As Kanye West‘s longtime barber, Ibn Jasper‘s name is rarely mentioned without Ye’s following close behind. Despite this virtually inescapable association however, Ibn is so much more than the man that’s kept Mr. West’s dome tight or etched with designs that range from Keith Haring motifs to speed-boost arrows.
Ibn has always referred to himself as a designer, first and foremost, and we, the HYPEBEAST community, became aware of this when Kanye released his first Louis Vuitton sneaker collaboration in 2009, naming it after his friend, the Jaspers. Then, in 2012, Ibn partnered with West Coast streetwear favorite Diamond Supply Co. to release a namesake skate-sneaker, melding both function and style.
To his friends, family and anyone who’s had the pleasure to speak with Ibn, he’s a walking encyclopedia for all things street, skate, fashion and hip-hop. He’s one of the very few people who’s everywhere every time; he’s in the studio with Kanye and Kid Cudi, in the atelier with Virgil Abloh and Jerry Lorenzo, roaming art shows with Futura and Murakami, and skating bowls with Chad Muska and Sage Elsesser. Why? Because everyone wants to pick his brain, be it for advice or inspiration. And he’s elated to give it.
And now, just like Virgil did a few short years ago, Ibn stepping out from Kanye’s shadow and earning his due recognition as an accomplished designer in his own right. Ibn is about to release his first sneaker collaboration with a major brand, Converse, reworking the Pro Leather, a model that, as you’ll learn, is very near and dear to his heart.
Ahead of Thursday’s drop, HYPEBEAST got the chance to chat a bit with Ibn about this sneaker. Mostly, we talked about the cultural significance of Julius “Dr. J” Erving, and the design principles that steer his work.
What was that first meeting like with Converse?
When they finalized when we were going to have the meeting, I went and did a little research on what I wanted to work with. I decided I wanted to do the Pro Leather Buck.
So when we got to the meeting, I was like, “Man, this is what I want to do.” And then [Design Director] Matt Sleep pulls out the Pro Leather, the new one, out of his bag, like, “Yeah, that’s what we want you to work on.” So we just kind of started off on the same page from day one. At that time, I wasn’t even aware that they were doing the whole, bringing back the Pro Leather, as a real thing. I didn’t even know that. That was just a style of shoe that I was drawn to.
It sounds like that Step Brothers moment, where they discover they’re best friends, in the bedroom?
Exactly. More room for activities [laughs].
What are some of your earliest or fondest memories of Converse? Was it a brand that you were big on?
Yeah. So Converse was really big in skateboarding in the ’80s. I started skating in ‘85, the Bones Brigade era, who were known for wearing the Jordan 1. Then the Santa Cruz team, Natas Kaupas and those guys, they were always wearing Converse. And Rodney Mullen, he used to wear all the Converse basketball shoes.
Then, when H-Street Skateboards’ first video came out, Shackle Me Not, it was basically the Converse skate video. Everybody had on Converse in this video, the ‘86 Cons and the ‘87 Fast Breaks. And to me, the ‘87 Fast Break, that’s my holy grail because of that movie.
So I had some turquoise Chucks that I drew all over, had duct tape and shoe glue all over them, when I was in 6th grade. And then when we moved back to the city from the suburbs, I had some white Pro Leathers, they were all white but the logo had the red underlay. I had the ‘86 Cons. I had the ERXs in white and black, the high-top ones that Don just brought back, I had those.
I’ve got an old picture when I’m 11, 12 years old, in those Dr. Js with the red underlay on the logo. I was born in ‘75, so I remember what the NBA was like before Michael Jordan ever got drafted. So Weapons, that’s what everybody was wearing in the NBA; Converse, it wasn’t Nike. Converse was the biggest shoe in the NBA.
So that was exactly where I wanted to take it next. What did Julius Erving mean to you, coming up in Chicago?
Well, Dr. J means a lot, because since I grew up in the Jordan era, everybody was like, “Be like Mike.” But if you go and look at all of Mike’s interviews from his first couple of years, he wanted to be like Doc. He’d say, “If I ever have the respect that Dr. J has… That’s the goal that I want to have in my career, is to be respected like Dr. J.” He was just always biggin’ up Dr. J.
Even the dunk from the free throw line that Jordan did, if you go and watch all the footage, he’s imitating Dr. J while he’s doing it. He goes up to the line, walks back, measures his steps and all that, the same exact way that Dr. J did it in 1976. So that was a whole homage. And if you look at the footage closely, Dr. J is sitting on the sidelines. When Mike walks back he’s like, “Is it cool?” He’s asking him, like, “Do you see what I’m about to do?” And Doc’s like, “Yeah, go do it.” So that was just something I always looked up to.
And another thing that a lot of people don’t really understand, the kids now: in the Jordan era, it was the way he played, but it was also the interviews after the game, and the way he explained the game was part of his greatness. And that was something that Dr. J had all his career, his intelligence, and the way that he could talk about the game like a professional, and just his style.
