Converse Creative All Star Series: A Masterclass with Stephane Ashpool

Pigalle founder, basketball-aficionado, and one of Converse's most original collaborators, END. sits down with Stephane Ashpool at the opening of Creative All Star weekend to talk sports, fashion, and why creativity is in everyone.

An undisputed pioneer in the unending love affair between sports and fashion, Stephane Ashpool has spent his life masterfully infusing his love of basketball with his love of design. Truly a creative all star, the Pigalle founder has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry on collections which resonate across the world, memorable for their authentic celebration of sport and the lifestyles which surround them and for his irreverent play on colour, texture, and silhouette.

A core Converse collaborator, Stephane travelled from Paris to the gritty depths of East London to deliver an exclusive masterclass on how he hones his creativity, working carefully to distil meaning and passion into each and every product he releases. Launching Converse's 'Creative All Star' weekend at Hoxton Docks - a 3-day event which is set to boast a series of sneaker customisations, creative workshops, and performances from Octavian and Tyler, The Creator - Stephane let loose a group of industry insiders of the all-white Converse Pro Leather with one directive: do it from the heart.

Sitting down with Stephane after the masterclass, END. catches up with the Parisian designer to talk design, creativity, and why Pro-Leather is his favourite Converse of all time.

Basketball has been a really formative part of your life - both personally and professionally - what are some of your first memories of the sport?

They feel pretty far away now. I was at school and everyone else was running after a soccer ball, but there was one hoop in the school yard and I just decided that I wanted to try that out instead. That was it: I was hooked.

Most people would still consider basketball quite a US-centric sport - what drew you to basketball despite growing up on a soccer-focused continent?

I think it’s probably because I’m ex-Yugoslavia. My mother is from there and I lived there when I was very young before we moved to Paris. Basketball was the number one sport. I think having that early introduction when I was first at school and then growing up watching players like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson become icons of the court, it was just always my instinct to be drawn towards basketball.

You’ve opened Pigalle courts across the world - probably some of the most photographed of all time - which city would you love to open in next?

One I Sarajevo, one in India, and I’m working right now to see if I can make one in La Havane happen. Lots of rum at the launch party if we can.

It’s interesting to speak to someone who’s relationship with Converse truly goes back to those Basketball roots, what do you think makes Converse work so well on and off the court? Why has it become such a significant cultural icon beyond the sport? 

I think Converse was the first brand that did sports' shoes that really worked on the streets. They truly built a lifestyle around the sport. My memories of Converse start with playing in a pair of Converse first and then wearing them off the court. I think that's rare. They’re always reinventing, that’s what makes me excited to partner with them.

Your partnerships and collaborations stand apart because you approach them from equal parts sporting and fashion perspective; what is it about sport and fashion that make them such natural companions?

Growing up, I played basketball on indoor courts sometimes, but mostly it was playing out on the streets or on the courts around the neighbourhood with friends. You’d play and you'd chill at the same time. You’d be at school or work, then you’d go play ball, then maybe you’d go and eat or go for some drinks. For me, fashion needed to come together to form part of my everyday lifestyle and playing sports has always been part of it. That means when I work on something, I want it to be a silhouette that will work under all of these circumstances and that means blending fashion and sports.

You’ve spoken in the past about that idea of how mixing sports and lifestyle has always been your approach and how it fits naturally in Paris because people are eclectic in how they dress - how does Converse Pro Leather fit into that philosophy?

If I’m out and about and I see a basketball, then I’m always ready to go. Converse Pro Leather is perfect for that. It’s comfortable, it’s got support where you need it, and it looks good. It’s my favourite Converse silhouette: I like shoes that have a bit of weight and substance to them.

You embody the ‘Creative All Star’ archetype in that you’ve used your creativity throughout your career to become an influential voice about Paris; about Basketball; about fashion and design. Do you think creativity can be learned, or is it something that’s in your DNA?

It’s something you can develop over time, 100%. Of course, some people might have better senses or instincts depending on how they've grown up or what they've been around, but creativity can start at any age. There doesn’t need to be any barriers to creativity, so my advice to people is just to start. Creativity can be anything. Creating shoes is one thing; creating a painting or a dish is another. You can create a solution for a problem. Creativity is everywhere and it’s in everyone.