Since Jay Adams officially set the mold, skateboarders have been a flock of bipolar misfits. They have been the weird kids, the fuck-ups, the awkward romanticists, the undercover nerds, the overachiever dropouts, the underachiever valedictorians, and the purveyors of schizophrenia in every realm of their existence. They are able to simultaneously hold contradictory opinions on a single subject, carry a mercurial fashion sense, and above all, are open to every last thing on the planet—save being pigeonholed. Skateboarding, to those on the Jason Jessee fringe, is really most about not being categorized. All else is forgiven, but being predictable has always been a capital offense.
Alex Olson has consistently displayed this sacred brand of Gonz-like schizophrenia to a T. Since emerging from his father's shadow back in the early '00s, he has been a bipolar misfit incarnate. One need only listen to him talk for more than three sentences to note as much. He will switch gears mid-conversation on the thinnest of tangents, he loves the things most that he hates the most, and nothing scares him more than being unoriginal. With his company, Bianca Chandôn, having just turned one this past January, and with the second division, 917, partitioned off to focus purely on the skate side of his dueling fashion/skateworld interests, this interview—the AO Pro Spotlight—will hopefully help clarify my attempts at abstract philosophical ramblings on the matter, along with giving you an exact picture of Alexander's road ahead for 2015 to infinity. Stay weird.–Mackenzie Eisenhour
Photos by Zach Malfa-Kowalski
Bianca just turned one, right?
Yeah. Turned one last week, and now we're moving on.
Happy birthday, Bianca. How was year one?
It was pretty good. People have been very supportive. Now it's all about figuring out how to keep it moving from here.
Is it still exciting? Like are you still psyched on every board and shirt?
For the most part, yes. Some are exciting; some might be a little less so. We kind of changed directions with all the 917 stuff being more skate based.
How did that decision to split it into two [Bianca Chandon and 917-692-2706] happen?
Basically, how it happened was I was keeping Bianca very limited to these, how do you say, high-end shops. I didn't really want to sell it to skate shops. But after a while I started to think that it was a little wack not to be in any skate shops; at the same time, I always liked the phone number and didn't want to get rid of it, so it seemed like an easy way to make that the more core skate company.
What is the team now for 917?
I'm still working on it. I'm working on a video part, too, for that. Jed Anderson and Hayden Burns are on the team so far. But we'll see who else works their way on through filming.
And 917 operates more like a traditional skate company? Through distributors versus the limited drops for Bianca?
Yeah. It's more like that. But I'm still trying to do it without distributors. It's a weird time right now, because of e-commerce and the Internet you don't really need skate shops sometimes. I'm sure skate shops hate it, and I understand that, but it's a weird thing where unfortunately I don't need them. I won't mention any names, but there was a shop I went into out here in Greenpoint [Brooklyn], and it was basically a head shop with boards in it. Like all these big-name boards on the wall by some bongs, and I just wondered, like, "Why the fuck would you sell to this shop? Where is the integrity?" So right then, I just decided I'll just be a control freak—only sell to specific shops and make it a regional thing. If you're in LA, you go to Supreme for it. If you're in New York, you go to Labor. Right now, I'm just trying to keep it in that vein.
Back to Bianca, is it split between skate-world interest and fashion-world interest? Do you sell a lot of product to the fashion side?
Bianca is in one of the highest-end department stores in New York, this store called Dover Street Market.
Is that like Colette in Paris or something?
Dover Street is actually harder to get into than Colette. I think Colette was really hard to get into in the '90s. But Dover Street is owned by Comme des Garçons, the Japanese brand, so it's all their stuff and then they are super selective about the other brands they carry. But Palace and Supreme are in there as well, which is cool. And they also give each brand they carry some floor space to bring in their own identity.
How did you get in there?
One of the buyers at Dover Street hit me up and was like, "If my workers here are trying to get it and they can't get it…"
I want it.
Do you market to both sides? It seems like the articles I read from the fashion side always focus on your skating while the articles from the skate side want to hear about the fashion stuff.
Yeah. I think from the fashion side skating is always tied to this youthful, rebellious, individual sport, or whatever you want to call it. You kind of have your own identity, compared to surfing where you wear a wetsuit, or snowboarding where you have all the snow gear on.
