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Although legitimate influencers are found few and far between, Eric Koston has steadily earned that title throughout his prolific skateboarding career, which has spanned well over a decade now. Aside from capturing titles and winning awards in almost every major competition, the celebrated skater has played a key role in the progress of skateboard footwear and apparel with brands such as eS, Lakai, Chocolate, Fourstar Clothing and Girl Skateboards. Not only has Koston’s influence transcended skateboarding and encompassed all of action sports, but it’s paved the way for a younger generation of skaters, coming up in a culture that has immersed itself into the world of streetwear, art, and photography. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with the Los Angeles native, learning a bit more about his return to Oakley, new product line, and exhibition in Japan alongside iconic skate photographer Atiba Jefferson and popular Japanese photographer Keiichi Nitta.
Interview: L. Ruano
Photography: Keiichi Nitta
An Interview with Eric Koston
Hows it going Eric, busy year?
Yea, an extremely busy year, I’ve been all over the place. I just got home a couple weeks ago but it feels like I’ve been gone for much longer, just out of LA for the most part, since like April. Well, at least that’s what it feels like.
How does it feel to be back on Oakley?
It’s been good, especially with what I’m doing now. Before it was really just your typical sponsorship deal. It’s been awhile, but this time it’s better, things have changed over there (Oakley), especially with the brand and what they want to do with me, but also what I want to do with them as well. Oakley is being really open about what they do, letting me do what I want, more or less. Also, back then it wasn’t like it is now, I wasn’t trying to design bags while giving much more input on product.
Speaking of your product, it looks great man, the bags are really simple yet pack a punch. How much of a hand did you have in the design process?
With these bags, I kind of based them on an existing silhouette, it was really the quickest thing we could do to get the ball rolling. I didn’t want the design to be a totally different aesthetic than what the Oakley customer is used to, so I gave an existing silhouette my own touch while using my ideas, concepts and all that. With the Frogksins too, it was just about taking the wood grain idea that we had and applying it to the sunglasses. It was a bit easier this time around, because once we got that going we focused on what we wanted to do next year.
Was there a particular inspiration behind the design, maybe tying back to skateboarding a bit?
It was just something simple and really cool. Once we sampled it up, it wasn’t initially supposed to feel like wood but once you look into it, it actually feels like a lightweight wood within the texture of the plastic.
Its pretty safe to say your excited about it?
Oakley held a big launch in Japan for this line. How exciting was that?
It was cool, I love going to Japan so I was psyched when we were coming up with ideas about what we would do as far as certain launches for it were concerned. Its just different, I didn’t know if people would accept me, with me being from LA, but they did. It was definitely a place where I wanted to go.
How would you compare Japan’s approach to skateboarding as opposed to back home?
I don’t know, it’s different. In Japan, the people are super into the lifestyle, it’s cool because although that does happen here I don’t know if it’s as intense as it is out there. Its sort of crazy how passionate they (Japanese) get about a particular lifestyle. They (Japanese) are very into it, you know? They’re just really cool, I wouldn’t even know how to describe it, but it’s hard to actually put that into words. They also have magazines about everything, even the smallest of things that they are into, there’s so many different interests, especially with something like skateboarding.
From the outside looking in, it seems like Japan embraces our culture a bit more than ourselves. Do you think its the fashion side of skateboarding or more of the actual aesthetics that draws their attention?
I’ve done skating demos there and they are nuts. Super excited about any little thing. They really just appreciate everything a bit more, especially when you skate. I could just be fucking around with some little shitty trick or me just fucking off, even just having fun or warming up, and they will freak out other those things. It’s really crazy how much they savor every little bit.
Right. It seems like that happens with any high profile athlete visiting the country. For example, someone like Kobe Bryant.
Well, they don’t really get to see a certain person that often. It’s really the only time they ever get to meet a pro or something. Like with Kobe, I’ll run into him at some restaurant or something in LA, but it’s tougher for a person in Japan.
