words // Steve Jaconetta

Complex recently caught up with Mark Smith and had a chance to talk to him about art, fashion and footwear.

Mark Smith shouldn't come across as someone new, if you're into sneakers. He is the Creative Director of Special Projects for Nike Innovation, and has been instrumental in the designs of some of the most popular footwear of today. That list includes the Air Jordan XX, Air Jordan XX3, Nike Air Raid and Nike Air Yeezy, to name a few. Below Smith touches base with numerous topics such as creating the Air Jordan XX as well as designing Drake's Air Jordan 3 PE's, which he wore in Nicki Minaj's 'Anaconda' music video.

Check out the interview below, and if you're interested in reading it in its entirety, head over to Complex for the full scoop.


How has your art gotten into the collections of people like Michael Jordan, DJ Clark Kent, and Tom Sachs?
I just give my stuff away, and they can’t throw it away! [Laughs] I meet a lot of people through work, but we connect through creativity.

For instance, Tom Sachs was working with Mark Parker, and he told Tom to meet with me. We sat down on a couch for four hours and just talked. We realized that we were kindred spirits. He was really concerned about doing a project with his antithesis—a big corporation. He's Mr. Art guy. His style is a middle finger to everybody who has everything and is big and huge. We connected on an artistic level about telling stories and doing things that were not corporate. Then he realized that we would get along on this work project really easily. He trusted me, and I trusted him, as artists. I was interviewing him, and he was interviewing me, but we were just doing it through a conversation. We would show each other our sketchbooks and stuff that we were working on. Somehow we ended up trading art all the time, which is how he ended up getting into my stuff and vice versa.

With MJ, it was just by the pure fact that if he sees something, and he likes it, I know what to do. If it's work-related and he likes it, I know what to do, and if it's art-related and he likes it, I know what to do. It's really cool to walk into his office and see a huge print that I just sent on a whim. Next thing it's framed in his office, because it spoke to him. With each person it's a connection through creativity; I don’t really market anything.

At work, even just the other day, I was laughing because as I was walking down the halls, I saw some of my work in the executive offices, like for four or five people. My KISS collection was bought by a VP. There are four or five VPs who have come to my shows and just purchased the pieces; they didn't have to, they wanted to. For instance, I didn't know that Eric Sprunk is completely into KISS, and the next thing I know, my painting is hanging up on his office. It's just funny. 

I don't market it. I'm just telling the story on a gallery wall.


Your bio says that you gravitate towards unintended mistakes. What are some of the best mistakes or accidents that you've made creatively?
Unintended results are usually at work. If I'm going down a path, and I'm trying to solve a problem or tell a story, I do more of a dump where I'm taking elements from all around. I put them together and see where I am.  

The Jordan 20 is a great example of an unintended mistake. I had been doing print graphics for an assemblage of icons. But I wasn’t planning on doing that. I was looking at how to tell these stories through icons, not words. They were all really organized. There was one for a "first car" and a "high score," and I had about fifty of them.

Then I started asking for other people's input, in terms of graphics. I was wondering how the hell I could put them all together, and then it just hit me. The unintended result was having them all there together but then starting to put them in all different directions and using the laser to keep true to their detail. That was not intended; it just happened. It was really late at night and definitely on my own time. It just sort of came out.

The next morning, I came in and put it on the table, and I just hadn't seen that before.

Some of the other stuff is in music. I love playing wrong notes mid-way through something, so I can just resolve it. It's almost like a head twist or a misstep on the dance floor. It's funny. I always look to comedy or humor to inform. What we make is stuff people want, not what they need. So I figure if you want something, you have a little more leeway to play with it.


When you designed Tuxedo Dunks for Narciso Rodriguez's shows in '05 and '06, did you feel like it was a risk at the time? How did that collaboration happen, and what made it super stealth?
I was fortunate to work with Narciso on his runway footwear in a way that allowed us to just put together the right look, minus any product marketing or "expectation"-related distractions. We had the opportunity to keep things very fluid and focused. The stealth was just in getting it all done under the radar and seeing the finished results accent and support the direction of Narciso's line. 

The tuxedo dunks had enough "range" to fit the breadth of his line. We were able to stay directly connected throughout the entire process and kept it fluid. We had a lot of fun.


Are you allowed to say anything about the shoes that Drake is wearing in the "Anaconda" video?
That's where my day and night life come together. That was funny, because we actually made those shoes for another event. We delivered them to him overnight for that event. He asked us if we had anything special, and Reggie Saunders (Jordan Strategic Initiatives Director) reached out to me, so I showed him something, and he was like, "Holy crap, that's really cool." And then we were watching and watching the next night, and they didn't show up. We didn't see them. What he wore actually ended up making more sense.

Next thing I know I'm getting a link from like 12 different people, no words, no description, just a link. I clicked on the link, and I'm at work, and I see Nicki going off. I was like, ok, cool, but I had no idea why they were all sending it to me. Then I saw at the end of the video, the minute where Drake's wearing the shoes. I didn’t think anyone would notice the shoes, because I didn't, but it was cool to make them for him. At first I thought that maybe he didn't like them, because he didn't wear them at the one event, but then I guess he liked them a lot to wear them in that video. 

Lenticular film is something I've been playing with at work a lot. You'll probably see a lot more of that coming up soon.


Steve Jaconetta is the Release Dates & Archive Editor of Sole Collector and you can follow him on Twitter here.