"I'm shocked by the way. Shocked. It wasn't really how I wanted to be portrayed but whatever."
Of course I gotta ask: How did that Louis Vuitton commercial come about?
Oh, man. It was a job, so the money was good, and then Nike was cool enough to let me do it, but I was still really hesitant.
Are you a fan of the LV?
If I were to pick a clothing brand, it wouldn't necessarily be my first pick.
Was it weird wearing the empty backpack?
[Laughs] There was stuff in it. Not much, but something. Basically, the whole time doing it, all I could think about was the Slap message boards [laughs]. Like, "Holy fuck, I'm going to get destroyed."
It didn't look that bad on there. It looked like they loved it.
I'm shocked by the way. Shocked. It wasn't really how I wanted to be portrayed but whatever. It seemed even worse when we were filming it. Like when I saw the final version it was almost a relief because I pictured it being way worse. At one point they were interviewing me and asking me questions like, "How does movement inspire you?" I told the director like, "I feel dumb because I don't even know how to answer this."
So you're filming a part for Bianca/917. What about Chronicles 3, are you slated for that?
They didn't ask me. I think they just figured I had done Pretty Sweet ['12] then "cherry" ['14], and now I'm working on this part for myself. I don't know.
You need "the part." Like for Dylan I felt like it was his Gravis part. You need the banger.
Yeah. I'll work towards it. I'll try.
Do you want it? Like the definitive part, or do you feel like you had it?
I mean, of course I would like to, but the level in skateboarding now is just fucking absurd.
Nobody cares about that, though. People just want to see you roll and do your thing. I want to see it. Nobody cares about the tricks right now.
I think yes and no. Like, there's this blond kid from Minnesota on Flip. I should know his name. Alec Majerus. I was just looking at his Instagram, and he just has like, you know, "Throwback, this was throwaway," and it's him like back Smithing a double kink. I was just like ,"Fuck."
Yeah, but you're never going to compete with that or like Felipe Gustavo on a ledge. Nobody really wants you to.
Why couldn't I, though, huh? Just kidding.
People just want to see you flow and skate the way you skate. Maybe those dudes can't flow like you can.
Maybe. But regardless, even Gino [Iannucci] says like you have expectations for yourself of how good you could be, and when you feel like you're not meeting that… I mean, I watch how consistent kids are and just think, "Oh my God. This would take me a week, and this kid's doing it in three tries." I had this same conversation with [Rick] Howard back in the day. I told him like, "Dude, just noseslide a handrail. Kids are terrified of noseslides on handrails, and you can do it no problem."
It's true. Right now especially, though, it seems like the cool kids don't do flip tricks. The cool kids are doing slappies and Texas plants.
[Laughs] It's kind of cool right now like that actually. I'm super into it. It's like all the weird kids, all the unique kids are getting the most attention. I'm all about it. There are just a bunch of kids now that are flowing, and it's awesome. They're trying to be their own people, which I feel like wasn't as acceptable a few years ago.
I think it just got to a point where everything was about tech and performance or whatever, and then people remembered that it's actually just a subculture. Like we're in it to be a part of this and have fun together.
Yeah, I'd like to say that it was that thought out. But I think it was just kids seeing what was happening and just going, "I don't care. Everyone's good. I just want to have fun with my friends."
Yeah. The slappies and all that.
I can't do slappies. But yeah, I watch these kids and just wish I could do that.
I saw you put out a board for Larry Levan. For kids who might not know, can you explain who he his? He was like a legendary house DJ?
I wouldn't even say house. He was basically the guy that kind of pioneered deejaying basically. There were others before him, but he's sort of the Mark Gonzales of it. In the '70s he was deejaying with Frankie Knuckles, who was more known as a house DJ. They both were, but Larry Levan died in '92 and Frankie Knuckles just recently passed away last year. Frankie carried on the house scene and made records and stuff, whereas Larry made remixes and only produced one album with the Peach Boys. Larry was just the pioneer, and he made this club—Paradise Garage—that had this unique sound system created by a guy named Richard Long, and it was really the first club-club. There were a bunch of disco clubs like Studio 54 before that, but Studio 54 was just more of a glamorous place to go. I don't think they really cared about the music; it was more of just a scene. So Paradise Garage was the first club where it was all about the music; it was all about the dancing.
Did you get their blessing for the board?
