Super7 Spotlight: Josh Fraser / Saucony Shoes
The collaborations that Super7 has done with Saucony Shoes for Universal Monsters and Czarface have been next level creative moments. Super7's roots are in sneaker culture and design so working with a like-minded partner in Saucony has been rewarding and successful. Josh Fraser of Saucony has been the Lead Designer on these collabs. We spoke to him about his history in design and also what have made the Super7 x Saucony projects special.The Super7 x Universal Monsters x Saucony collabs dropped in 2018 and 2021.
Tell us about your design background.
Like many kids I grew up always drawing. Both of my parents had a strong creative streak and they passed that on to me early on. My mother started working for Reebok in 1979. She was the third employee ever and was Paul Fireman's executive assistant for decades. She used to bring me to work sometimes and I grew up watching the very beginning of the company in the U.S..
I would watch the designers at their desks creating what are now the very classics that served as the foundation of the brand. Names like Paul Brown, Tuan Lee, Steve Smith, Judy Close among many others were my first memories of what it meant to be a designer. I was adopted by the tribe so to speak and I learned the language through observation and the graciousness of the people there.
I became fascinated with the process and soon began working as an intern in 1991 during the Summer, and then as a part time position learning what I could as a color assistant. I saw everything from the Classic Leather and Freestyle in the 80s to the original Pump and the Fury to Shaq and Iverson in the 90s and early 2000s. It was specifically during the golden age in the 90s, which was in retrospect the best classroom you could ask for.
My dad also heavily influenced me though his love of design and antiques. The same year my mom started at Reebok my dad began to collect turn of the century Arts and Craft era furniture. He was a beatnik from the 60s whose love for Sci-fi, Jung, and Lovecraft had a massive influence on how I saw things. He has been regional manager a number of of bookstore chains since the 1960s and always brought home interesting books from work.
Both my parents had Bosch prints around the house, which both evoked fascination and terror. My father introduced me to artists like Beardsley, Sargent, and William Blake. This later came full circle when he would take me out to flea markets looking for strange treasure. It informed me about my design language. In retrospect, I realized what an odd sight it must have been as a 7-year-old researching old Kovel price guides like one would comic books.
I specifically became fascinated by American art pottery from 1890-1920. I can remember amusing dealers back in the 80s as they tested me with identifying vases at various dealer shows. Flea markets, antique shops, and yard sales were my weekly routine with my folks and it's there where I realized I was a collector at heart. This began to evolve and shape my personality and directed my aesthetic principles greatly.
The drawing, the love of design, and the appreciation of antiques created in me a desire to seek beautiful and historical objects. Of course, I played with toys. But those toys always had to play a visual part in the stories I would create for myself. As an only child I spent a lot of time on my own. My G.I. Joes, and Star Wars toys were a staple of course, but it was Japanese robots that had my heart.
From 1993-1997 I was at Rhode Island School of Design for illustration. I maintained my job at Reebok and drove from Boston to Providence for many years. Once I was out of school I got my first full-time design job as a Designer 1. This was the first year in what would become a lifelong career in sneaker design since then. I worked at the Reebok U.S. office until 2002 when I was asked to lead the new design hub in Tokyo. I helped establish the RDST (Reebok Design Studio Tokyo) and lived and worked in Daikanyama where I would meet partners like Atmos and Beams, to create new sports lifestyle product like JPE and SWAT, which was our limited-edition Japan-only SMU line.Josh back in The Day - 1998.
I learned what it was to design outside of a Western mindset and humbly relearned what design meant to me. After a couple years I moved back to the U.S. but then in 2006 was asked to move back to Asia. This time it was as a Design Director for a new design consult situated in Kowloon, Hong Kong. This was an amazing time for the APAC market and the growth in China in the mid-2000s again proved to be a golden era. There I led a young team to create sneakers, apparel, POP, and marketing for various clients. I was in over my head but again this taught me a lot.
After this I took a position back in Boston returning to Puma and there I focused on Women's performance and lifestyle product. Puma was the perfect brand for me to expand myself and the people there helped me evolve into the designer I am today.
