Getty Images

The Heron Preston Filter: A Conversation With Every Hypebeast’s Favorite Bootleg Designer

A Q&A with the artist/DJ/creative and frequent Kanye West collaborator about his HPC Trading Co. store, the Instagram black market, and blowing up the fashion calendar. Oh, and his obsession with cranes.

Whether or not you know who Heron Preston is, his influence is likely all over your wardrobe. He's a hypebeast icon, known for his work with Virgil Abloh and Matthew Williams on Been Trill, or for his Givenchy and Nascar bootlegs, or as part of Kanye West's creative bullpen. But Preston is elusive. He floats between the style, fashion, and streetwear worlds, but few know much about him or even how to cop his work. Much of that has been by design; selling bootleg shirts isn’t quite within the letter of the law, as he explains to me over the phone in a rare interview following the launch of his HPC Trading Co. website and store. It won’t change how often we all hear from Heron, but at least it’ll solve for the problem of not being able to buy his art.

The full interview, below, has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations on launching HPC Trading Co.! Can you explain the concept of it to me?

Heron Preston: Thanks! I’ve always made stuff in the past -- from tees to other various objects -- but I’ve never really had a place to sell them. I never really considered myself a clothing company or a brand that seeks, like, wholesale accounts or retail accounts and sells that way. I’ve always just wanted to control everything myself.

It’s always been super limited runs where there weren’t necessarily a lot of items you could buy. [Until now,] I’ve always sold through Instagram or through Twitter or DM-ing people and getting credit card information that way. A lot of the stuff I do, or stuff I’ve done in the past, is—

Just, like, one-off things?

Preston: Well, that, and it’s been, like, illegal. [Laughs.] With the Nascar bootleg, I didn’t get permission to use the 15 to 20 logos that were on that t-shirt. There were logos from all these corporations like Home Depot and Budweiser and M&Ms, Coca-Cola … I didn’t get the rights to do that, so I didn’t really want to sell in a way that could be traceable. I knew that if I didn’t have any links online where people could search or if I didn’t list prices anywhere visible to the public, I would be safe.

Courtesy of HPC Trading Co.

So, I would always just announce these projects on my Instagram and kind of allude to the fact that I was selling them but wouldn’t say “for sale.” I would just make shit that was really cool that people would want, and they would ask me to buy it. Then, I would conduct transactions privately through direct messaging, and as you can maybe imagine, that is such a fucking crazy-long process.

That's some deep web type of shit.

Preston: Yeah, exactly. And there’s no infrastructure on Instagram to sell stuff, so I had to do it all manually. You know, write down emails and stuff. It was just too crazy. It was fun -- I got my shit out and people really loved the product, but I was like, "Next time I do something like this, I need to have a legit store where people can just shop. I can offer more. I can handle more. Let’s just try that out."

Tom Sachs is a huge inspiration of mine, and he’s got a store on his website. He’s not a designer or anything, he’s just selling ideas, and sometimes it might just be one or two or three things that he made. I really thought that I needed something like that because I would get comments online like, “Hey, where’s the turtleneck? Where can I buy this?” and I felt bad posting the product and hyping it so much and creating this demand but not having a way to sell it or sometimes not having product to sell at all. Like, I had no plans for redesigning these turtlenecks that I did with SHOWstudio in London, which was a special collaboration, but after Kanye wore it, the turtlenecks really blew up. I just noticed all this demand online asking for the product, so that’s when I decided to start my own store.

Hannah Sider / Courtesy of HPC Trading Co.

Got it. So now you're giving the people what they want.

Preston: Yeah. I wanted the store to be a special place. I really wanted it to be a unique expression of Heron Preston, and that’s when I started thinking about not following a season, keeping people on their toes and playing into this whole idea of discovery. So, doing limited-edition runs and also not having a schedule. In fashion, there are seasons, and people kind of know when shit’s gonna be dropping because there’s this whole calendar. But with Heron Preston, there’s no calendar. There are no seasons. Items just appear at random.

I think that's smart. To me, the idea of seasons is quickly becoming a really tired way of approaching fashion. It worked for how we used to consume culture a long time ago, but now, there’s new shit available to you every second of every day, and this store, with the random drops, really speaks to how people consume culture today. You see something you like and then you want to be able to find it immediately.

Preston: Exactly. That’s the way I shop, as well. This store is kind of built for me and for what I would want to see in a store and what I would want to be a part of. The way I create is, when I get an idea, I make it immediately, and then I want to sell it. Sometimes I won’t get an idea for a couple months, and that’s OK, because it’s my store and I can do whatever I want.

