MEET NATALIE. MIXED MEDIA MAVEN. SNEAKHER ENTHUSIAST. ARTISTIC MASTERMIND. CREATIVE QUEEN.
The joy I find in curating interviews for our CNKDaily Chick Chat Series is pretty simple. Not only are we identifying the common thread that is woven throughout "SneakHER Culture", but we connect with amazing women. WE LEARN valuable lessons through their personal experiences each time. Every female we highlight has a unique story of their own, which is a testiment to the fact that individuality and authenticity is a superpower.
I am a huge fan of the art world, and strongly believe that we all possess creativity in our own ways. With that being said, when CNK gets the opportunity to vibe with artists in our sneaker community - it's an automatic win. I came across artist Natalie Wong (you may recognize her as @papersneaker) via my daily strolls through the Instagram streets. I easily gravitated to Natalie's art work because it was so conceptually beautiful with each intricate detail. FYI - I was literally in awe of her neon rappers exhibit which took inspiration from the urban art of freestylin'. Her ability to use materials curating a concept that tied art to stories was masterful, and it set her apart.
That's what makes Natalie so dope. She's an explorer and a risk taker which are attributes to her growing success. Aside from being so passionate around her craft, she's unapologetically herself and takes pride in the precision of her creative work.
Kick back and check out our Q&A with Natalie Wong. She dives into her journey as an artist, the fusion between sneakers and art, major brand collabs, and what sneakHER culture means to her.
THE 411 ON NATALIE WONG…
I’m a mixed-media artist based in Hong Kong. I grew up in London and studied law at university and then later worked in finance. In early 2017, I left my job to go full-time creative. Since then, I’ve worked on commercial projects with international brands including NIKE, Jordan Brand, Monster, Victoria’s Secret and KFC. I held my first solo exhibition last February in Hong Kong.
I also get involved in styling and I was one of the fashion buyers for the lead female actresses for the 2018 Warner Brothers film - ‘Crazy Rich Asians’.
My love for sneaker culture really developed when I moved to Hong Kong in 2012. Street culture as a style is very dominant here because so many of my generation studied abroad in the US. On their return, they brought that passion for sneakers and that culture around it back with them. Additionally, proximity to Japan and their unique take on streetwear also added to the evolution of Hong Kong’s own sneaker culture.
THE POWER OF WORDS
When I was 14, we were studying Salvador Dali and the role of perspective in art class. We were tasked with drawing ordinary objects from a low point of view in a room. I drew the shoe I was wearing and I remember my art teacher complimenting me on my work and how it would give students two years above me ‘a run for their money’. I had always sketched casually but it was never something I thought I was particularly good at. I had always been happy with traditional academics, but those few words from my art teacher planted these seeds that changed me fundamentally.
CREATIVITY IS ABOUT CONNECTING…
In terms of creating a seat at the table, I’m not afraid to experiment, put myself and my work out there. I like to be versatile and not be pigeon-holed in terms of medium. Each project I do usually links a core concept to the material I’m using so my work always has a story to tell on multiple levels. Concept is key and getting engagement with your audience is so important, because if art is anything at the end of the day, it’s my non-verbal communication to you about an idea I have or a statement I would like to express. I think it is my ability to align concepts with everyday materials that has provided me the opportunities to work with major international brands and to be featured on big name platforms like GQ, Esquire, Hypebeast and Highsnobiety.
It was an honour when Seth Epstein, an Emmy-award winning director, interviewed me and filmed my ‘100 Paper Sneakers’ artwork for a 90-minute documentary called ‘Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1’. The documentary features global icons such as Spike Lee, Michael B Jordan, Tinker Hatfield, Mark Wahlberg, DJ Khaled and Michael Jordan himself. The documentary premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival in New York and it is now officially streaming on HULU.
THE BIRTH OF 100 PAPER SNEAKERS.