So growing up in Chicago on the South Side, with all the players and gangsters, that was one of the first things we noticed. My uncles, my step-dad, older cousins, they all loved Dr. J. And then when Jordan came out, that was like my guy, my generation’s guy. And he was just dunking all over everything, like a kid would.
So why should today’s kids know Dr. J? What makes him important for today’s culture?
What I wanted to bring out in this collaboration was, just that one picture that I used of Dr. J in the all-white outfit, with the glasses, with his fro, walking into the arena. He looks like he had just stepped off the Gucci runway. I bet Alessandro Michele had that picture on the mood board.
And so, just the way the NBA pregame, red carpet, runway thing is now, how you walk into the tunnel with your fit on, that’s something that comes from Dr. J. The free throw line dunk comes from Dr. J. Playing above the rim comes from Dr. J. The whole modern style, the whole modern way of basketball comes from Dr. J, everything about it.
Everything comes from somewhere.
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He had an influence on Jeron Wilson, who’s one of the co-owners of Diamond. He used to wear Pro Suede’s all the time in all of his skate videos. So he’s very influential in skateboarding, very influential in high fashion, very influential in basketball. He invented modern basketball. He invented the high-top Saint Laurent sneaker. And his sneaker was the main shoe that was being worn in the mid ’90s, in skateboarding.
He was also so damn handsome, a sex symbol. He was like the Teddy Pendergrass of basketball.
Absolutely. Go look at his interviews, he’s super articulate, and he can just explain all of this. He was probably the first professional basketball player.
And also coming from the streets, coming from the Rucker, coming from the ABA, which was straight streetball. Because that’s one thing that I’m about: I’m 300%, I’m not 100%. I’m 100% fashion, I’m 100% street and 100% skate. I’m not 33.33 on each, I’m 100% of all these things. Everything that I do, it has to check all three of those boxes. It just can’t be cool in the skate world and not cool in fashion, and not cool on the block.
Everything that I do, I’ve got to be able to go on the block, I’ve got to be able to go to the studio, I’ve got to be able to go to the skate park, and I’ve got to be able to go to the runway in Paris. And all of those people, fashion people who don’t know anything about rap, the streets, or skateboarding, they’ve got to be like, “That’s fresh.” Street dudes that don’t know anything about skateboarding or fashion, they’ve got to be like, “That’s fresh.” And skaters that don’t know anything about rap or fashion, they got to be like, “That’s fresh.”
And Converse checks all three boxes.
I’m 300%, I’m not 100%. I’m 100% fashion, I’m 100% street and 100% skate. I’m not 33.33 on each, I’m 100% of all these things. Everything that I do, it has to check all three of those boxes.
Going back to that photo, did you always have this one photo in mind or were there others?
After we had that meeting, I went right back to that photo. So that photo directs the aesthetic of the shoe, that’s why the shoe is all white and cream, because he had on all-white. But there’s also another photo, which is the photo of him mid air, dunking from the free throw line with the ‘fro. The name of this shoe is called the “Floating Stripe,” for that black stripe that’s on the side, that’s not connected to anything, it’s floating on the lateral side of the shoe. That angle of that stripe is the exact angle of Dr. J’s back arm, in that photo of him dunking from the free throw line in ‘76.
What about some of these other details: the zipper system, the salmon-colored lining?
I wanted to just bring it back to the history and legacy of Converse and Dr. J. The leather lining, I wanted to bring it back to bespoke shoemaking, with cobblers and everything. And to me, anything that’s handmade is a luxury item. So that’s the thing that I do, I make luxury items.
Being a barber, I’m all in on that. My career as a barber is about craftsmanship.I come from a career and a business where, if I cut your hair, and you like it, you give me more money than I charge, you tip. I’m Kanye and Kid Cudi’s barber, the two most influential males on the planet when it comes to men’s style. So that’s what I come from, I come from that. It was just always excellence, the pursuit of excellence, and the highest taste levels.
The way that I redid the logo on the lateral side was inspired by “The Ten” that Virgil did, the concept of deconstruction. I completely changed the structure by adding a toe box, mudguard, and heel counter, because that never existed on that shoe. My footwear specialty is paneling, functional panels. And like I said earlier, it has to check all three boxes. It’s got to be fresh enough that hood dudes like it. It’s got to have design and materials that design and fashion people will like it. And it’s got to have the durability for skaters to like it. That’s when you get those extra suede panels, for that durability.
And then I was looking at the Converse logo on the lateral side. I was like, okay, you’ve got the chevron and perforations right here. Then you’ve got another chevron panel, and then you’ve got the star panel. And I was like, why don’t you take off the star and chevron panels, and just move the stitching of the star next to the perforation to make a minimal, low-key Converse logo. Which would look more high-fashion, and more minimalist.
