PARIS — “Streetwear on the runways of Paris has always been that vision that I’ve shared with my friends, the ultimate opportunity to present some new fresh ideas in a city and platform that we have always looked up to,” said Heron Preston, who today at the Palais de Tokyo will present the first runway show of his namesake label, as part of the official calendar of Paris Men’s Fashion Week.
Call him a quick learner. Preston, who was “raised” by the skate culture in San Francisco where he grew up, and who first started making noise in 2012 with his art-project bootleg spins on the Givenchy Rottweiler T-shirt, said that it was only around four years ago, when he started working with Kanye West, that he was introduced to the world of Paris fashion.
A former art director for West, Preston — who’s considered a post-Internet Renaissance man — worked at Nike and was also a part of the Been Trill art and DJ collective with Virgil Abloh, Justin Saunders and Matthew Williams.
“I really put myself in that environment with Virgil, Matthew and Kanye [West]. And going to Paris with those guys, I was always that kid who felt like a bit of an outsider,” he said. “I didn’t know so much about fashion; I was just more interested in beauty and style.”
Preston — who moved to New York City in 2004 to attend Parsons School of Design, where he began documenting characters from the city’s downtown scene on a blog and which led to his yearbook-style Polaroid photo book “The Young and the Banging” in 2008 — credits “the strength of my ideas and executing these ideas” for where he is today.
“It kind of fell in my lap and I’ve been pushing it forward,” said the designer, who since launching his own line, part of the New Guards Group, a Milan distributor working with labels including Off-White and Palm Angels, has collaborated with brands and organizations including NASA, Nike and Carhartt WIP. He also opened his first freestanding store last November in Hong Kong.
The brand first showed in Paris for the fall 2017 season, when it launched, and until now has opted for a presentation format.
Today’s show, Preston said, will include an enlarged women’s collection, as well as two footwear collaborations: with Nike and Ugg.
Expect a stronger focus on outerwear, as well as a leather suit from the designer who, with his brand still in its infancy stage, is still figuring out what his distinction is within the industry.
“I’m always being compared to Off-White and Virgil [Abloh]…It’s naturally only happening because we’re best friends, we’ve done work together, we had a brand together, and we come from a very graphic, logo-heavy background. So it’s me constantly trying to create this distinction between Heron Preston and Off-White, but also Heron Preston and fashion in general…It’s still a work in progress,” he admitted.
When asked if it feels surreal to be showing in Paris alongside Williams, with his 1017 Alyx 9SM label, and Abloh, founder of Off-White and men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton — whose inaugural show for the house last June was considered a watershed moment in fashion — Preston said it’s all happening so fast, “it’s difficult to pause and reflect on it all.”
“It does feel surreal and part of a very historical moment. Sixty years from now, we’ll look back at this moment and realize that it defined a shift in the industry. Now we have new guards who are making noise and being recognized at this level,” said the designer.
“[It probably won’t sink in] until a couple more years from now…then I can probably sit down with my friends and be like, ‘Whoa, remember when this happened? I can’t believe we took it this far.’ Three or four years ago, we’d never have been allowed on the schedule and now, Heron Preston is kicking off the week.”
Here, Preston talks to WWD about showing in Paris, his plans to address a more mature customer, and his dream creative director gig: Designing for Prada.
WWD: Do you feel like Kanye West and Virgil Abloh opened the door for this moment or that it has all happened organically as a collective?
Heron Preston: I think a little bit of both. It was Kanye being extremely curious about Paris and fashion and runway shows, and being one of the first rappers ambitiously wanting to be a part of that environment and scene. It was a lot of his interest and push going to Paris.
We all remember that iconic photo of Virgil, Kanye and Taz [Arnold] [taken by Tommy Ton in 2009] that was made fun of by “South Park.” This was one of the first fashion weeks that they went to and they were all photographed. Everyone went crazy for their outfits, and there weren’t really that many fashion photographers on the streets, it wasn’t really that big of a scene. That’s when street and luxury started to have that conversation.
I think a lot of their interests and the ambition they put behind their vision helped open doors. It definitely paved the way for Kim Jones to get Louis Vuitton to agree to do a collaboration with Supreme. When Riccardo Tisci took Givenchy into this space of graphic T-shirts — the Rottweiler T-shirt was the biggest graphic T-shirt of its time in fashion — I think it was a lot of Kanye going to fashion week and then Virgil presenting on the runway. A lot of it organically followed behind that.
WWD: Does it bring you strength to have this group around you?
H.P.: Yes, they’re my brothers, my family, it helps to feed off each other and it’s the energy that we share with each other that makes it very exciting; we speak the same language.
WWD: What for you is the relevance of the fashion show?
H.P.: It’s great for storytelling and helping people understand your concept. You can create a whole world and then invite people into that environment to experience the beauty and style that you love.
