Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Bstroy Conversations | 032c

Summer 2021: The Flyest Criminal

A few weeks after oysters with Brick, I met Du at his apartment in New York City. The beautiful two-bedroom’s huge windows overlook the Harlem skyline, and the interior is dominated by bookshelves and endless rows of shoes. The décor includes a framed photo of Thriller-era Michael Jackson, stuffed lambs from a Brooks Brothers store display purchased from a vintage boutique. Pierrot Le Fou was playing on a giant flatscreen when I arrived, but no one was watching. A gorgeous woman with a kind smile greeted me then returned to Du’s bedroom. We go down to the garage and hop into Du’s Porsche, the same one that was parked outside the pop-up. He told me it’s the first car he has ever owned, after dreaming of owning one since he was a teenager. “I come from a traditional hustler upbringing,” he said. He is the ninth of ten kids whose parents were often out of the house, working to support the family. “The kids had to raise themselves, and the outside was raising the kids,” he recalled. “I always wanted to be in control of my own destiny. If it’s not me, it’s God. Not another person.” When Du was 14, he established his first dope trap. “A lot of the time, I thought I had it bad, but I had homies that had it a lot worse,” he explained. “But for a traditional hustler upbringing, that’s standard. You have to fight for yourself and not take ‘no’ for an answer.” Du had just enough to survive, but, like Brick, he wanted more than just survival. “If you want extras, you might need to go rob and kill.”

Du grew up quickly. His peers didn’t expect him to go to college, but Du took a chance on himself and applied to Columbia, Duke, Howard, Cornell, Georgia Tech, and Emory – some of the most elite schools in the country. He was rejected from each one, but Emory told Du if he survived two years at community college, they would offer him admission. “Before I even got to school,” he told me, “I was thinking, ‘Damn, what am I gonna do with my life? What can I steal from college to be able to enhance my life as a criminal?’ Because I knew I was gonna have a criminal life. I believe in crime as an equalizer for the forces against us. It’s something you do without asking for permission, and it is only based on your own work ethic and your intelligence.”

Du came up with the perfect life plan at the intersection of lawlessness and creativity: art thief. “An art thief is knowledgeable,” he explained. “He speaks multiple languages. He’s agile. He’s in shape. He’s the flyest criminal. At the time I decided, that’s my future self. Everything up until now has been progressing to be that person.” Once Du landed at Emory, he started selling to rich kids and studying art history. The “thief” part of the plan didn’t last long. “Once I started actually going to classes and shit, I just fell in love with art on its own. I stopped thinking about taking it and started thinking, ‘Damn, this shit is crazy.’ Art is the evidence of man. At any time, art can tell you what was going on. That turned me out. My criminality got pushed to the back burner and now I’m thinking about creating. That’s where Bstroy came from, the decision to create.”

If Brick is the face of Bstroy, Du is its heart. He speaks with vulnerability and discusses his art with the care of a parent speaking about their child. When he told me how he lost his oldest friend at 25, a defining moment of pain in his life, I revealed to him that I also lost my oldest friend, Nicholas, who went to Emory at around the same time he did. Du looked me in the eyes with a degree of pain and told me he gets it—the only satisfying response when sharing your grief with someone.

We crossed Harlem and arrived at the west side apartment the A$AP Mob helped Du and Brick move into back in 2015 – tragically, on the same day A$AP Yams died. When I visited the dimly lit railroad-style space served as a studio. There was a sewing machine in living room and the walls were lined with press clippings, including The New York Times’ 2019 “After Kanye, After Virgil, After Heron,” which featured Bstroy alongside other emerging talents as “The Dissenters” of their generation. I met Ashton, Bstroy’s chief assistant. “He does everything,” Du told me. Ashton has the word “Samsara” tattooed on his neck, the same logo from their 2019 ready-to-wear collection. We had come to pick up Du’s Commes des Garçons x Nike collab shoes, unreleased, and to look through the samples of their “Bistrot” collab with High Snobiety, for which Du was set to direct a campaign video later that day.

Recalling Bstroy’s first runway show in Atlanta a decade ago, “Boys Don’t Cry,” Du explained McQueen’s influence on their punk approach. “He always treated his shows with the same absurdity as the clothes.” They wanted to embarrass City Hall and call out Atlanta’s public transportation. “We have a train system, but it’s a facade. It’s a ‘T.’ It goes up and down in the middle and left and right in the middle. How the fuck you use that?” Atlantans either drive – or they can’t get around. “Only the poor, only the Black and brown, only the people who have no other options ride the train in Atlanta.” Bstroy chose Atlanta’s Buckhead MARTA station, in the city’s luxury shopping district and most expensive commercial center. City officials didn’t notice until a video went viral and wound up on the local news, putting Brick and Du on the run from the police for weeks. Luckily, no charges were filed against them in the end. After the event, many MARTA employees applauded Bstroy for bringing attention to Atlanta’s transit problems, and Brick and Du were even invited to redesign the system’s swipe cards. Staying true to their protest, the duo declined.

Du took me on a mission for shrimp – and banana pudding for his girl – a two-hour ordeal back and forth across town in rush hour traffic. I asked him why he chose to drive in New York. “You can be the flyest dude in the world. You can have all the money you could possibly want. You could afford as many Ubers as you can pay for. But nothing beats picking a girl up in your own car. Nothing.”

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