As an artist, skater and beyond prolific designer, Michael Leon has been one of the industry’s driving forces in groundbreaking imagery for over two decades.
Michael’s art direction has shined at brands like Rasa Libre, Girl, Stussy, Quiksilver, Element, Nike SB and most notably, the brand he co-owns with Reese Forbes, Stacks.
To celebrate Michael’s Nike 6.0 Mid-Top collaboration that just hit the CCS shop, we caught up with the man to discuss the new shoe, Stacks, Rasa Libre, his creation of DC’s new “Flag” logo & more.
Can you talk a bit about the Nike 6.0 shoe you collaborated on? It’s a high version of a model called the Braata. It’s connected to their current “Just Do It” campaign, which includes The Chosen video. Nike approached four artists to interpret “Just Do It” for the shoe and a tee.
Did Nike give you any kind of direction for designing the shoe? The Braata was designed a couple years ago by Shawn Carboy at Nike. My role on this one was graphics. I used a bunch of grabs from the actual footage used in the commercial…Spray from waves, smoke, etc. So the design is created from the actual activities performed in the film. At first glance it’s abstract. I personally wanted to connect it to the commercial.
Are there logos on the shoe? The heel carries has the graphic from the T-shirt, but it is tonal and very subtle.
You used to work for Nike, right? Yes, I worked for Nike for 5 years in-house as design director of SB and I continue to work with them often. Most recently on an action sports retail design project and the “Los Fearless” basketball campaign.
Before Stacks your worked with Reese [Forbes] at Rasa Libre. What was your role there? I was the Art Director. I still get a lot of people telling me how much they liked that company. That stuff was really fun to work on and the guys at Deluxe are great.
How did Stacks come about? Stacks has been around in different forms since 2000. For years it was a small line of t-shirts and cruiser boards, and it was licensed exclusively in Japan. About a year and a half ago I moved back to LA and met up with Reese. We were both looking for a change so we decided to partner on Stacks as a board company.
Aesthetically with Stacks, do you try to keep a consistent style? No, I don’t think so. I think if you put everything next to each other there is a noticeable taste level. But I never wanted it to be one style graphically. That to me wouldn’t be as interesting, and I never wanted it to cater to one particular skater. There’s no real niche with Stacks. The idea is just good design for smart skateboarders, both in the graphics and in the board constructions and details. So hopefully when you see a Stacks product, you feel like, “these guys really care about what they’re doing”. From the graphics, to the constructions, to the t-shirt fits…everything we do, a lot of care and craft goes into it.
Are you main force behind Stacks graphics and designs? I’m the main management behind the graphics. There are a lot of different artists that work on Stacks. In a season, I’ll usually take one series and do the graphics myself and they’ll be a different artist for every other series. That way we get to work with the most talented artists and it keeps things fresh. We’ve been doing a lot reissues because we’ve been around since 2000 and there’s hundreds of t-shirts that most people haven’t seen.
Most don’t know, but you’re the designer behind DC’s new flag logo/campaign. How did that come about? That was a great project. It’s amazing the amount of work and time that goes into such a simple idea. There was a lot of research on flags and I wanted to approach it as if DC is not a company…it’s a new country that needs a flag. There are design rules if you’re designing a flag for a country. What colors and shapes mean. The concept was all taken from that approach. The bigger the amount of people that you’re representing, the simpler the flag has to be. So we needed something that was not “fashionable” or felt “designed”. I think they did a great job with the launch.
Did you have the flag idea early on? Yes, real early on because I was already creating and designing flags and had a real interest in them. Of course I would not have proposed it if I didn’t feel it was the best solution.
What’s next for you? For Stacks, I’m about to edit a video part for one of our ams Cameo Wilson, and getting ready to launch our summer boards at the end of the month…which are my favorite graphics we’ve done to date. On the art side, I’m finishing some work for an exhibition in Brazil in July.
Check the new Michael Leon designed 6.0 Zoom Braata LR Mid & goods from his company Stacks.