Chart-topping star J Balvin, whose jam “Mi Gente” (remixed with Beyoncé) made him one of the most streamed musicians on the planet, is all about choices — from pop artist collaborators to the varied images tattooed on his body.
It seemed fitting, then, that when arriving for FN’s cover shoot last week, the Colombian crooner would want a larger selection than the styles readily available from Greats, Adidas, Mike Amiri and others — and even an exclusive look at a fall Nike Air Force 1 Hi. (Artist Andres Hurtado used a Sharpie to customize the sneakers with re-creations of Balvin’s tattoos.)
In fact, the Latin music sensation, whose latest album, “Vibras,” hits May 25, showed up with a locked silver suitcase full of his own shoes for even more choices.
The heavily tattooed singer has a collection of kicks that sneaker fanatics salivate over, including customs from The Shoe Surgeon, Virgil Abloh’s take on the Air Jordan 1 from Nike’s “The Ten” and the ultrarare Pharrell x Chanel x Adidas Hu NMD.
The 33-year-old, whose real name is José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, is arguably one of the most stylish men in the music business today.
“I like the fact that he takes risk in his fit choices. Not many people can pull looks like him,” said Franklin Cooker, Jordan NRG designer. “I like his style because it has a fun side to it, which I feel is refreshing. Bringing fun back to fashion makes him very important to that industry.”
Here, Balvin shares why his own sneaker collaboration with Nike may be in the works, the story behind his tattoos and his fashion idols.
How do sneakers influence your style?
“Sometimes I start from the jacket and go down, and sometimes I start from the sneakers and go up. Or sometimes it’s like whatever. When I was a kid, the shirt had to match the sneakers and things like that. That’s not me anymore. The best part of the day is when I put this with that, and sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m not, but I feel cool.”
You’re often in Nike. What other brands do you wear?
“Right now, there’s a lot of hype about Balenciaga, but I loved Balenciaga even before all this hype happened. Chanel sneakers are always so fire, and I learned that from Mike [‘Upscale Vandal’ Camargo]. I remember seeing the sneakers for the first time, and they looked like Nike or Adidas or whatever, and I was like, ‘What’s that?’ Sometimes they’re super-low-key — you don’t know what it is. It could be Vans, but it’s not; it’s Chanel. I like the low-key but high-fashion things they have.”
What can you tell us about your upcoming Nike collab?
“We’re talking right now, but there’s nothing official. That is one of my dreams, to have an official collab with Nike and to be the first Latino in music to make that type of collaboration.”
When did you start getting tattoos?
“My first tattoo was when I was like 12. I told my mom I was getting a tattoo, and she was like, ‘Yeah, go ahead,’ but she thought I was joking. I went and got a tribal, the one that everybody gets, on my arm.”
What do your tattoos mean to you?
“I get tattoos because I like them, and there’s nothing deeper than just me looking for my happiness and getting what I want to be happy. The only one that has a meaning is ‘Familia’ [on my chest]. The other ones are just because I like them — Mickey Mouse, Mario Bros. It’s 2018; if you want to get a Nike Swoosh, just get it, or Adidas. Whatever you want to get, just do it.”
Talk about your new album, “Vibras.”
“It means ‘vibes,’ and it’s about that — vibes. Even though people don’t understand what I’m saying, our music is going so global that you just can’t deny it. With this album, we’re proving to the world that we aren’t a one-hit wonder. We’re showing that Spanish language and Latin culture is blowing up. Latinos, we are maybe not as popular or famous, and I don’t think that I’m famous, but we’ve now got some recognition to help us push our culture forward.”
You don’t consider yourself to be famous?
“I feel like I’m a new artist, an up-and-coming artist every day. I’ve got a lot of dreams, so I never feel that I made it. I’m always looking forward.”
You’re about to embark on a world tour. Do you pack specific sneakers for travel and others for when you hit the stage?
“It’s all about the mood. Of course, some sneakers are more comfortable when it comes to traveling, like Air Forces or Air Maxes and Prestos. But it depends on the mood. [And onstage] it’s about the outfit. Sometimes it’s designer sneakers from my boy Mike Amiri or Balenciagas or Chanel.”
How many pairs do you bring on tour?
“A couple. But I’m blessed that every time we get to a place we get so much love. If we fly with 10 sneakers, we go back home with like 50.”
Has touring the world influenced your style?
“I’m learning every day about different cultures. When I’m in Paris or Latin America, I get inspiration from watching everybody and how they rock sneakers. Even here in New York. But my style is pretty much the same. Nike has always been classic. When I was a kid, I wore Air Force 1s and Jordan 1s, and it’s beautiful how that shape became a classic and always will be.”
Which country has the best sneaker culture?
“USA is the most outstanding, for sure. [But] I don’t know about Japan because I haven’t been there yet. We’ll be in Japan this year.”
Are people in Colombia wearing the same things as in the U.S.?
“It’s basically the same. With the internet, the world is smaller than ever. Kids are super-updated as long as they’ve got a cellphone in their hands.”
Of all the sneaker collectors, whose closet would you’d like to raid?
“[Camargo] is crazy. The other is DJ Clark Kent; his collection is crazy, too. And my manager, Fabio Acosta, too. He’s got a lot of sneakers.”
What do you wear when you’re not in sneakers?
“I’m in boots. I go with Timberlands and Chelseas from St. Laurent or Mike Amiri.”
Who are your style icons?
“Pharrell Williams. And Jared Leto — he does whatever the f**k he wants and it looks cool and effortless. He pulls of things nobody can pull. David Beckham’s style is impeccable. He is like a Testarossa, he’s a classic. Whatever he puts on is always going to look fire.”
Do you ever talk fashion with Pharrell, someone you’ve worked with a lot?
“Of course. He’s my dad; I’m his son when it comes to that. He will always be a trendsetter. Every time I see him, I say, ‘Give me information. I want to learn.’”
Do you view yourself as a modern fashion icon?
“No, I think it’s a process. The same way it took me to become an artist, it’s the same with fashion or style. You’ve got to earn the respect, and it comes with time.”
See more images from FN’s photo shoot with J Balvin and check out the video below.
Styled by Shannon Adducci
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