London's resident hype-magician puts the React Vision to the test, talking sneakers, magic, and why London is a 'Nike or nothing' town.
A rising star on London's sneaker scene, young magician Billy Menezes has carved a niche for himself by colliding his two passions to create a unique hybrid of contemporary youth culture and old school sleight-of-hand.
Honing his craft by sneaking into some of the city's most exclusive events and performing for whoever he found inside, Billy is no stranger to an unforgiving audience. Having shared his talent with some of the biggest names in music and fashion - from Skepta to A$AP Mob to Kate Moss - Billy has mastered the art of illusion and built his confidence from the ground up. A truly 2020 illustration of the magic you can make for yourself when you adopt Nike's 'just do it' attitude as your own personal mantra, at just 16 years old Billy is already making his mark and establishing himself as magic's one to watch.
Enter Nike React Vision: a subversive take on one of the Swoosh's most exciting young silhouettes, heralding in a new decade with a re-engineered aesthetic and future-ready materials mix. Built with surrealist comfort in mind, the React Vision was recalibrated by Nike's design renegades in the D/MS/X division at the sportswear monolith's Beaverton HQ.
Both born of the special type of magic that comes from ripping up the rulebook, Billy Menezes and the React Vision come together in this exclusive Nike story shot on location in the heart of the British capital as END. gets to know one of London's young visionaries.
How did you get into doing street magic?
I’ve been doing magic for 5 or 6 years now, but I’ve always been interested in it. I always had the magic boxes you get when you’re a kid but - I think it was maybe around 2013 - I started looking up simple magic tricks on YouTube and just spent weeks perfecting the ones I could find. I got my first deck of cards that Christmas and that was it really: now I'm here.
Are there are any particular magicians or moments in the history of illusions which stand out as instrumental in your decision to pursue this on your own?
It’s always the big moments in magic that people remember; when David Copperfield vanished the statue of liberty or David Blaine underwater. For me it was never those big things. It was more the smaller scale stuff that inspired me; people going out into the streets with one camera and just showing people magic. The real first look into that was probably David Blaine when he had his street magic special in like 1997. When I was around 13 or 14 Dynamo was really huge and watching his stuff was really cool. Now I’m lucky enough to be friends with him and can talk to him about magic. I’d say people like Dynamo and David Blaine are the people I really started watching who got me hooked.
Street magic and streetwear are both about the culture of what’s really happening out on the streets, so the two come together naturally.
Did you know you wanted to do magic in the streetwear space, or did it happen by chance?
The streetwear and the magic colliding was always going to happen because I spend all my time around people on that scene showing them magic. Being around the right people it was just a matter of time really until they came together. From there it’s just become a bit of a USP for me. I’m interested in streetwear and sneakers and I've got friends involved in different parts of the industry, so it was a natural space for me to work and perform in. Besides, everyone loves magic.
You’ve worked with some big names in the industry - The Basement and Nike to name just a couple - why do you think there’s such a crossover between the two cultures?
To be honest I think there would be a crossover between magic and anything. It’s such a natural thing for people to enjoy that there’s not much it wouldn’t work well with. I think I bring some new ideas to the table by having an interest in streetwear and sneakers. It means I can bring them together in ways that are interesting for brands and their followers. Street magic and streetwear are both about the culture of what’s really happening out on the streets, so the two come together naturally.
What’s your favourite spot in London to do magic?
I love it around Soho. I used to come to Soho for no reason on the weekends and just come up to people and show them magic. That’s how I got started and got to know people on the scene because I’d just walk up to people outside the Stussy or Supreme stores and show them tricks. Soho is good because everyone is so busy so if you can get someone’s attention for a few minutes, show them some tricks, and then they can go back to their day, it’s just a nice area to be around and works well for street magic.
How has living and working in London shaped your craft?
I’m really lucky to live in London. I have friends who live further out and it’s just more difficult for them to do stuff or get noticed. Everything is so accessible here; I can jump on a bus and be somewhere in a minute. I get inspired just being around London’s atmosphere because it’s so diverse and there’s so much to learn from it. When I was younger I used to sneak into a lot of big events in London and having them nearby made it so much easier. I could show up and try my luck and if I didn’t get in, it wasn’t a problem I’d just head home but if I did suddenly I had access and was showing tricks to all these big people. I’ve shown Dua Lipa magic, even Kate Moss. She was crazy actually; I didn’t think about how big she was until afterwards. Skepta’s my favourite artist and I’ve shown him magic which is mad, and members of A$AP mob when I was in New York.
Confidence is obviously key - how do you keep it calm and collected when there’s so much out with your control when interacting with the public?
With magic, you’re always one step ahead and no one really knows how the trick is going to end beside you. If something goes wrong there’s always usually some way to fix it by the end. Growing your confidence is just about getting out and doing it; not just showing tricks to your family but actually getting out there and showing as many people as you can. Now a deck of cards is just like having a phone in my hand – I always have them with me.
When it comes to magic, there’s a lot of method in the madness which no one really sees; where does the inspiration for a new trick come from and how long does it take to develop one?
Usually, I’ll start off by visualising something I think will look cool and I’ll spend a few weeks really thinking about it – how’s it going to look? What do I need to make it happen? It’s a lot of planning and thinking to start with. It’s not just a case of picking it up and doing it, you have to put in the legwork. People don’t see what goes behind the tricks, but I like it that way because it’s more special. Once I think it’s ready I’ll try and do it as many times as I can in a row to as many different people to really nail it down. It’s just repetition, to be honest. It’s like starting a new sport. You start running and maybe you’re not great at it but you get better with practice and then you might add a new pair of shoes or something to help you improve – it’s just like that you practice and you add or take away elements to make it better until you've nailed it down.
Mixing exaggerated and subtle movements and some pretty ornate hand gestures are all key components of magic - what would you say is the most important skill you need to master the surreal?
It’s a performance art at the end of the day. It’s about your character and how you present yourself and your magic. You could do the most basic trick but if you present it with the right character people can still be amazed. A character or a bit of performance flare can honestly take a trick from 0 to 100. It’s not just about technical skill level, it’s about putting effort in with your audience.
What are some of your earliest memories of Nike?
I got a pair of Nike football boots – T90s, the Wayne Rooney ones – when I was at school. They were the first Nike’s I got, and I just loved them so much because London definitely has this ‘Nike or nothing' mindset. Everyone loves Nike. A kid in my school came in with the red Tinker AM90s and everyone was obsessed with them. I got my first pair of 90s last year and I just think they’re so hard. In terms of earliest memories of Nike, I think I’m living them right now. Your teenage years are really the time that you start experiencing new sneakers and buying stuff for yourself. Even shooting this story for the new React Vision – this is going to be one of my earliest memories of a new Nike silhouette when I look back in years to come which is sick.
London definitely has this ‘Nike or nothing' mindset. Nike just captures everything that’s special about London.
You've mentioned that London has this 'Nike or nothing' mindset, what is it that sets the Swoosh apart from other sneaker brands in the city?
If I think of Nike I just think of London. The Nike London campaign from a couple of years ago just summed it up. It's almost as if, in London, if you can’t agree on anything you can agree on Nike. They support young people doing cool stuff in the city and even though they’re a global brand and everyone knows them, to me, Nike just captures everything that’s special about London.