Yeah. He has a lot of friends at this party, 718, that I go to. We asked them if it was okay and wanted to donate proceeds, and they ended up just giving us their blessing from there. It all happened randomly last year at this party, and Red Bull at the time was trying to turn the street that Paradise Garage was on here in New York—King Street—into Larry Levan Way.
"Basically, the whole time doing it, all I could think about was the Slap message boards [laughs]. Like, "Holy f**k, I'm going to get destroyed.'"
Yeah. They're actually really progressive on music. I think they're probably the best thing going for music right now. They have so many good interviews of jazz musicians and all these different people. They have this thing called Fireside Chats; I would recommend them to anyone that is into music. It's really nice to drive with it. It's like talk radio with music. The Frankie Knuckles one is actually really amazing.
You should get on Red Bull.
No. I mean, sure. But don't make we wear that hat.
You gotta wear the Sheckler hat.
[Laughs] Yeah. Maybe I could just wear a T-shirt with a tiny "staff" logo or something.
Maybe you could do the fashion division, like RB1 or whatever.
Yeah. RB1. RB2. RB Wings.
Who have you seen wearing Bianca that you are really psyched on?
I've sent some to some girls. Some models. I don't know. The coolest one was probably Frank Ocean asked for a box. I was way gassed on that. That one was kind of perfect. I guess Kanye [West]'s creative director, this guy Virgil Abloh, is always wearing it.
From a spring fashion-tip front, is the bucket hat dead yet?
The bucket hat? Yeah, it kind of came back with a vengeance. I guess that's what happens when you keep something in the closet for that long.
Is it done?
Yeah, probably. Give it another season and it'll be gone. But of course, everyone should wear whatever they want.
I know. I'm just playing. What about the blue jean? Seems like people have been solely black or tan pants for a minute.
Dude, I was on the blue-jean tip for way long. I got made fun of by Andy Henrie at the Maloof contest for wearing them like, "What are those dad jeans you got on?" [Laughs] Are we talking raw denim or the faded wash? You know what, though? I will say this: big pants are coming back. That's what I see the most. Oversized jeans are coming back.
Oh, God. Back to the potato sack? Blind jeans?
Yeah, you already lived the real version of that though in the early '90s [laughs]. I don't know, I'm trying to think what the hot trends are. Great, I'm like the forecaster of this shit now. I see a lot of kids wearing bigger pants. I see a lot of kids wearing shorts with pulled-up white tube socks.
Are you down for that whole Illegal Civ look? Like the pastel Fresh Prince kits with visors and backpacks?
Oh, I'm all for that. I think it's tight. Pink Polos? Awesome. Why not? Anything that's different really looks nice. I saw some team photo recently of some skate team, and it was like every dude had a hoodie, some blue jeans, and a New Era. It's just like, fuck, you could wear the potato sack for real and it would look better than that.
I think kids see that stuff and will wear anything to rebel against it. Skaters will wear anything, no matter what it looks like, just to say "fuck you" to the uniform. Then eventually the "fuck you" kit becomes the uniform and it starts all over.
Yeah. High-tops are definitely back or coming back. Jimmy'Z needs to come back. I hope everyone starts dressing like Hosoi in the '80s. That would be great.
Dude, I actually saw kids rocking the pigtails at Stoner. You remember we joked about you launching the pigtail trend? These two kids blatantly had the pigtails going.
Sick. But honestly, if you've ever had long hair, it's just a nightmare to skate with. It's all in your eyes. So you can either rock a beanie, and if it's summertime, you'll be bald by fucking Thanksgiving. Or you can wear a cap, same fucking thing—you might shave a year off going bald. A single ponytail looks completely wack. The bun looks cool if you're like [Brian] Delatorre or somebody. Brian looks cool with it. Or you can do the pigtails. But I'm glad those kids were rocking them. Finally. It took two years to settle in.
"It's like all the weird kids, all the unique kids are getting the most attention."
Ahead of its time. You're a year and change from turning 30, which is mind-blowing to me. How do you picture the next decade?
I'm still 28 right now. What up! Hold on to youth! But yeah, 30 is scary. When did Heath [Kirchart] retire?
I wanna say he was like 33, 34 [Editor's note: Heath was 32 when he retired in 2010.] Are you planning on modeling your career after Heath?