By 2016 I decided to try another direction and I eventually found myself at Saucony where I still work to this day. There I began educating myself about the long history of the brand and was excited to work on the Originals line. I do many of the collaborations as well as the Saucony X Saucony shoes and special material packs. I get special enjoyment working on story-based product because you are able to hide interesting details that people can discover along the way.
What is your earliest memory of pop culture/toys/favorite toy growing up?
Scroll back a few years and I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. As a result, I spent a lot of time in hospitals for a few months in Boston. This was 1980 and I was lucky to be living in Boston where some of the best places were for treatment. One night at Children's Hospital, my mom bought me a Gaiking Nessar diecast toy. It was in the gift shop, and we only knew them as Shogun Warriors. It changed everything.A Gaiking Nessar (Image courtesy of CollectionDX)
I had no idea what the strange characters where on the toy, but I was told it was Japanese Kanji. This toy was designed and created in Japan, and I had to know more. It was around this time Jim Terry's Force Five came on TV on Channel 25. Nothing would ever be the same. I used to watch Starblazers, Battle of the Planets, and Force Five weekly. Gaiking became my favorite and it prompted me to start collecting all I could find. Needless to say like lots of kids, I had a Gaiking Jumbo Machinder in my room.
I collected Godaikens later on and always kept the boxes even as a kid. I was always very particular about condition and tried my best to keep everything minty. I think sometimes I liked the packaging as much as the toys themselves. In 1985 my parents got me a toy book called Tin Toy Dreams (Robots) by Teruhisa Kitahara.
I was amazed that some of these character toys existed back in the 1960s before I was even born and I began to seek them out. By the age of 12 I was actively collecting vintage Japanese tin toys. There was something about the naive qualities of the toy , which compared to the box illustration always reminded me of abstract art. The toys themselves also walked and lit up. For me they felt less static than the Chogokin or vinyls of the later era. I was hooked on that "Showa" feel and mid-century Japan became something that continued to influence me until this day.
Did you know about Super7 before the Saucony collaborations?
Yes, I knew of Super7 when it was a magazine. When I lived in Japan, I used to buy it and was amazed at the depth they went into discussing vintage toy lines. I knew the people involved from an early period as we collected the same toys and where on the same message boards, like Skullbrain and ToyboxDX. There was always an East Coast and West Coast collecting community, but we all knew one another from interactions online in the 1990s.
What makes the collaborations with Super7 special?
I think Brian Flynn and I always kept in touch over the years as we both have backgrounds in footwear design and toys. We discussed the idea of doing a collaboration one day and just waited for the right time to do it. The first small run we did with Universal Monsters was the lightning in the bottle moment and kicked off the other projects to follow. With Czarface it was the perfect time and place. It was like the Wonder Twins activated the power of product we didn't know the world needed.
How was it decided where to start with designing and planning the collaborations?
We tried to just base it off of the needs that Super7 had for releases at San Diego Comic-Con with Universal Monsters. We wanted it to feel like a natural extension of the brand's storytelling and the process really has always been very easy logistically because there has always been a level of trust. I think the best collaborations are the ones among friends because it comes from an authentic place. The compelling product comes from stories you want to tell and have a passion for. So the design was pretty organic and a low stress one. We both were on the same page as to what we wanted to convey with the shoes and the boxes within the context of the larger story Super7 was telling at SDCC.
When we later decided to do a collab with Czarface it felt very natural as I had put them in contact with one another as I knew Eso/DJ7L's background in toy and pop culture and knew Super7 was the perfect home for them to start working on Czar toys. Again this felt like it wrote itself. The like-minded nature of the group and Super7 felt like the perfect fit and it really was only a matter of time for the three brands to join forces.