I’m approaching it this year as more of a proper runway. Last year was more of a hybrid, with elements of art performance, a presentation. This will be one walk, one runway.
WWD: Tell us about the casting.
H.P.: I’m looking to go a little bit more mature, the past shows have been skewed very young.
WWD: Would you say you design for yourself? Pieces that you want to wear?
H.P.: I can’t design anything else. It has to be things I can wear, that my friends and girlfriend can wear. She’s like my sounding board and muse. I was actually showing some pictures of my fitting in Milan to a friend and he was like, “Dude, this is so you, these are things that you would wear.” I’m trying to stay true to what Heron Preston is, what I wear on a daily basis. Enhancing those ideas.
WWD: There’s been a shift to a dressier look from Kim Jones at Dior Homme and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, with dress casual and suitings. Is that something we can expect from you in terms of directions?
H.P.: Definitely, with this idea of using more mature models, that’s where I’m taking the collection, that’s where my head’s at. I’ve catered a lot to the youth market and I’m noticing now that I have a larger audience, one that has a bit more money to spend.
I think I’ve possibly been alienating some of my more mature and older consumers. A lot of my collections may have been a little loud and colorful and graphic heavy, so I’m taking this new approach to the collection.
The DNA of the brand hasn’t necessarily changed, I’m just going in a bit more of a mature route with some of the styles and graphics.
WWD: Is the sartorial tradition and craftsmanship of interest to you?
H.P.: Totally. I think that it is beautiful, elegant, and it’s what people in fashion are looking for: this marriage between kids who started in street and T-shirts and great tailoring, elevated design. It’s the flavor of the moment, we’re moving into more of a premium space.
Also due to information and social media and people getting this instantaneous snapshot into the designer process, the life of a designer. The more we’re sharing, and with the more money being spent, people are going to be expecting a certain level of quality. I want to take my collections to those levels, while also having that street edge. I think that’s the balance of what I’ve always tried to master: The high and low, street and luxury, and pushing the potential of it.
WWD: So can we expect a tailoring component in the new collection?
H.P.: I’m getting there, Heron Preston is still in its infancy stage. Again, I didn’t go to fashion school so I’m still learning what do I need on my team, what do I need to include in my process to take these collections to the place and level I want to take them?
Every collection I design, I’m learning something new about my process. Also, who I should be having on my team to overlook the materials and fabrics that I’m interested in working with. Can this material I want to use work for the idea that I want to execute?
WWD: After your collection of repurposed uniforms for the New York City Department of Sanitation, do you want sustainability to be a hallmark of your brand?
H.P.: Absolutely. When I kicked off the collection I started to learn that, one of my biggest sales drivers were T-shirts and hoodies. Which means cotton, and cotton is a very thirsty plant. I’ve reached a point where I can finally transition into using certified organic cotton, so I’m proud about that. I also kicked off a program called Heron Preston Redesign which aims to give forgotten materials a second life.
For the new collection, there are pieces made from parachutes. I love upcycling, I love taking materials from their original state and turning them into something that feels new. I took a bunch of parachutes, deconstructed them and created a collection out of them.
The challenge when working with upcycling is being able to scale up.
WWD: Is the circular economy the future of fashion?
H.P.: Yes. I think it’s going to be the standard way of working, partly because it opens us up to innovation but also, look at the state of the world. People are slowly starting to wake up and I want to be at the forefront of that.
WWD: Have you been looking at working with lab-grown materials?
H.P.: Yes, the same time I became aware of lab-grown leathers and leathers grown from mushrooms, I was also entertaining the idea of getting involved in lab-grown diamonds, which are becoming a thing as well. I think lab-grown materials are the future; looking at science technology to push fashion forward I think is the next phase of fashion design.
WWD: How do DJing and your other personal interests feed into your craft?
H.P.: It all feeds off each other. Fashion without music, fashion without a party, fashion without art and architecture is just meaningless. The more I involve myself in these different areas, the more I can add meaning to my collections.
I started playing music before I started designing clothes. I started DJing in my bedroom. Music was a huge influence on my life, and it still is today. I travel the world DJing.
Bringing people together, the communities that are built around these parties and music, this universal language, is super important and I would hate to lose that.
Ideas come from bringing music together, the conversations that we have is a huge part of the process. Challenging each other’s ideas.
You look at moments like Coachella or Art Basel or fashion weeks, all the parties and music that comes along with them. That is the heartbeat of culture.
WWD: What can we expect next from your NASA collaboration?
H.P.: In the showroom we’ll be presenting a full outerwear and accessories collection, including dog accessories like collars and leashes.
WWD: Would you be interested in working for one of the heritage houses?
H.P.: I would definitely entertain the idea. If you want a brand name, Prada would be that house. You’ve got to put it out there.