Gilt MANual links with the multifaceted Andy Spade in an interesting interview that highlights parts of Spade’s past. Prior to moving out East and settling in New York, Spade recounts his experience skateboarding and his childhood which ultimately helped fuel his ability to work creatively. The vision of Spade is something that has been applicable through various realms ranging from brands to creative direction, movies and advertising. A few questions and answers are seen below while the full brunt of the interview is available here.
Deciding what you like (and what you don’t) is really fundamental to identity, but maybe more so for you who make a business of your taste. Can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of your sense of style, when you felt it coming together in you?
I don’t know exactly how it came together. I grew up in Michigan. My father was in advertising. My mother was and is a writer. I grew up around interesting things as a kid. My father loved taking me to traditional men’s clothing stores. I worked in a traditional men’s clothing store in college, kinda worked my way through college doing that, so I had an appreciation for men’s clothes which actually started before that, when I was skateboarding.
I’m kinda fascinated by the way skating has been such a gateway or feeding ground for artists.
It’s true. I was a skateboarder and I always wanted to get the best, latest Vans combination you could get. I was always ordering two-tone or 6-tone Vans through Skateboarder magazine. I found my own voice through skateboarding because my school was full of golfers and football players. I kinda existed between the freaks and jocks, got along with both but didn’t fit in to either. I looked up to the older guys who were surfers and skaters and would go to California and spend summers on the beach in San Diego. This was the Dogtown years, from ’75 to ’80, and they just started the polyurethane wheels, and I really found a connection to it. Skateboarding is a really creative outlet. People make up names for moves that they made. We were always thinking of different things we could do to our boards—how we could paint them or use different stickers. We were customizing a lot of things at the time. I started making my own monogram shirts in college, with other people’s monograms on them, kinda subverting the things I grew up with, with a sense of humor. I didn’t want to be one of the guys in the blue blazer and customized shirt, but I appreciated it, so I started playing with it. All my brothers and I got the silver belt buckles with our initials on it like our dad had, and I put 666 on it. Then I started putting other things on sterling. I liked playing with these traditional things and turning it upside down, kind of having fun with it. Also really appreciating it. Then I took a class in college, an advertising class and one of the challenges was to come up with a way of communicating that one vacuum cleaner does more work than another vacuum cleaner. It was problem solving, using my love of language, and visually, which I learned looking at Interview Magazine late in high school.
It’s interesting that the creative stalwarts of the ‘90s, who also grew up skating (and in fact, started off making skate videos), all kind of pooled in the commercial houses where you were at the time. You’ve worked with a lot of those guys, including your friend Mike Mills.
It all came together when video came out. I was earlier than them but I was following all of that. My era, I remember following Jay Adams and when Alva starting doing ads it was completely different than any other advertising in Skateboarding Magazine. It was just him standing there with his Alva board in an empty pool basically telling the world to go fuck itself. He obviously didn’t care about anything. And I was so impressed with them I would tear them out and put them on my wall like some girl with a fashion magazine. After college I got a job in advertising and there was a lot of overlap happening then. I loved Mike’s work. Jay was really interested in art and architecture. It was just a lot of people who loved what they did. There were a lot of really talented people around and I was learning a lot about these different worlds and incorporating them into the work I was doing—which was what I loved, finding creative solutions to business problems.
Was your move to New York right around that time difficult for you?
I told my dad I was moving and I said nobody is going to know these references. And my dad said, “That’s where you’re going to have the advantage. You’re from the West and you’ll have this whole different point of view to bring to your clients.” I went to high school in the desert in a place called Casa Grande with cactuses and shotguns and skateboards. He said, “You’ll probably come up with really interesting, creative solutions.” I thought, wow, that’s good. It was really a lot of fun. I was working at Chiat Day. We were working with Tim Walker very early on. Larry Sultan was one of our collaborators. Mike Mills, early on. We did a film with Mike, Paperboys, in 1998, which was one of the first brand films ever done. You had a whole feature film with your brand in it without making it a commercial. And in New York you’ve got Glenn O’Brien and all these interesting people doing all these incredible things. Glenn was writing poetry and creative directing ad campaigns for Calvin Klein and he was curating shows. I thought, wow, you can’t do that in Arizona but you can do that in New York. You’re all squished in here. It’s like orange juice concentrated. In LA they’ve already put the water in. Here you’re always bumping into these people—a banker whose side project is more interesting than anything I’ve ever thought of. It’s just amazing to be here.
With all that around how do you balance inspiration and output?
My mind definitely bounces around. I can’t focus for too long anyway, it’s just not a choice. They key is to just look around for some things that are interesting and new, even if it’s just sitting in a bookstore for hours, or observing things on the street. I have been working on this book project of pictures taken on my iPhone. I think I’ve produced 15 in the last year just shooting things I see. The last one is called The Benefits of Looking Up, which is all the cottage cheese and hula hoops and balloons and plastic bags I saw on the street. Once I come up with a concept it’s about selective perception: you’re just looking for it everywhere. Until I exhaust myself and then I’ll see if something else inspires me, then I see what I can make out of it. Can I make a book out of it, a film out of it? If it doesn’t work for a client maybe I’ll just make it for myself. I think just walking around… I would say the museums but they’re just exhaustive. You can’t see everything in this city. Even if you dedicate your whole life just to getting inspiration you would miss out on half the things going on. It drives me crazy. There’s no way to keep up with it.