What’s up, everybody? Happy New Year! We made it to 2024, and I’m looking forward to a sneaker-filled year of the best kicks coming out. I’ll also be interviewing many footwear creatives in the industry about their unique projects and more. Up first is Stan Birch, aka Staniflou on Instagram, a footwear artist/colorway designer from France who has collaborated with brands like Jeff Staple and Lanvin. To close out the 50th-year celebration of Hip Hop, Stan created unique and personal pairs of custom Wallabees for JAY-Z and his inner circle of Hip Hop legends.

Let’s get into the exclusive conversation below.

What’s up, Stan? Happy New Year! Tell us about this unique custom collaboration for JAY-Z. How did it come about?

I collaborated with Clarks Originals a few months ago, which was 30 pairs of the same shoe that I hand-painted and dyed, and we offered them to big people, such as Ronnie Fieg, Macklemore, DJ Clark Kent, Jeff Staple, and so many other big guys. In this list of people was Lenny Santiago, who is one of JAY-Z’s best friends, and one of the guys at Clarks told me that he was in contact with Emory Jones and said, “Let’s make a pair for Emory and JAY-Z.” They wanted me to send JAY-Z and Emory an extra pair from the project I was working on at that time, and I told them, to be honest, if I make a pair for JAY-Z and Emory Jones, I want to make something very exclusive to them, not something that 30 other people already have. Like, you get to make some shoes for JAY-Z like once in your life, so I wanted to make something absolutely crazy and not just something that other people have. So I told him this, and he came back to me a few days later and said, “We are going to send you seven pairs — two for JAY-Z, one for Emory Jones, Lenny Santiago, Jay Brown, Juan Perez, and Ty Ty Smith, who are as you know, the inner circle for 45 years. They gave me total freedom on the project.

What was your initial thought process for this custom project?

So when I knew I was going to make some pairs for JAY-Z, as I said, I knew I had to go absolutely nuts because it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for such legends! So yeah, I wanted to make something very, very special for them that included storytelling to follow the colorway that I made. The idea was to incorporate celebrating 50 years of Hip Hop and many years of friendship. So I needed a colorway that represents, you know, the vintage feel, timelessness. They’re timeless. So I thought the best idea was to make something black and white. Then to bring concept to the project, I printed a few archive pictures of them together and edited them in black and white, so they could all have different sets of pictures in their boxes. All the pictures that they have in their boxes are geared specifically for the person who’s opening the box. So Ty Ty has a different set than JAY-Z, and Lenny S. has a different set than Emory. It’s all different pictures that are very, very personal to each of them.

Tell us about the design process.

So basically, the base shoe is the maple colorway, kind of cream, the very classic Wallabee colorway. Every single part of the shoe is hand-dyed by my hand and brush. Most parts of the shoe are hand-dyed light grey, with the toe box in a dark grey, and the suede lining made in a black colorway, but I vintaged it by hand. So I took a very sharp needle and put it into the suede, and I pulled out the inside skin parts and it made a very nice vintage effect on the toe box lining. It’s something I discovered with this project that was a mistake at first, and I said, “Whoa, that’s amazing.” And so I did it on all the shoes. So everything is dyed with an engraved Paper Plane logo, which I then colored with gray, black, and white. That was one of the instructions that Emory had. He said I could use the Paper Plane logo as long as it stayed premium. He didn’t want to have a foggy or soggy Paper Plane design. He wanted me to make something absolutely perfect if I had to use it. So I had to be extremely precise and careful in making the Paper Plane logo. So all the shoes have an engraved Paper Plane logo hand-painted by me after I engraved it. All the shoes are then filled with 22-karat gold and my logo on the left shoe, which is also engraved, and then filled with 22-karat gold leaf.

What was it about the Wallabee that made it your silhouette of choice?

When I was a kid, my mom used to buy me Clarks. It wasn’t fashionable at all to me then, so I used to hate it and I didn’t think about it at all. But recently, since probably 2021 or 2022, it started to come back again as a fashionable brand, and as I’m also into fashion, I kind of rediscovered the Wallabees. So it’s kind of filled with memories of when I was very young. And I also love wearing it now because of how it looks. For these customs, particularly, when the opportunity came up, I thought it was the perfect, most logical shoe for those guys.

How did you make every pair personal for each of them?

This is where the fobs come into play. I wanted them all to have the same pair, but also have a very special sentimental value to each shoe. My goal was to make this shoe their favorite in their collection because I’m sure they all have like a few hundred pairs at home. So I made a series of seven pairs of the colorway but one-off, one for each of them and this is where I used the fobs. I did research in addition to my knowledge of Hip Hop — for example, take Ty Ty. If you know JAY-Z’s music, you know that Ty Ty loves to drink Mai Tais ’cause it’s, like, in a dozen songs. So the funniest thing I could have done was to make a little Mai Tai fob for him. Lenny Santiago is known for having a gold couch in his office, so what I did was an exact reproduction of his office. He’s known for having the gold couch, and you know, people taking pictures on his couch, so I made this amazing fob, a reproduction of his office, which took me probably a full day just to make only one. But yeah, this is probably the most amazing one. This is my favorite part of the whole project. It’s Lenny Santiago’s gold couch and office reproduction on the fob. This is my very favorite part of the whole project, to be honest.

