Mikey Trapstar always wanted to work with Rihanna. Amazingly, this wild dream turned out to not be that far-fetched. Rihanna, who Mikey considers a “style icon,” has been a supporter of the UK brand and one of the first to co-sign it since its early days. Still, Mikey says he couldn’t have imagined designing the tour merch for “Monster,” the six-date concert tour RiRi co-headlined with Eminem. It’s funny how things work.
| The Monster Tour Merchandise | 14 photo(s).
The “Monster” tour kicked off in Pasadena, CA on Aug. 7, and beyond the music, fans went nuts for the merch that was designed by Trapstar. The collection included graphics that superimposed Rihanna and Eminem’s faces with different images of “monsters”—using fans, bat wings, and werewolves. We sat down with Mikey when he stopped by our offices to talk about the merch, how the collaboration came about, the inspiration behind the designs, and why he decided to shoot an editorial for the collection, which you can get an exclusive look at right here.
How did the collaboration with Rihanna come about?
It’s going to sound funny and crazy but I basically saw her out and she approached me and said, “I want you to do my merch.” So the next day I got a call from Ri’s manager and Eminem’s, too. They brought me into the room and they were like, “Are you sure you can do it?” and I’m like, “Of course I can.” Then I gave them a mood board straight away. It was between me and a few other designers but they liked the mood board and they ran with it.
What was the conversation like when you were talking about what the tour merch should be?
I wasn’t familiar with merch as much. I just thought merch is what people did for the fans. But there was a reason they picked us, because they didn’t want it to look like just merch. So they gave us free creative control and we just had a mission to make merch not look like merch, so even if you’re not necessarily a die-hard fan you’d want to wear the clothes out of the concert, out of just being a fan of the person. I wanted to make the new era Iron Maiden because, you know, people don’t even listen to Iron Maiden but they’ll still wear the T-shirt because they see it as fashionable. So that was the aim. Along with sticking to the monster theme of the “Monster” tour.
Did Rihanna have any specific ideas as to what she wanted the designs to be?
We bounced around. We did a crazy amount of designs, and she’s hands-on, so we bounced back and forth. She’d give ideas and whatnot. So it was a joint effort.
Was it a huge collection in terms of sketches that you guys had before it was narrowed down for the release?
It always is. That’s the best way. There are certain things that we both wanted to go crazy on but we knew at the same time that the silhouette wasn’t necessarily able to exist as merch. If I could have made this jacket, I’d have made this jacket, but not everyone in the stands would be able to afford it. So we went to the hockey jerseys.
Is there anything that you wish you could’ve made that maybe you weren’t able to?
No, everything we really wanted made it in. The favorite is the monster hockey with Ri’s eyes, and the other one was Eminem with the bat holding the American flag. Those are my two favorites. Everything else, the hottest designs went through. So anything else didn’t really deserve to go through; we just wanted to make an all-star lineup where everything could stand by itself. There were no fillers.
How long did the process last?
The whole summer. Everyone was worried that we wouldn’t make it in time for the tour.
How did the design of the hockey jersey with Rihanna’s face on it come about?
They’re different elements of a monster. We went to the darker side of her. We based the mouth on fangs, but the new era of a fang is a grill, so we gave her grills, which she already had. And then went with the moon and then the werewolf. We wanted it to be artistic.
What do you think about Rihanna’s style and sort of like how that affected the tour mech?
She’s a style icon. So you know, it’s a higher body of work you make. But it’s also better, it’s an advantage because her demographic is fashion-orientated because she’s such a style icon. The bar may be raised but her fans are more open-minded. You really have open-minded fans, it’s not like it’s people who don’t care and you’re giving them something they don’t want. So it was a higher bar to reach but at the same time it was perfect for us ’cause we want to keep it fashion, we don’t want to just churn out things like McDonalds. No disrespect to McDonalds, but it was perfect because it wasn’t just merch. It felt more of a collection because of the standard she has set and the people that would receive it, they’re already into being open-minded.
