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Let's talk MSCHF with Creative Director Lukas Bentel

Tue 20 Feb 24
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Everyone has heard of MSCHF by now- maybe you were one of the poor souls buying their bad advice on twitter; or you picked up on the more recent hype surrounding fashion releases like the Big Red Boots or Global Supply Chain Telephone handbag.

MSCHF have gained notoriety for pushing the boundaries of creative expression (not to mention copyright laws) and capturing the hearts of Gen Zers with their witty projects.

 

 

So, what’s all the fuss about? Perhaps it’s their irreverent sense of humour and ability to harness trends that make their designs go viral.

The young team behind the art collective know how to connect with their generation, but I know for sure they are in it for more than the clout. 

That’s because I had the pleasure of chatting with creative director Lukas Bentel, to get the insider perspective on what MSCHF is all about.

 

Giorgia Pearce: So, tell me, how did MSCHF come about?

Lukas Bentel: When MSCHF started there were five of us. The other creative director and I met at art school. We had a little art group before MSCHF and then we met the other half of MSCHF. 

They're much more on the real-world business side than us. But I think that mashing of creative and business is incredibly necessary. There are now 30 people in the collective.

 

GP: You’ve become well-known in the fashion space, but would you say MSCHF is a fashion brand?

LB: We're definitely more of an art collective than a fashion brand, but I do think fashion at the moment is the most relevant medium art wise. I feel like it just has the most spread.

 

GP: Do you have an art background?

LB: Yeah, I went to art school. I meant to study art, but my degree is actually in Furniture Design. The sculpture department wasn’t really teaching me how to make anything, while you can make really great stuff in the product and industrial design departments and still make art in those spaces. And that’s something I really wanted to do.

 

 

GP: So, you wanted to do art in a different way.

LB: The practices of art making for a gallery space are very limited. You can't make things that spread outside that space that easily, whereas if you're making products and things like that, it can be much easier to get people to engage with it that are not from that space.

I think also in the fashion space as well, whatever you're making can get shot out into the world. Yeah, so there's always that real world aspect to the practice.

 

GP: How do you go about creating something new?

LB: It's hard to make new stuff. I think we have so much visual culture that has existed in the world. Today we have all of this information available to us all at the same time.

I feel like all anybody is really doing is sampling all these different sources and borrowing. So, it is very hard to make a new aesthetic leap without jumping off from a reference point.

 

GP: Many of MSCHF’s releases look similar to existing products, but with a twist.

LB: 100%, but that's very deliberate. It's a very good tool to get people to engage, because  you can take something people understand and mash it up with something that they would never expect.

Then you get this interesting mixture of people recognizing the object but also not, and I think that confusion leads to a lot of interest at times.

 

GP: You started out with mostly online products and services. What made you branch out into sneakers in the last few years?

LB: That's 100% the consequence of the time and the space that we started out in. When we started, we said we would have two rules.

The first was that every two weeks we would put something out no matter what, even if it sucked. And the second was we'd never do the same medium, or object category, twice. Both rules we've failed on maintaining, but they were really good to start with.

The first shoe we made was an Air Max 97 where we filled the air bubble with holy water imported from the river Jordan and we called it the Jesus shoe. We priced them at $1,425 because the Bible verse Matthew 1425 is the one where Jesus walked on water.

What we were trying to do was simulate a completely unimaginable collaboration between the Catholic Church and Nike. In my mind it was a speculative art object. So, we priced it like an art object.

It wasn't meant to be a shoe in the sneaker space, but for whatever reason, the sneakerheads really liked it. In some sense, we were kind of making fun of them. But yeah, they liked it and there was so much resale and hype around them. People were reselling them for like eight to ten thousand dollars.

It wasn't our plan to be in that space. It just happened that the ‘Jesus Shoe’ went very well in there and then all of a sudden, we had an audience.

 

 

GP: How many pairs of the Jesus sneaker did you initially make?

LB: Well, let's see, we only made 12 at first for the 12 disciples, which is just a little bit of a joke, my way of loading all of my Catholic school upbringing into one object.

But there wasn’t a limit on our website and in around two minutes there were like 100,000 people on the website that were trying to buy the shoe. Obviously, we can't make that many, so we made a larger number in the hundreds range.

 

GP: Imagine if you could get the pope to wear them.

LB: There were definitely some pastors that wore them. But as soon we did the Satan version of the shoe everybody was much less happy about it.

 

GP: What about the BWD shoe? Do people wear it or is it more of a collector's item?

LP: I've worn them out quite a bit actually. If I want to go grab something at the bodega across the street, I'll just throw them on and wear them outside. They're totally 100% wearable, functional. We didn't make that many of the backward shoes though. 

It was a very funny factory process too, because we showed it to the factory and with the first sample we got back, the shoe was the right way around. They corrected it. They must have thought we were complete idiots.

 

GP: Do you have a favourite project?

LB: Yeah, we did this one project called Keys4All, with a PT cruiser. It's sort of iconic, in the States at least, for being a really hated car for how it looks.

We got this PT cruiser, and we retrofitted it to work with 5,000 different key fobs, and then we sold all the keys to people. We just put them up on our website.

Then we parked the car two blocks away from our studio, and if you bought a key, you had access to the GPS location of the car at all times so you could go up to the car and open it and drive it.

So, it was this giant game of people stealing the car from each other and we were amazed. Especially in New York I just would have expected it to be stolen and stripped for parts very quickly, but it ended up lasting for about nine months and made it all the way from New York to California.

Some people were very much trying to break the car, crash it or take things from it, but then other people were raising money to put it in mechanic shops and keep it on the road.

It ended up being this utopian example of a communally shared object. I thought that was one of the most exciting things we've done. The engine unfortunately died, but we have the car in our studio right now.  

 

 

GP: It sounds like you have a lot of fun at work.

LP: It's never boring day, that's all I can say. I think we've been able to realize some of the projects that we've always wanted to.

So that's great, and the other part of it is just trying to figure out the best vehicle to always have as much creative freedom as possible. Sometimes that means you have to make things that do make money, especially when you have a big team.

 

GP: You do so many different projects. What is the thread that connects them all?

LB: I think there is a general humour and sensibility that this whole group here at MSCHF has and embodies within the projects.

We always say that a project has to slap in one sentence, like it has to be really coherent, understandable, simplified. But at the same time, there has to be enough conceptual heft behind the project for it to be worth doing.

The Big Red Boot, for example, is a very simple, humorous thing. But we've had lots of conversations around it, about the bigger and bigger footwear that people were willing to engage with and why. In this case I think the nostalgia for that cartoon shape helped.

 

 

GP: What do you say to people who question the originality of MSCHF's designs?

LB: I think it's important for designers, especially today, to be able to reference and take imagery from the world around them and fuck with it, and I think that's definitely the mindset that we come out of.

The thing is, from a legal perspective, especially in the US, it's getting harder and harder. I do worry that in the coming years it's going to become much harder to play with all this imagery that these huge businesses and people are putting out, without endangering yourself legally.

You go out into the world and there are all of these companies and brands, images that are just being shoved down our faces all the time, you can't escape it.

If you can't escape it, from that perspective, I feel like as a person existing creatively in this world, you should be able to fuck with all that imagery as much as you want, as it's right there in front of your eyes. It's not like you're looking for it, it's being placed there.

 

A big thank you to Lukas for his time. For more reading, click here.

 

 

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