[Laughs] No. I would have to have a lot of stuff between now and 33 to back that up. I don't think I can do the Mega Ramp either. Also, I don't ride motorcycles, so I couldn't wear the motorcycle helmet. I couldn't wear the Harley helmet. I'm not that guy. I'm a little more feminine [laughs]. But seriously, out of anyone, I just think he did it so perfectly. Like, you get to that age, or you just start slowing down and you don't think you can bring something to the table anymore, it's time to bow out. And he just did it in the perfect way with a video part, like, "Peace." He just dropped the part and was like, "I'm out, I'm a team manager now." Which killed me, though [laughs]. That was the one thing.
TMing and delivering pizzas.
Yeah. With that one, I was just like, "No! Why?!"
It was just for fun.
I know. I know, according to "industry gossip," he saved his money and all that stuff was just for fun, but regardless, it wasn't the fairy-tale ending I wanted to read about [laughs]. Like maybe, "I moved to Missouri and bought a house, and I do carpentry now." Not delivering pizzas for Salman Agah [laughs]. Not that that's a bad thing either.
I always thought Wade Speyer did it classy. Just buy a big rig and become a trucker. That sounds rad.
Yeah. I was just talking to Jack Sabback last night about how there's no real fanfare or anything—your skate career eventually just ends overnight. There's no real upswing. Just one day it's over. There aren't really that many stories of like, "Oh, he went on to do greater things."
Jason Lee? But he's back now. Did you see he's doing a Gonz documentary?
Oh God. Leave us alone. Of course he is. That's an easy one. Fuck you.
That's his boy.
Is it his boy? That's not his boy. That was his boy when he was filming Mallrats ['95]. Mallrats is actually one of his better ones. Whatever, you know what I mean. Obviously I can't really talk shit on Jason. Half of my board graphics are related to him in some way. He was and is super influential. Which is crazy, but maybe kids will start dressing like Jason Lee in the '90s. He dressed really well.
So is the goal to just keep developing Bianca on one side and 917 on the other? Whether they drift toward fashion more or stay in skate?
Yeah. The fashion thing is really here today, gone tomorrow. So it's a little trickier to do anything on that side.
Are you making headway in the fashion world right now?
No. I mean, maybe I had a couple of write-ups, but I make T-shirts, dude. I would like to make more complicated pieces of clothing and all of that, but that costs a lot of money and I'm trying to figure that out right now. It's not that it can't be done, but it's time, resources, and accessibility. I'd have to call in a lot of favors just to learn the ropes. But I'm hoping it turns into that and not just some streetwear thing.
Bianca could just get licensed out to Walmart.
No. I will kill the company before it comes to that. I don't care how much money I'm offered. I'm not going that route, but we'll see. Then the 917 side is just a skate thing. So we'll see how that goes, too. I feel like every company has their peak moment and then dies, and then the rest of the time is them just trying to come back. I don't want be that guy. If we have our peak moment, then it's time to just turn out the lights. But of course it's more complicated than that. People have employees with families, and you can't just hang them out to dry.
All-time best dance DJs?
Rub-N-Tug. That's Eric Duncan and Thomas Bullock. Eric Duncan was the guy that helped score the Mouse ['96] soundtrack. Him and Paul Takahashi turned me on to a bunch of that stuff. So I'll say Rub-N-Tug, DJ Harvey, Idjut Boys, and Daniele Baldelli.
All-time best skateboarder?
Jason Lee—it's a love/hate thing. I looked up to him so much as a young'un. Chris Roberts made me a mixtape on VHS for my 16th birthday with all the old World videos and Video Days ['91]. At the time everybody said it was the best video, but you couldn't find it anywhere unless someone had a copy—which was kind of cool, too. But I saw that when I was 16 and JLee and Mark obviously marked me. I remember loosening my trucks after I saw it like, "Oh, this is how you have good style." Can I add some more? I'll say JLee, Mark [Gonzales], Brian [Anderson], Mike [Carroll], Scott [Johnston], AVE, Phil Shao, Julien [Stranger], [John] Cardiel, Scott Oster, [Eric] Dressen, and Hosoi.
Five best new guys?
Logan Lara, Chris Milic [aka Mango], Lucas [Puig], Sean Pablo, and ________ your name here.