That makes sense, especially since you have the extra paneling and that black stripe, right?
Exactly. I was adding paneling, so I was like, “let’s take something away since I’m adding something.” That’s a good rule of design: if you’re going to add something, put something in, figure out something to take away.
And then, after we had the first meeting, I was rendering all this stuff up on my Photoshop. To me, the most classic version of a sneaker is a white sneaker with a black stripe and gum sole. So I was like, “Okay, I want to put a black stripe on here.” So I’m moving this stripe around in Photoshop, then I left it in the middle and I was like, “Hm, I kind of like it just floating there, just how it looks like it’s just floating in the middle.” And I’m just like, “Hm, floating stripe? Oh, Dr. J was the first dude to float on a stripe.”
Talk about an “ah ha” moment.
Yeah. If I would have put the stripe somewhere different on the file, I probably wouldn’t have had that epiphany. So that’s one thing I want to let people know. Designers, learn how to do it yourself. If you want to be in it, don’t think, “I know somebody in design, I can get him to design for me.” Learn how to touch that machine yourself. All of my finished designs aren’t exactly what I thought in my head. But when I’m starting to play around with it, it’s like, “Oh, look at how this lines up with this.” Because I’m the one actually doing it.
Tell me a bit about the zipper part, because that’s probably the first thing people look at.
Matt Sleep had on the zipper Chucks at the meeting. It’s also an homage to my Diamond Shoe, with there being snakeskin and a zipper, which was on the back of the first Jasper.
Oh, I got one more thing to say about the inspiration for the shoe. Sage Elsesser was a big inspiration. He has his own Converse. So when his video came out for his One Star CC, it was filmed in 16mm, and he’s got the ‘fro, and he was skating on a basketball court, and I was just like, “Yo, this is like some skate, Dr. J vibes.” I mean you couldn’t really tell what year it was. It looked like the Rucker footage with Dr. J back in the ’60s. So that’s why I decided to put the star on the heel, as an homage to Sage. Because Sage has a star on the back of his shoe.
Since you’re super close with Kanye, Virgil and Don, and all of the Chicago guys, as well as all the West Coast streetwear OGs, like Nick and Bobby, do you still bounce some ideas off the homies? Or are you at a point in your career where you know what works?
I know what I want to do. But yeah, my friends are very inspirational. But the thing is, we all have our own lane. I probably talk to Virgil more about stuff, because Virgil skates. So he knows how to put it all together, where the skate reference matches the fashion reference, matches the hood reference. Don and Ye don’t skate, so they don’t know what was going on in skateboarding at the same time that Jordan was doing this. But Virgil knows that, so I’ll probably bounce stuff off Virgil, mostly.
I’m mostly talking to Virgil anyway, because I’m sending him skate clips and all type of stuff. He was also the person that taught me how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Sometimes I hit him to get pointers on how to use the different tools in the sidebar, and other design techniques.
It’s funny because Ye even had a little talk with me, he was like, “Man, why don’t you be asking me for advice?” I was like, “I don’t have to ask you for advice, because I take advice from you. You’re doing so much stuff, you never know what gems I’m picking up from being around you.” He might be in some meeting saying something and I’m like, “Oh, let me take note of that.”
Plus, with Ye, it’s like, that’s Ye. I’m not going to show him stuff that’s unfinished. I know who I’m showing it to. I’m going to get it all together where I’m happy with it. I’m not going to show him something that’s 65%, where I’m like, “Oh god, they messed up this.” I’m going to wait until it’s up to my standards, and then show it to him. So he can be like, “What about this?” And I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” You know?
What’s next for you, Ibn?
I’m going full crazy on vulcanized shoes, because I want to change the perception of vulcanized shoes — they’re not all beaters. Because to me, skateboarding is as dope as high fashion, it’s as dope as Premo’s beats, it’s as dope as a Nas verse. It’s all the same thing to me, because it’s always been like that my whole life. I’ll put skaters up there with rappers, with designers. It’s all the same excellence to me.
And you can get more creative with vulc shoes because you don’t have to deal with all those molds. It’s just strips of rubber tape. That’s what I did with Stratica, it’s just like, “Yo, why not have every piece of tape a different color? Instead of trying to make it all look white.” And to me, all vulcanized shoes unfinished. I think Straticas are the only ones that are finished, because they have heel and toe bumpers. To me, any vulcanized shoe that does not have a heel bumper, is unfinished, unbalanced.
And with Stratica, I’m bringing in the next 100 years of what a vulcanized shoe is supposed to be. And that’s why I love that I’m doing this with Converse, because they’re the ones that helped invent vulcanized footwear.
The Ibn Jasper x Converse Pro Leather “Floating Stripe” drops Thursday, September 26 for $120 USD at Converse.com and select Converse stockists worldwide.