ENtertainment: Andre 3000 goes from Outkast to "insoles"
At 42 years old and with a sterling reputation as one of rap's most gifted geniuses, André 3000 can do what he likes. Today, he’s a model. On this overcast mid-June afternoon, André is in the back of the studio working with a tailor on getting a custom, black-and-mustard jumpsuit made of Malian mudcloth just right, as songs from Black Star and Kendrick Lamar play in the background. A photographer, a female model, and several assistants pace around looking antsy—the shoot is running late. But André doesn’t seem like the type to be rushed or stressed. Wearing a black skully fringed by a sprinkling of gray hairs and a blue hoodie cut off at the midriff to reveal an orange T-shirt, he glides over to a nearby sofa, sits down, and smiles. Post Malone’s “Congratulations” is blasting over the speakers; André looks right at home, and is getting nostalgic.
“In Atlanta, there was the prep movement—the look was golf clothes, tennis clothes, Ralph [Lauren]. You had prep crews that would fight, kind of like a 1950s car gang,” says André, sitting in an airy Manhattan photo studio overlooking the Hudson River. “You’d have one high school over here with their crew, then you had another school with their crew. One was called the Stray Cats—Cee-Lo was in the Stray Cats. Their uniform was very high hair dyed bleach-blonde, plaid Ralph Lauren pants, Polo shirts, and tennis racquets. You would wear tennis racquets to school—not to play tennis, but to fight. Your tennis racquet was like a weapon.”
André isn’t taking this trip down memory lane to ‘80s Atlanta for a comeback album—not the Outkast reunion album with Big Boi that everyone relentlessly asks him about, nor the solo album there's rampant speculation about, fueled by his sporadic, standout guest verses (which in recent years have blessed releases from Frank Ocean, Travis Scott, and Erykah Badu, the mother of his son Seven). André Benjamin has a new creative outlet, one that ties directly back to his style memories from growing up in Atlanta: sneaker design.
In February, footwear brand Tretorn announced that André 3000 would be its Creative Director: his immediate duties include being the face of their Fall 2017 campaign, designing his own 2018 capsule collection with help from streetwear icon Jeff Staple, and leading the the 50th anniversary celebration of Tretorn’s most iconic shoe, the Nylite. The shoe's birthday will feature 50 different artists, including André and Staple, customizing their own pairs and unveiling them at ComplexCon in November. Overall, according to Staple, André will be “sprinkling his magic dust” across everything the brand does.
The connection between a legendary Atlanta rapper and a Swedish sneaker brand founded in 1891 that hasn’t been “in” for decades isn’t as tenuous as one might think. Popularized by the likes of tennis great Bjorn Borg, Jackie O, Farrah Fawcett, and Billy Joel, Tretorn’s Nylite tennis low-top was a staple of 1970s and 1980s WASP-y prepdom. They were the go-to shoe for Black preps in Atlanta too, André says (he usually would wear his with Guess overalls)—but they put their own twist on the shoes. “What the kids would do is take white Nytlites and buy dye from the grocery store, and you’d dip-dye your shoes so you would have your own colors,” he remembers. “You’d have green Tretorns, you’d have orange Tretorns; Tretorn wasn’t even making these colors yet. It was a whole big dyeing thing. When I first met Big Boi, I dyed some pants for us; I think I dyed my pants orange and I dyed his turquoise.”
But André wasn’t just wearing and dyeing Tretorns—a lifelong avid sketcher with a vivid imagination, he was designing them, in his head, from an early age. “I’ve been drawing and sketching since I was a little kid. When I was small I would draw in class—sketch shoes, naked women, cars, all this type of stuff. I have pictures of me sketching Tretorns.