A few years ago, I noticed that a lot of people were buying sneakers but not wearing them, they were collecting them like art. I made the observation that sneaker culture was turning the sneaker into an art form. If that was the case, wouldn’t it be interesting to make art based on the idea of ‘sneaker collecting’? So, I began exploring this idea through my art.
The artwork consists of 100 individual sneaker sculptures made from thickly textured paper and card. Each sculpture is a re-interpretation of NIKE's Air Jordan 1, the sneaker that many believe launched sneaker culture in the mid 1980s. Each sculpture is made from 23 individual parts. A technical feature specifically designed to pay homage to the number Jordan wore during his time with the Chicago Bulls.
The sneaker represents one of the most complex contemporary clothing items known today. Shoes function as metonyms for individuality and as markers of identity both by choice and unconscious coercion. Today, people buy the meaning of an object rather than the object itself. What we choose to wear is a non-verbal communication to society about how we want to be perceived by the people around us.
WORKING WITH A SWOOSH + A GOAT…
After the video of ‘100 Paper Sneakers’ got picked up on multiple platforms, my work caught the attention of the NIKE team. In September 2017, LeBron James was touring Asia and NIKE asked me and two other local artists (Graphic Airlines) to create a sculpture using LeBron’s ‘Soldier Sneakers’. I came up with the idea to make a ‘Soldier’ from soldiers.
I had seen sculptures made using sneakers before but they were usually constructed using very large segments of the sneaker. I wanted to take the deconstruction method one step further and strip the sneaker down to its core elements. Wrapping the strips of sneaker fabric into different-sized balls would provide us with building blocks to build the sculpture. By using hundreds of spherical objects in the sculpture’s construction, it also had that immediate and obvious connection to the shape of a basketball.
We also created a space in the heart of sculpture allowing LeBron to complete it by placing a basketball at its center. Using over 50 pairs of sneakers, the sculpture is over 2 meters tall and is currently displayed at NIKE headquarters in Hong Kong.
SNEAKERS + ART = TWO WORLDS COLLIDING PERFECTLY
There are the obvious connections - the artist homages and collaborations. Like Jeremy Scott x adidas adicolour “Keith Haring”, Chris Lundy x NIKE Dunk Low and KAWS x Vans “The Simpsons” - to name a few.
Sneaker culture and graffiti art are like members of the same street culture family. They both have ideas of self-expression and counter-culture attitudes as core concepts. Although now due to global popularity and social media, both are quite mainstream.
My personal take is that at its most basic, a sneaker fan loves a sneaker because of its inherent design. They like a silhouette, colour combination, textures and shapes. Similarly, these are also parameters by which an art fan would judge whether or not they liked a sculpture or a painting.
RULE #1 - KEEP YOUR KICKS CLEAN
If I’m in the process of creating work, things can get messy so I’ll opt for an older pair of sneakers that are super comfortable and that I don’t mind getting dirty or stained. If I’m shooting videos or campaigns, I’ll wear something that makes me feel confident and compliment the feel or direction of the story we’re trying to tell. NIKE gave me these awesome Air Jordan 11s in gym red a while back and I wore them when I filmed my ‘Neon Rap Portraits’ video.
NATALIE’S SNEAKER ROTATION IN 3…2…1
Custom NIKE Air Force 1s, Adidas Falcon W and NIKE AJ1s.
SHOP SIMILAR SNEAKERS BELOW
ADVICE FOR THE SHAWTIES
You must learn to develop thick skin very quickly. Some big brands are great to work with but at the end of the day they are a business so hold your ground and don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Be prepared for unstable income streams and it’s totally ok to have a part-time job to support a creative career, especially in the beginning. Most importantly, have fun and don’t worry too much!
WHAT DOES SNEAKHER CULTURE MEAN TO YOU?
Being brave and having the courage to develop you own path while still empowering other women around you. And if you get to wear your favourite kicks doing this, then that’s pretty awesome too.
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