Definitely. So you worked with Keiichi Nitta and Atiba Jefferson for the Oakley launch in Japan, can you tell us about your personal relationship with each one and how they became involved in the project?
Atiba for one thing is a really good friend because of the relationship we’ve built just working together for so long. It’s gone beyond just that, with him, he’s just a really, really close friend of mine. It’s definitely a lot more than just a skateboarder/photographer relationship. He was a part of my wedding, just to give you an idea.
Atiba is really just someone I’ve admired a lot and his work I’ve really trusted throughout my career.
Keiichi was nice, I wasn’t too familiar with him but it was an idea that was thrown at me by Dylan (Oakley), so i was like “Yea, that sounds cool.” I’d never really done any shoots like that or worked with anyone like Keiichi, so it was cool for someone of his background to take portraits of me. Usually it’s really limited with me, I mean how many times can i really pose? It’s just a portrait for a skater you know?
But working with him was cool, it was fun, he had these wild ideas and was trying to get me to do all these things. Keiichi would make me laugh and that would just spawn something else. I really had fun with it, it was nice just hanging out with him those few days that I did and getting the opportunity to work with him. I was just soaking it up the entire time. Hopefully we can work on something else together soon.
Just chatting with Keiichi for a bit, you definitely get the sense that he’s a really cool guy and has tons of unorthodox ideas. The shoot certainly looked like a good time.
Yea, we had fun. At first, I thought it would be strange or awkward, but the eggs were broken fairly quickly. It was a pleasure to work with Keiichi.
It would definitely be interesting to see what he comes up with next time around. So getting back onto the topic of design, what do you feel was your favorite part of the entire process?
Just being able to pick and choose everything I wanted to do. I really like to push things from a technical standpoint but it just doesn’t translate to all items aesthetically. I really like that Oakley tries to push the design process, it’s the same with me, I want to implement performance but at the same time always make sure there’s a purpose for every little detail. That’s mainly why I like working with those guys, they are always trying to come up with different ideas on how to make products better.
Right. Thinking outside the box. How does designing accessories compare to something like sneakers?
Accessories are a bit easier. Shoe design can be tough because it requires serious attention to detail and performance elements. With a bag, you have more freedom because it doesn’t take the wear and tear that shoes would. You’re not going to grind it over and over and over for hours each day. The durability factor is different, you should always have something that’s going to last a long time, so its a bit different but along the same lines.
All about finding that balance…
Yea, especially with eyewear, it’s like 90% aesthetic.
That’s for sure. So, anyone that knows anything about Eric Koston knows you’re in kicks. What are some of your favorites styles?
That’s a hard one, but I’d say the Air Jordan 1. That was one of my favorite shoes back when I started skating and definitely one of the better looking models. Chuck Taylors are also a great shoe, Air Max 95, Air Jordan 11, Air Jordan 3 …another one of my favorites… a lot of Jordans actually. I also like the Nike Air Presto.
Some of your previous sneaker designs were based off certain Jordan elements or professional team colorways. Is that something we can expect from upcoming Oakley projects?
Actually yea, we’ve definitely talked about it. I was thinking about just making some for myself, at least. We’ll take it from there and see how far that goes. I definitely want to make some sweet combinations though. The main problem is that its hard to sell something like that unless you’re a Lakers fan. It’s a love/hate thing with them because no one really likes the Lakers outside of LA… you either love them or completely hate them, at least that’s what I’ve gotten from my travels. It’s definitely a personal thing and doesn’t always translate to an abroad market.
I can see that. I guess it would almost compare to making some Yankee Frogskins…
Further information regarding the Eric Koston Oakley Collection can be found through the Oakley official website while both bags are now available within the online store found here. The sunglasses will become available this month through select retailers in limited quantities, including The Berrics.com, Oakley Harajuku, Commonwealth, Primitive, and In4mation.