Was designing tour merch something you’ve always wanted to do?
Nah. I’ve always wanted to collaborate with Rihanna but I never thought about it too much. We didn’t necessarily think that it was possible. That was really her just wanting to break a boundary. I’ve got to give full credit to her because she approached us for it straight away. She knew that it would work. I didn’t know that you could merge the two. I like to break boundaries but I’d never thought of those two things. I never had my eyes on merch. The only two things I’ve thought of being like that are Iron Maiden, which was a basic tee, and then “Yeezus.” Other that that I’d never really seen much come out of a show and become an aspect of the daily wear of someone, so I didn’t really know. […]
Did you go to the show in New Jersey?
Yeah, and people were wearing the hockey one, which doesn’t have the tour dates on it, and that was the most expensive item. So, I was like, “Okay, people wouldn’t really be wearing merch.” It hit me there. Looking in the crowd, it touches you. It’s hard to take in, this year has been hard to take in, because so many things have happened. It’s crazy.
When you designed the tour merch, did you have a different mindset from when you design Trapstar?
No. We always make a theme, and the theme was already there with the two artists, the monster, but I didn’t want to water down anything. I told them, they know that if they were going to collaborate with us, we’re never going to follow a rule. We’re going to go hard. So I just kept it in my head that even though we were collaborating, we have to make sure the standard’s still hardbody. And that was it because if I let that slip… I’ve done that in the past, where you’re not fully sure of yourself and gone slightly safe, but it never works. The reason why the collaboration came about and we were asked to do it is because we remain us.
Even though you’re dealing with two giants, and there’s maybe two different opinions, we just had to remain us. It’s just not going pop, not being so “PC,” which we’re not within our designs so we just had to keep that, and that was it.
Were both Rihanna and Eminem hands on?
They gave us great direction. We pretty much got free reign, but it’s their brand at stake, so there were a few tweaks here and there out of their opinions, but other than that I guess they trusted us.
What was it like working with Eminem?
I just tried not to let anybody’s status or their greatness intimidate how I design. And that’s what they wanted. People like messing with people who stand up to them, who stand their ground. You have to bring something more to the table rather than conform a bit too much, so we just did our designs and they, by grace of God, messed with us.
The “Monster” tour merch is currently online, but will you sell it elsewhere, outside of being at the shows?
That’s a conversation we have to have with all three. I think they might want to keep it timeless because that was the big thing, because it’s only six dates. The collaboration itself between two artists is something that’s never going to happen. That’s the other thing—the main thing about merch is, “I was there” and how [the wearer] were there in this epic moment where two of the biggest artists of our time collaborated together. You don’t see that every day. It’s kind of like it should be with sneakers and limited releases these days. That’s why people queue around the block. That’s why people are happy, that’s why some people don’t even wear the clothes and just keep it because it means more to them. I collect graphic tees as well and I don’t wear them.
How big is your collection?
Not bigger than my kicks, but um, it’s quite wide. I just collect graphic tees ranging from designer to like basic, I just put them in a box in my mom’s attic and will open it in like five years.
Do you want people to treat the tour merch you designed the same way you treat your graphic tees?
Yeah, because I’m a collector myself. So that’s a reason why they might not sell it too much after. We all agreed that the whole reason is to make it collectible, so you have Ri and a brand like us collaborating, and making it more timeless. So I think that’s what the aim is. I collect a crazy amount of things, and I try to pass that energy on.
Why did you decide to shoot an editorial for the tour merch?Not a lot of brands or music artists have done that.
That’s exactly why. NO one expects it. If it’s not the norm and it’s going to give an impact then that’s why weren’t going to do it. The same mission is not to see merch as just merch. Whoever does it after, it’s no concern of mine. It’s opening the door. If that’s what everyone does from now on, then cool. We’re glad to open the door for people to treat like every piece of clothing with respect. They’re a part of time, a part of history. It’s part of the culture. Image is everything now, so why wouldn’t you have that?
Excerpts from interview by Karizza Sanchez for Complex Magazine. Read full story here.