In this day and age, there are so many brands, so many marketing messages and people selling shit to you all the time. There’s so much going on. I was like, “Let me try and go the opposite direction and just make really awesome things and not sell as often.”

That's a way people consume other kinds of art that isn’t necessarily applied to fashion. Fashion and clothes and retail are so regimented in that way, but it's a creative process, too. I feel like that’s how a lot of designers get wiped out, trying to put out full collections every season and half-season.

Preston: Exactly. With this, I just create whenever I’m inspired. I also want to use this platform that I’ve built to collaborate with friends, designers, artists, people that I discover that inspire me, and I want to share that with the rest of the world. I have a buddy, Virgil [Abloh], who does Off-White. He’s got his whole program, but I want to do more limited ideas with him.

I want to really create something special here. I want to create something no one’s really seen before or done before and really challenge myself to think outside the box and just do cool shit. This is a platform to experiment. I have no pressure. I have no one breathing down my back. I have no retailers yelling at me or anything like that. Honestly, this is a place to just have fun. Like, those porno dartboards that I’m selling. I’m looking at one right now, and, you know, I’ve never seen shit like this.

Courtesy of HPC Trading Co.

So, what are these aesthetics that you’re really into playing with right now? For as experimental as it is, there's still definitely a unified feel to the items in the store.

Preston: I’ve been inspired by service workers: construction workers, police officers, blue-collar workers, security guards. That’s kind of where this whole vibe of these turtlenecks and the orange comes from.

I’m so glad that you brought that up, because that’s sort of what I was alluding to. There’s a kind of repurposing of Middle America, blue-collar, even hunting aesthetic that is very strong here.

Preston: I’m really into utility, masculinity, tough men who do tough jobs. I love that style. I originally wanted to cast construction workers for my shoot, though what you actually see was a last-minute roundup of friends because I kind of ran out of time. Casting for construction workers, if you can imagine, isn’t a normal thing. You can’t really hit up an agency and go, “Yo, I want construction workers.” [Laughs.] That’s gonna take some time, and just me looking for some construction workers ... You have to scour the city! On top of that, this was, like, the middle of January. It was snowing, cold as fuck, so I didn’t really get to fulfill that dream.

But I wanted dudes with, like, dirty fucking shoes, dirty jeans; I wanted real people. I don’t want to follow this whole idea of what beauty is. I want to work with real New Yorkers, so street casting is something I’m really into, too.

Courtesy of HPC Trading Co.

I think the items in the store make up a super authentic snapshot of your brain and the shit that you find interesting. What’s the inspiration for that NYPD Show of Force paperweight?

Preston: Me being into construction, I look at the streets all the time and objects that I find in the streets, so I’ve been taking a lot of photos of construction cranes and parking barriers. To me, those are sculptures in the street. I just became fascinated by them, nerding out on cranes, like, "Oh my god, a crane!" And my girlfriend’s like, "Oh my god, what are you doing taking a photo of this crane?"

I think what set off my fascination with these concrete blocks was this artist Caramel Bobby in L.A. He Instagrammed one of the NYPD blocks and was like, “Man, I need one of these in my house,” and I thought that would be dope to actually have in a house like a table or something.

Those weigh a ton or something -- they’re solid rock -- but they can be placed anywhere because they’re [property of] the NYPD. I think I even saw some of them stacked up on each other, and that felt like a show of force: "Hey, we’re here. We’re present." I wanted to make miniature ones as paperweights. I worked with this construction worker I found on Craigslist, and he helped me make a bunch of these bricks which I then spray-painted.

You’ve been described as the Dapper Dan for the Instagram generation, and I feel like the sneakers that are a part of this offering are a good representation of that idea and your interest in bootlegs. You have the Gucci print textile on Forces but in the shape of the Bape star. Were these all conscious references you were making, or were there even more references I’m not seeing?

Preston: There was actually no Dapper Dan referencing going on. Yea, I’m super into bootlegs, but with these shoes, I didn’t communicate them as bootlegs because I don’t want to raise any red flags with A Bathing Ape, which is the company it's bootlegging. I didn’t bootleg Gucci, and I didn’t bootleg Nike. It was really just putting all these elements together and turning it into a bootleg piece.

Courtesy of HPC Trading Co.

I’ve lived in Chinatown in New York for like five years, and I just became fascinated with that whole bootlegging culture because I would just walk around the streets and see all these bootlegs. With the Street Sweepers, I originally just wanted to make a pair of Gucci Air Force 1's, which was a shoe of the streets back in like early 2000s -- circa 2001, late ‘90s, if I can remember correctly.

