Get to Know A$AP + MIA's Fave Designer at his Puma Pop-Up Shop

On an unusually warm fall day on the Bowery, a crew of bikers and street stylists has taken up residence in the ICNY X Puma popup shop, which is showcasing the newest work by designer Mike Cherman. With arms full of tattoos, scrapes from biking and a mess of blonde hair hidden under one of his signature flex hats, Mike is at ease and inspired as he watches the scene on the street. The diverse array of people, bicyclists, and gridlocked cars provides a very New York soundtrack to our conversation.

After being struck by a car in a bicycling accident in 2012, Mike set to work on creating safer clothing that incorporated ICNY’s now signature reflective material. Now into it’s third year and celebrating the first popup shop collaboration with Puma, it’s clear that the streetwear brand is uniting style with functionality in a big way. In between fulfilling custom screen printing orders for his customers, Mike sat down with us to talk views of the city, his collabs with A$AP Rocky and M.I.A., and the Japanese commitment to culture.

What does ICNY stand for?

It means I See New York, but it started off for me as Ice Cold New York. Early on it transitioned, and I realized that it wasn’t as much of a proper name for the brand. When we were looking at it, we asked ourselves how we could change it, but not transition too far away from what we were doing. The acronym sounded out what we are as a brand and the ethos of making reflective wear — ICNY means visibility.

Visibility was the initial concept for the brand, right? It began after your bicycling accident.

I’ve been in a number of bicycling accidents. Shit man, I’ve been hit by cabs. There was a lady who walked out into traffic, and she was so big that she literally stopped my bike and I went flying. I’ve been through every type of accident. It started off as something for myself, and I quickly realized that I should be making this for other people.

People definitely want it.

Yeah, and I wanted to find something inherently safe but also cool to wear. I think that’s the hardest thing to find. You can go find safety jackets and reflective jackets out there but—

But you’ll look like a traffic cone?

Right, you know? That was my biggest thing. I didn’t want to wear a strap around my ankle. I wanted you to be able to roll your pants up and see it there. Those are all things that from the start were important for us.

The brand has been embraced by A$AP Rocky and A$AP Mob. You did a clothing line for them, right? How did that come about?

When I was still at Nike, they brought A$AP Mob in to work on some stuff. My mentor was one of the directors of the Nike shop I worked at, and he ended up becoming Rocky’s manager. Now he’s traveling the world with him, so I started to get in touch with these guys. At the time, they needed a logo, so I did that, and it led into doing a small collection of tour merchandise. One thing led to another, and we just developed a relationship. I’m not really doing that stuff anymore because I’m so busy with the line, but A$AP has been amazing.

That’s so rad. You also worked with M.I.A. on some clothes for her tour?

That was totally random. They wanted to get the Ohm symbol slapped on a bunch of vintage jerseys, and that was it. I didn’t get to go crazy and design all these cool things, but it was an amazing opportunity that literally happened in like four days. To see her wearing it on stage was amazing, so I’ll take any opportunity I can.

“All of a sudden I wanted to make a jacket and I can’t even tell you how bad the first samples were. It’s just through mistakes that we’ve learned how to make what we make.”

Do you have any technology you’re working on within the brand besides reflective gear?

A year and a half ago, Milk actually brought me out for the Muzse Style Lab during Intel’s Developer’s Forum. They showed off all of this different wearable technology, and that’s where we’re trying to get into. Wearable technology is the most exciting for me right now. It’s not feasible to do on a mass-market level, but it is an opportunity to do something great. We just have to find a way to get it into clothes and make it truly functional.

Your popup shop here is a partnership with Puma. Are there any designers or brands you’ve been dying to work with?

We’re actually working on a collab with a bike company that I can’t name yet. Shoe designers and clothing designers are great, but I think I really want to work with a technology company. I’d rather work with Intel or another tech company, but right now we don’t have as big of a platform in fashion to say, “Hey, do it with us.” A lot of the time a company will tell you it’s a cool idea, then do it themselves and not include you. It’s a struggle.

“I want to make the most outlandish garment that’s so insane to wear. Reflective material is so expensive and it would be great to have someone who tells me to make whatever I want.”

Absolutely. So, in the past few years you’ve gone from working with Nike to creating your own brand. What was the biggest change for you?

When I was at Nike, I was able to customize, deconstruct, and reconstruct garments, but I was never able to say I was fully making a custom garment from scratch until I started ICNY. We started off our first season with pre-made t-shirts and cut and sew hats, but that was it. All of a sudden, I wanted to make a jacket, and I can’t even tell you how bad the first samples were. It’s just through mistakes that we’ve learned how to make what we make. I think trial and error brings out the beauty of the brand. If customers can ride with us from concept to creation, they’ll see the brand grow into something great.

What musician would be your dream collab?

Someone on a big stage like Lady Gaga, or someone whose concept I could go full crazy with. I want to make the most outlandish garment that’s so insane to wear. Reflective material is so expensive, and it would be great to have someone who tells me to make whatever I want. I would probably spend $1000 making a jacket for them, but it would make a beautiful product.

Budgets have a habit of killing some of the creativity. Getting back to the heart of the brand, biking is integral to ICNY, so I’m wondering what your favorite view of the city is?

Just from riding every day over the Williamsburg Bridge. I got a good perspective, not just of the view, but also the ride beats you up getting up there, so once you get to the top you’re just like, “damn this view is amazing.” It changes your whole perspective. I love riding over the bridges, because it’s the one time where it’s a little bit quieter.

Definitely. You’ve been travelling a lot to represent ICNY abroad. Where was your favorite place to visit?

I just went to Japan for the first time, and I loved it. Just the way the consumer culture is in Asia is just amazing to me. People really care and want to support a brand. They love what you’re doing, whereas I come here and people are a bit like, “If you have it I don’t want it.”

This is the last week to visit Mike’s pop up with Puma, get the details here.

Visit Mike’s website here.

Photos by Paulo Salud. 

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