd concept shoe and Prada said, ‘We don’t know if we can do that, it’s a bit too far,’” Hirst said in an interview.
“I said if anyone can do it, it’s Prada and so I guessed I had gone probably too far,” he admitted. Hence he focused on painting and engaged in a back-and-forth process with the luxury brand, he said.
“The Cass x Prada collection finds parallels between the bold work of this fresh talent and the heritage of Prada — the sense of the hand, an excellence in manufacture, a constant search for innovation, a restless urge to reexamine and reinvent our history,” said Lorenzo Bertelli, Prada Group’s marketing director and head of corporate social responsibility.
“The iconic silhouette of the Prada America’s Cup sneaker becomes a canvas for creation, offered in a special capsule. Something unique, something new,” he added.
Hirst linked with Miuccia Prada via his father. While painting a pair of Nike Air Force 1s, his father’s cult sneakers, he came to a middle stage when the shoe was covered in stencil-like tape, which he found interesting. Damien Hirst sent pictures to Prada and she was enthralled. “They look great, we should do something,” she is quoted as answering.
The young artist approached sneakers culture by chance in his late teenage years, spray painting Nike Air Force 1s. “It was experimentation and seeing other people do it [online] and thinking maybe I’ll have a go. It was small at the start; it was just messing around,” he said.
A skateboarding enthusiast, he used to wear only shoes he could hop on the board in and he “didn’t have any engagement really with the inside world of sneaker culture.…I’ve always had a kind of distance from it.…I didn’t stay up to date with every release, for me it’s a kind of different thing, it’s more that they are just a great canvas for me,” he said.
Asked about approaching a different shoe style than what he was used to, he revealed that it was easier and freer because, unlike with Nike styles, he could paint the sole as well and achieve better results. “With the America’s Cup I started painting the whole thing.…They looked so much better like that, full color. It was fun, I think they’d be a lot more fun, less boring work [tapering] and more just painting,” he offered.
Long before gaining a following among celebrities drawn to his artistic reinterpretation of sneakers, including A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, Offset, Rihanna and AJ Tracey, among others, Hirst had customized his first pair at age 14 on Father’s Day with paint pens for Hirst senior. He then transitioned to tapering the shoes and soles and spray painting the uppers to achieve patterns suggested by instinct.
A turning point was receiving praise and approval from Virgil Abloh. After purchasing one custom pair via a mutual friend, the late designer invited Hirst to host one of the inaugural workshops at NikeLab’s Chicago Re-creation Center in 2019 and sell his shoes out of the Church & State pop-up at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Hirst even got to paint a pair of Air Force 1 Off-White MCA University Blue, signed by Abloh.
“With Prada and the collaboration with Virgil Abloh, it’s like to be given the opportunity is the main thing, to be given the opportunity to experiment,” Hirst said. “I think I’m open to anything, it’s just a matter of trying,” he said about venturing into other collaborations.
Nodding to Hirst’s other creative passion, music, the four styles are named after its vocabulary, with such monikers as Att4ck, D3cay, Sust4in and Rel3ase given to the four styles, each in different color combinations. Obsessing over synthesized music and “dance-y stuff,” as he put it, he used his improving skills as a musician on the soundtrack of the collection’s campaign video by Alex Morin. It showcases types wearing the sneakers and matching one-of-a-kind masks painted in the same style moving inside a lab-like white space.
“It’s weird because I’m not really a musician or a tech fanatic…but having to learn and having to improve my skills has just been fun because there just have been problems constantly….It’s been good to tie it all together really, with my music in the campaign video as well,” Hirst said.
Retailing at $1,790 and available from Tuesday at select Prada boutiques and on the brand’s online store, the Cass x Prada sneakers are a limited run of 3,000 pieces and bear the brand’s logo and Cass’ signature. The box features the brand’s and artist’s logos, the latter being a scan image of Hirst’s brain.