How Jeff Staple Turned the Pigeon Into a Streetwear Icon


I’m friends with many musicians who make a hit, and 10 years later, they still have to play it. Pharrell still has to do “Happy.” Nas still has to do “One Mic.” So for me, yes, I get it when I’m asked to share the story. And I’m super honored to be able to continue to tell it.

Why do you think that sneaker hit so hard?

It was the right time. I mean, I love the design and it had great storytelling, but the timing was a huge factor. The biggest stroke of luck was that the reporter who broke that story for the New York Post lived on Orchard Street. If Rachel Sklar did not live on Orchard Street, the whole mythology of the Pigeon Dunk may be different now, because that newspaper cover is so tied to the actual shoe.

It elevated it from a downtown story to a city-wide one, and eventually a nationwide thing.

Totally. If it just ended up on Hypebeast, it just becomes a Hypebeast thing. But because it was on The Post, it became a 90-year-old grandma living on the Upper West Side. All of a sudden, it became pop culture. Love it or hate it—and some people say the Pigeon Dunk killed the culture, and took sneakers from a subculture to this ridiculous thing that it is now—you can’t deny that the Pigeon Dunk really put sneaker culture on the map.

The book really documents the vast number of collaborations over the years: Nike, Coke, Dr. Martens, Clarks, Beats By Dre, Timberland, New Balance, Puma, and so many more. Was making collaboration a cornerstone of your career intentional, or did it just happen that way?

That wasn’t an objective or a goal. I was heavily inspired when I was young by graffiti artists in New York City and how I would see tags on all subways, buses, and trains throughout the city. Or Shepard Fairey’s Andre the Giant sticker. I remember one time, on one of my early Tokyo trips, I was at the immigration counter at Narita [airport, in Tokyo], and I saw an Andre sticker on the immigration wall and I was like, “Whoa, this dude gets his everywhere.”

There’s actually a term for that in graffiti culture: going “all city” means you’ve hit every subway line, so every borough and neighborhood is seeing your tag. And that was the goal of a graffiti artist. So when I started to do one or two collaborations, admittedly, I wasn’t like, “I need to do a million collaborations.” But it clicked in me when I did the New Balance collaboration after the Nike collaboration.

Many people would say “Yo, why don’t you just sign a longtime contract with Nike?” And when New Balance presented me with the opportunity to work together, that’s when the graffiti mentality clicked, and I liked the idea of doing a thing with one brand and then almost the exact same thing with another brand. That, to me, is the same tag on two different trains.

I hear the criticism and the comments like, “When are you going to do something different? You keep slapping a pigeon and making it gray.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s kind of like the point.” Because now that you zoom out 25 years later, it is pretty dope that I was essentially able to go all-city with corporate America. I was able to bomb on all these brands.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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