How Painter Sophie Mazzaro Turns Sneakers into Custom Album Artwork
The world of music consistently blends into the art spectrum. When a new record is released we see an image depicting the band, artist, or DJ’s vision. The album artwork is a key component and representation in recognizing a genre or period of time. Recently I discovered an artist in Santa Monica who fuses her love of music and passion for painting effortlessly together.
Meet Sophie Mazzaro, the 25-year old artist was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. Then moving to Texas as a teenager, she quickly fell in love with Austin and its downtown cultural art scene. After graduating high school and returning to Europe she decided to make the U.S. her new home. At 19, Mazzaro landed in Los Angeles and attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute majoring in stunt work. While her career has gone in a different path since, her appetite for the arts never wavered.
The sneaker industry is a unique one that combines rare and exclusive styles, a crazy, supply-and-demand resell market, and trendsetters that cross entertainment worlds. Mazzaro began designing her custom kicks at a young age, and now has a profitable business with distributors contacting her to move large quantities.
From the music scene to the tech world, everyone is swooning for her new styles. Superstar DJ Steve Aoki has been seen rocking her kicks, so has Oliver Luckett, CEO for social media publishing group, theAudience. Music and film have jumped out lately, with her stimulated pieces featuring The Simpsons, Star Wars, Beauty and the Beast, and children’s book “Where The Wild Things Are” characters creating a buzz.
I caught up with Mazzaro recently on her beachside rooftop to discuss the intricacies of music, fashion, painting, and her newfound success in designing custom sneakers for locals and celebrities alike.
OC Weekly (Michael Silver): What drew you to California?
I was born in the winter, in the middle of snow and I love it but I’m also such a beach person so I had to live somewhere near the coast. LA has all the crazies and creative people, artists, and people who are tired of their hometown.
Were you into the arts back home, growing up in Germany? How did you get introduced to painting?
Always, I’ve been doing art since I was 5-years old. We didn’t have a TV at home so my only option after school was to play outside or paint. It was the pre-iPhone generation and I’m happy that I didn’t grow up starring at my phone screen. I practiced more than 10,000 hours drawing every single day. I got into painting shoes; this is a funny story, by saving up all my money to buy sneakers from the U.S. They weren’t available in Germany. I was so happy to wear them (Nike Blazers) and then my archenemy in school already had them the next day! So I painted the kicks and wore them to school, and another girl bought them off me, right off my feet, and I walked home in socks. I hate wearing similar clothes like somebody else. I always buy clothes when traveling so no one will have the same style.
What are some of your inspirations behind these paintings?
My inspirations are always powerful women, such as Frida Kahlo de Rivera; she’s one of my biggest role models. I listen to a lot of podcasts and read books on her life. In general I feel like in many industries out here, women are not really represented in art. I compete with almost all guys. Miami, and my travels inspire this series; it’s one of my biggest passions. I take color inspirations, or this Versace hat for example from the Miami Art Basil culture. Another one of my pieces focuses on our obsession with luxury and female soldiers. I have girlfriends who have served in the Israeli Army, and we wear the camouflage as a fashion statement while people are out in the world wearing them daily in the fight.
Did you start making custom kicks because a classmate purchased yours, or was it interesting to have a special pair for yourself?
It was never about making money; more about something I really enjoyed making unique pieces. I would draw on everything to have a different look that nobody else had. I even made shirts for family and painted my backpack. Now out here (in Los Angeles), people just really love the shoes! Over the years I’ve gotten better and I’m able to make crazier designs. Some people have a really good idea of what they want. Last week for example a guy wanted Kanye West album covers. Certain clients will give me free reign and therefore every pair is unique. No two pairs will be alike.
Were you naturally talented as a painter?
It’s interesting, I never went to school for that. It was not an option growing up. Arts and Fine Arts majors are one of the most under paid and most wasted majors in the world! You pay a lot and don’t end up getting jobs from it. With everything I’m self-taught. We had an artist friend in Berlin who was in his 40’s when I was a kid; I would visit his studio, learn techniques and watch him paint, copy his work until I perfected it then draw my own.
What gives you the most satisfaction: making your own pair of sneakers or a custom design for the world to see?
The best moment ever was my friend, who recently got married, wearing my shoes during his ceremony. It was in Iceland (I previously met him traveling there) and he dawned shoes with watermelons on them. He wore the same pair to Steve Aoki’s wedding and then Aoki commissioned two pairs of shoes from me! It’s nice to see anyone wearing my shoes.
What music do you listen to? What genres get you in the mood for painting?
When I paint I’ll listen to Queen, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles. Growing up, my Dad was in a band so I inherited his musical tastes from the '60s and rock-n-roll. I’m working on a new series featuring Freddie Mercury, The Beatles, and Keith Richards. It’s going to be my ‘Musical Icons of Rock N’ Roll.’
In terms of time, how long does it take to make a finished pair? Let’s take these Star Wars themed pair for example.
It takes a lot more time then people think. It usually takes more time than I think, like ‘Oh I can just knock these out today.’ Typically I’ll work on these for three days with breaks, especially if I film a time-lapse. I started making videos so people could see how much work actually really goes into this. I can’t do this in two hours; it’s more like 12 hours.
Is there a specific style of shoe you like to work with, weather it be a Nike or Vans model?
They’re different because Vans are canvas shoes so I love working with them. It’s fabric and you can just paint on them easily, it’s very detailed. On Nike’s I prefer to do patterns because they need to be chemically stripped before I work on them. They come sealed, and I wear my Breaking Bad mask, stripping the outer layer, painting, and resealing them to end. You can wear them in the rain! That’s one of the questions people ask me the most.
Social media is big these days for connecting with audiences. Do you handle a lot of communication through your channels? Are you stunned when celebrities reach out?
I was surprised when Steve Aoki asked me to commission some work. When we first met I looked at his shoes and he had custom Nike’s with Michelangelo ‘Angels’ on them. This guy clearly has good taste! When I’m out with friends and they’re wearing my designs people ask about them. Word of mouth is a big key, not as much social media as you would think.
What’s the last concert you went to or the next one you’re looking forward to?
I can’t remember the last one off the top of my head, but the next one I’m going to is The Rolling Stones in September. They’re playing in Hamburg, Germany.
What can we expect from Sophie Mazzaro in the future with her work of arts?
My next goal is to attend Art Basel in Miami, that’s my dream. I want to have more shows out here as well and become the female Banksy. The series I’m working on now is President Trump based. People seem to love/hate him and it’s good social commentary.
In a world where everyone needs to have the hottest clothes and bling to impress, this artist is looking the opposite way. Music and art will always be a synthesis for creativity and originality. If you would like to see more of Mazzaro’s work follow her Instagram page (@mazzanero) and contact her up for custom projects.
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