On the eve of New York Fashion Week, Kerwin Frost is in his element. Like John Wick walking into a library of deadly weapons, Frost has just walked into a hotel room stuffed with more clothes than a Saks Fifth Avenue. You can almost see the wheels spinning in his head. He checked into the Plaza a few hours ago, but already three clothing racks, sagging with designer garments, fill most of the available space. Several dozen pairs of sneakers and boots cover the carpet.
All are options for Frost and his wife-slash-manager, Erin, to wear to fashion week shows and parties. Frost, the 26-year-old king of viral outfits, is already wearing something characteristically bonkers: a matching cow print sweater and shorts, accessorized with a towering top hat. But the most insane thing in the room is on Frost’s feet: a pair of Adidas Superstars, blown up to massive size. Clown shoes, but with three stripes.
The sneakers are the Adidas x Kerwin Frost Superstuffed, which are elongated and padded to approximate a sneaker five sizes larger than what’s on the tag. Which means that, if you’re a size 10, you can basically walk around in LeBron James’s shoes. Frost’s sneakers may not be practical, but it’s hard to argue that any sneaker release in 2021 was as fun or as unexpected as the Superstuffed. Though the initial reception on Instagram was mixed, all 500 pairs sold out in minutes when they dropped in late August. (Frost himself couldn’t even buy a pair.)
The shoes raise at least two obvious questions: how are you supposed to wear them? And, uh, why would you? Frost has his answers ready—and they tell us plenty about how a generation of viral creatives have managed to go legit.
While Nike has made a habit of working with avant-garde fashion designers, Adidas tends to collaborate with slightly more straightforward partners: triple-a-list celebrities (Kanye West, Beyoncé), hall of fame designers (Yohji Yamamoto, Stella McCartney), or white-hot streetwear-adjacent brands (Palace, Noah). Frost, though, isn’t so easy to pin down. A high school dropout from Harlem, Frost received his most formative education in SoHo and the Supreme queue, where he would flip releases to tourists in the back of the line. In 2013, Frost and a few of his fellow fashion-obsessed friends founded Spaghetti Boys, a guerilla DJ-and-merch collective.
It seemed fun, merry downtown pranksters selling T-shirts almost as a joke—and then it ran headlong into the ways the fashion world was transforming.
As the industry’s gatekeepers began inching open the door to influencers, Frost barged right in. Using the power of his viral, meme-like outfits, Frost amassed a few hundred thousand followers on Instagram and a legion of famous friends like Kanye West, ASAP Rocky, and Tyler the Creator. He proceeded to launch a charmingly awkward interview series called Kerwin Frost Talks, became a booked-and-busy DJ, and established an annual film festival, turning his sheer enthusiasm and a sharp wit into a thriving career. His SoHo buddies like Luka Sabbat became more conventional model-influencers; Frost approached the job with the flair of a traveling showman. If it was hard to tell when Frost was trolling the very brands that were cutting him checks, it was because nobody had seen someone like him before.
When Adidas called, Frost spotted a chance to prove himself as a legitimate creative. So the guy with a pencil tattooed on his face took the opportunity seriously. How seriously? “I threw away all my Nikes,” Frost says. “I really wanted to completely consume Adidas.” He began assembling a massive mood board of all the places where Adidas intersected with cultural touchpoints from his childhood. “What are the things that speak to me the most with Adidas?” Frost asked. “For me that was the Beastie Boys, Missy Elliott’s Respect Me collection, Jeremy Scott, of course.” And then there were the men who made the Superstar cool: “The Run DMC energy, that was the funkiness,” Frost says. “That wasn’t supposed to be there.”
None of this meant that the Adidas team was going to automatically sign off on a 5x-sized Superstar. When Frost pitched his Michelin-man sneaker idea to an Adidas design team, he admits he received mostly blank stares. “It was like, ‘All right, you want to make this stuff? Tell us why it’s important, tell us why it ties to the brand.’”
As Frost explained to the design team, he was inspired by something in Adidas’s own backyards. Outside the Adidas offices in Portland and Berlin, the brand has two enormous Superstar sculptures. In the Superstuffed, he wasn’t blowing up the Superstar so much as he was shrinking those Claes Oldenberg-scale sculptures down to wearable size. “I had an answer for everything,” Frost says, including why they should make denim shorts with Adidas piping down the sides: because they made similar jeans in a 2004 Y-3 collection.
Now, the collaboration is going even further down the rabbit hole of Frost’s bizarro mind. On November 17, he and Adidas are releasing a line of clothes that includes a sweatsuit covered in what looks like yeti fur, those denim jorts, as well as two new sneakers that might prove to be as polarizing as the Superstuffed. The first, the Humanchive, is essentially a Forum Hi with a human face sticking out of it. Frost says it’s an homage to his idols Jeremy Scott and Walter Van Bierendonck, while his fans have pointed out a resemblance to Ariana Grande. (The friends & family version will come with a lustrous wig.) The second is the Benchmark, which is essentially a baby shoe for grownups: it’s covered in cartoon characters meant to evoke the somewhat creepy animal mascots that adorn daycares in the projects where he grew up.
Though he regularly bats around ideas with friends like Tim Robinson and Mac Demarco, Frost and Erin run a two-person show. (Three if you include their baby daughter, Waffle.) It can lead to some pretty gargantuan leaps of faith. Frost points to the lookbook images taped on the moodboard wall, which star Chief Keef. “It was really hard to get him,” Frost says. “And we were freaking out because a lot of money went into building the set. And he hadn’t seen any of the clothes or anything.” There was a world, Frost explains, where Chief Keef showed up, saw the yeti suit Frost wanted him to wear, and left immediately. Frost had turned down a suggestion to make a few “normal” items of clothing, and now he was going to find out if his instincts were right. “I think there’s just so much just regular shit,” he says. “I just want to see people try hard again. Try as hard as fucking possible.”
As seems to happen more and more often for Frost, his model understood exactly what he was going for: Keef loved the clothes. For all the weirdo energy embedded in his project, Frost can officially say he’s got more signature sneakers to his name than most NBA players. Now that the influencer economy has blown wide open and TikTok seems to be setting the agenda for luxury fashion houses and sportswear giants alike, Frost is not just a harbinger of what’s to come—he’s the new status quo. “I’m humorous, sure,” he says, turning away from a mood board of cartoons and clowns. “But when I’m serious, I’m serious.” With that, he puts on his top hat and starts picking out his look for the night.