I was a sneakerhead back home in California, and these Louis and Gucci Air Force 1's would pop up on NikeTalk and eBay. And I would come to New York to visit as a tourist, and I would see these Gucci and Louis Air Force 1's here, too. I just wanted to make a pair for myself, but in proper Heron fashion, I felt I had to challenge the original idea and step it up a bit. So, I was like, “What if I changed the Nike swoosh into a Bapesta star?" I had never owned a pair of Bathing Apes, so this is kind of like my first pair.

It’s a combination of a lot of things that were cool in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but all in one new shoe, reinvented for today.

Preston: Exactly. There’s really nothing new about making Gucci Air Force 1's, but there is something completely new about putting a whole brand-new logo on the shoe. Like you said, it made it relevant for now. To me, it’s almost like a competitor collaborating with a competitor, which never, ever happens. You’d never, ever see an authentic, real version of this. It’s an idea that will never happen in real life, so I was like, "Man, this would be so funny."

Like a fantasy collab!

Preston: Yeah, like a fantasy collab! I even saw a kid on Instagram put a Chanel logo over the Nike swoosh. I love those ideas. When I made the Givenchy t-shirt, my one friend told me this and I’ll never forget it, he was like, “Man, just continue to give us stuff that we’re not supposed to have.” That is, like, my defining strategy. And just to help people dream. I only made 10 pairs of this shoe; I’m not trying to bank on selling a lot of these. I’m really just trying to bank on inspiring people.

Courtesy of HPC Trading Co.

So, where do you think HPC Trading Co. will go next? I know you have a thing for NASA.

Preston: Oh yeah, I was actually applying to be a part of this, like, NASA...

Space camp?

Preston: [Laughs.] No, not space camp! My friend sent me this link yesterday and was like, “You should apply to go to this NASA social media behind-the-scenes thing. They’re inviting, like, 10 to 20 social media people to check out one of their secretive facilities.”

Whoa. Hell yeah. Are you going to do it?

Preston: [Laughs.] I’m not sure I have enough followers for that, but yeah, I’m super fascinated by NASA and space technology. You know, astronauts aren’t wearing what we wear on the streets. They wear super innovative textiles and fabrics and apparel that has to be designed in a way to combat the elements in space, from the severe temperatures to gravity and your muscles reacting to the new environment and all this crazy shit. I'm always like, "Man, what are they wearing? What’s in their shoes? What’s the lining in their jackets?" So, yeah, maybe some NASA collaboration!

I’m also into working with cities. Matthew Barney is one of my most favorite artists, and he did a performance in Detroit a couple of years ago. He worked with the city of Detroit to take over the entire city, and when I say "take over the entire city," I mean he had performances in, like, old steel mills and on this barge that went down a river and he had another performance at the major museum there, the Detroit Institute of Art. He had the police involved; the police gave a speech! And he had all these official members of the city involved. It was this super large-scale, whole daylong performance, and I got super inspired by that. So, I want to do large-scale projects with New York City.

I think with all the things that you’re inspired by, it really lends itself to that, to being inspired by the things you see walking down the street and the people of New York who work here.

Preston: I also want to work with USPS! I want to redesign their uniforms. I mean, I had kids wearing Home Depot logos on their back. You think if Home Depot tried to sell some t-shirts, they would be hot on the streets? No way! But if you take it out of its context and do it through a cooler filter, through a Heron Preston filter, then it could be hot.

I feel like if I made a uniform for the USPS, which is what all cool kids use to ship their fucking eBay sneakers and stuff -- we use USPS every single day, but for some reason it’s not, like, a really cool thing. I would love to redesign their uniforms. Or maybe it’s like a commemorative thing. You know how they do special stamps? Of famous people who’ve died? You know, they have, like, an Elvis stamp, an MLK stamp. They do cultural stuff. They tie their brand to culture.

Yeah, and I think, to circle back, I find that there is this nostalgia for a time before the Internet that we often ladder into what we deem “real” and “authentic." What does “authentic” mean to you?

Preston: I guess it’s like whatever you have a personal connection to in your life. Tom Sachs gave a speech once about authenticity, and he said when he graduated college, he wanted to buy this, like, super famous painting by this artist, but he couldn’t afford it at the time. He was a starving college kid, no money in the bank account, so he made his own replica. To him, that was super authentic. That was an authentic piece of artwork because it made sense for him and his means. He couldn’t afford the real masterpiece, but he could afford a look-alike he made for himself, and that was authentic to him.

I think whatever you have a personal connection to, whatever makes sense for who you are and what you can afford or what you can do at the time or what the story is and how it connects to your life -- that’s authentic to me. I’ve got a lot of ideas and so do my friends. We sit around and joke about making stuff, but we never really did it because we never really had the means or a place to sell it. Now we do.