Shaun Stussy


The first time I met designer Shaun Stussy he was — not unusually — hanging out on a beach in California with a group of practically religious surfers.

These were the serious surfers, or the “old goats” as he calls them.

Laid-back and friendly, he arrived dressed as ever in black (topped off by a black Stussy cap and Stussy shades) with a beautiful young girl on his arm, sporting a stylishly frayed goatee and rather wrecked demeanour intact. The perfect slacker-surfer-stoner look in other words, although it’s obviously the very opposite: just the way he is.

When the exhaust pipe of a knackered camper van pumps bilious fumes over the two of us as we talk, Stussy’s frazzled face breaks into a smile and he laughs: “I wouldn’t mind gettin’ my lips round that baby, know what I mean ?!”

Shaun Stussy is the real thing. Take him as you find him.

When he says “i’m just seeing’ how things go” or “I never really gave all this a whole lotta thought” he means it.

That hoary old cliche in fashion “i’m just making things that I like, and my friends like” really is what he’s done and is still doing now the level has taken off.  

Raised in Orange County, California, Stussy was hand-shaping surf-boards at 13.

As the sculpting of the polystyrene foam is the decisive factor in how fast the board is, he explains “it’s the most important part of the process.”

He still makes boards and talks with more real passion about surfing than he does about fashion.

From this, Stussy graduated to silkscreening designs onto T-shirts, started customising thrift-shop fabrics into Bermuda shirts and selling them to the shops that sold his boards.

In 1984 he formed a partnership with one Frank Sinatra Jr (real name, no relation). 

Simple, stylish, the Stussy line rode the wave of surf/reggae fusion. NYC rappers, London ravers, and the Japanese fashion conoscenti all picked it up. Now in the last five years Stussy has grossed over $20 million.

Conservative estimates suggest it could have been double but Stussy shrugs: “We’re just chillin’. Keep doin’ what we’re doin’. We’ve controlled our growth, evolved naturally, and always called the shots. No compromises. I have no interest in building a fashion empire or any of that shit. I’m just trvin’ to do the right thing as it comes up.”

Despite several approaches, Stussy has no interest in a Paris/Milan- based operation.

“I don’t even get to LA much,” he claims.

He really has “stuck to my roots” (the surf scene, his love of rap and reggae), maintained a kind of punk/DIY ethic, and avoided any pretence.

Another Stussy home truth is this: “we have no big goals, no masterplan. No press hype.”

Stussy’s advertising/promotional budget is minuscule. Everything has happened more or less entirely at street level, by word of mouth.

He sees Stussy clothes as “simple, wearable, everyday gear. Almost conservative.” He has also called it “beatnik prep” and “bohemian, urban prep style.”

“It was never set out to be like this,” he reflects on his success almost complainingly. “To have my name plastered all over London, Tokyo, New York… It freaks me out. It could be ‘Larry’ written on it instead of ‘Stussy’ for all I care. It was more for me and my crew. You know, the surfers. I know I’ve done it my way though. Like Sid !”

Now 25, his plan is to have no plan: no marketing strategies, no rapid expansion, no absurd diversity of products.

He’s more interested in his land on the most Northern shore of the most Northern Hawaiian island Kauai, from where ideally he would oversee Stussy Inc.

“The whole Pacific hits that beach !” he sighs. “The surf there is as good as anywhere in the world.”

That’s it, he says.

“I haven’t really got anything to say about fashion,” he smiles squirming slightly. 

And with that, unsurprisingly, he’s gone.

“Peace. See ya.”

Somehow you suspect he’ll be around for a while yet.