How many fobs did you make?

Thirty triangle fobs, but I also made some lasered fobs. I made a Roc-a-Fella Records logo fob cut with a laser. I made a Def Jam one, a 40/40 Club one, a Paper Planes one, of course, and I also made the “Book of Hov” one with the beautiful Yves Klein blue. Also, I made seven engraved leather rectangle pieces with JAY-Z lyrics mentioning each of these guys. So this also adds to the very, very personal and sentimental value of the shoe.

How did you go about sourcing the photos?

Do you know the Instagram account called AintNoJigga? When I first made an Air Force 1 for Lenny Santiago two years ago, he reached out to me and said it was dope, and we had a little discussion. So when I needed to get some pictures, and also the context around the pictures, I did a deep dive on his IG because that was a big part of my documentation, and I wanted to make sure with all the pictures that I used that I wouldn’t offend anyone. AintNoJigga documents a lot of JAY-Z and all of the inner circle’s life history, but he also adds context to explain who’s in the picture, what they are doing, where they are, etc. So he was a very big part of my documentation.

Tell us about your use of 22-karat gold leaf, which has been seen in a few of your collabs.

Absolutely. Every shoe I make has a little touch of 22-karat gold. I love gold, I’m a gold guy, and a few years ago, probably three years ago, I was only using gold paint. When I changed to using my logo, I wanted my logo to be engraved on all my shoes. I felt like having a stamp with just gold paint was cool, but it didn’t bring that luxury feel that I wanted to bring on my pieces. So I decided to engrave all the pairs with 22-karat gold leaf, and as time passed, I started using it more. So it’s not only my logo now, it’s also so eye-catching. When you see a gray and black shoe, the gold really hits your eye. So it’s not only luxury, but it’s also beautiful — it’s shiny, but it’s also super sober because I don’t put gold all on the shoe. It’s just little hints of gold that bring your eye to the shoe.

Do you have a favorite pair?

Oh, that’s a good question. JAY-Z has two pairs, so he has like 10 fobs. Probably Lenny Santiago’s pair because of the office reproduction, but I also love one of JAY-Z’s pairs that has a Grammy Award fob, “The Book of Hov” fob, an “Uh-Uh” fob for his famous ad-lib, and a reproduction of this black and gold camel artwork that he has in the Roc Nation office. So I’d say probably one of JAY-Z’s pairs, and Lenny Santiago’s pair is definitely amazing because of the office reproduction.

Were you listening to Hov’s music while designing them?

Yes, 24/7. I probably listened twice or three times to the whole JAY-Z discography. When I do a pair for a Hip Hop artist, I need to be totally inspired by the music they make. To be able to create for someone, you need to dive into their creations. So I definitely listened to JAY-Z’s music, I listened to Emory’s interviews, Lenny’s interviews, and Jay Brown’s interviews. It was hard to find any interviews from Juan Perez or Ty Ty; it seems like they are the most discreet.

You’ve collaborated with brands like Lanvin, Jeff Staple, and Clarks Originals. What do you like the most about working with brands?

I pretty much only work with brands that give me total freedom. I mean, I’m just extremely happy because some brands don’t like customs. So the brands that understand that sometimes we young artists, young customizers, have so much talent and so many new things to bring to the game, I’m grateful for. It’s amazing to be trusted by these brands.

What are you looking forward to in 2024? What’s next for you?

I have a lot of projects for 2024. Clothing, clothing, clothing. I was supposed to drop a clothing brand in 2023, but everything went south, so I lost a lot of money and had a lot of issues with different factories and different countries. So it was a bit of a nightmare. I had a tough year. But in 2024, I’m still going to work on sneaker projects. A lot of the sneaker projects will be not me customizing the shoe, but me designing the shoe and then having the shoe factory made by the brand. So this is also an amazing level-up because customizing is one thing, but designing a shoe that is then going to be factory-made by the brand itself is also an amazing experience. And I actually can’t wait to see this happen. But I’m also looking forward to being able to express myself and just, you know, evolve, evolve, evolve. Evolution is the secret. You cannot stay in your comfort zone. So I’m just looking forward to what is going to make me evolve in 2024.

If you could give any advice to creatives coming up in the footwear industry, what would you tell them?

I read a quote the other day that hit me really hard: “Champions always do more than what they’re being asked of.” I have the feeling that if you’re not ready to do more than what you’re being asked of, you will never be in a position where you will be paid what you think you deserve. So I would tell the young generation and the guys who are starting today that you need to work, work, work a lot, and sometimes do way more than what’s being asked.