I had been working on the Czar shoe for over a year, as I befriended those guys and remember just sending Eso a text while I was out getting coffee, being like, "Dude... lets make a shoe!". We just threw out ideas and it was such a positive experience, because those guys were so humble and gracious. After many conversations the idea began to form, where the ReAction Figure aspect was a no brainer. I had been playing around with the Sneaker/Toy combo for a while and this just felt like it wasn't forced in any way. You don't want to do something because it is trending, you need to be sure the result feels right. Having Czarface and Super7 together just felt right.
Really at the end of the day, these both felt like friends wanting to make great stuff, and it never feels like a job. I think that is the recipe for the best outcomes.
What are some of your favorite details in the collaborations?
For Universal Monsters, I love the Japanese Kanji on the heel on the second wave release. It's a subtle homage to Japanese retro monster culture and it meshes so well with Universal iconography.
I had so much fun discussing how to make the shoes simple but recognizable. The first limited run was amazing but I think we refined it even more with the global launch. I love so many different details it is hard to narrow it down, but it was the tongue in cheek vibe that really resonated with me. It was meant to be fun and classic: The pony hair for The Wolf Man, the reptile leather for Creature from the Black Lagoon, the embroidery details on Dracula and Metaluna Mutant. Also the stitching and glow-in-the-dark on Frankenstein and The Bride. The list goes on!
For Czarface, well the thing that made me laugh out load was when we stamped "Czarcony" on the heel, that was a late add. The first and second round sample just did not have that special something and i went back and re-designed the whole thing from the bottom up. Literally. One of the nicest details for me is the monogram detail of the debossed Czar head on some pretty nice leather. It just elevated it.
The Czarface tongue logo was also something that evolved. It was expensive to do a two-color silicone 3D molded head on the tongue, and many times I had to fight to keep it but I thought it was just that extra part that took it past the typical woven label.
I was happy with the support of the Czar crew, who always said to do what I think is best. It again made me feel like there was a level of trust there to make the best shoe we could. Working with the amazingly talented L'Amour Supreme also made this a special one. Jason Faustino, our Collaboration Manager, was old friends with him and again it felt like a family affair. We all pulled together to make it something special. The footbed and box art was just next level and L'Amour really influenced how I approach the graphic elements in my work now. We all pushed one another. Collabs should not be about clout, but express something meaningful. I think the consumer today is really in tune with that and can see the difference between a money grab and a legit story.The Super7 x Czarface x Saucony collab dropped at New York Comic Con 2022.
Again you don't want to disappoint your friends so you put that extra work in there. We all keep one another honest that way.
How has the sneaker world reacted to the Super7 collaboration?
There has always been a ton of positive support. I humbly think the consumer knows there is lot of love put into these. We have succeeded in pulling in even people who would not generally go after or purchase sneaker collaboration. I got great feedback and support from friends and family obviously, but also from people where this was their first collab purchase. People who have been in this sneaker world long enough can sometimes get jaded by the competitive nature and the Hypebeast mentality, but sometimes you get a great feeling from seeing an authentic reaction to something you helped bring about. That's a really satisfying feeling. It means you did your job.The design tech pack for the Czarface shoe used for production.
Do you have any favorite fandoms?
I am a nerd, and not in a favorably trendy, sexy way. I am more that old school sort of embarrassing way. I have many obsessions. There are so many fandoms out there now... or maybe it is simply that there always was but they have more of a global outlet now with social media. I think things have splintered further and we all don't have to feel alone so much because we know there are others out there who love what we love. It's endless: Japanese Showa-era toys, vintage movie posters, Yokai, old Japanese and Chinese tea ceremony pottery, vintage band shirts and racing jackets, Eames and MCM furniture. It sounds so random now that I list it out but it surrounds me all the time and I love to see people express themselves through what they collect and share with others. My wife Regan is a design manager at Puma and she collects vintage kaiju sofubi. Now I am stuck on tin because you have to focus your energy and income, but I totally live through her vicariously anytime she buys another vintage Garamon!
Right now add documentaries to that growing list. I am one of those people who watches everything that comes out. It is sort of unhealthy how many I watch. I have been working on one with some close friends over the past decade and slowly been crafting what I think is going to be the love letter to Japanese toy collectors. Some people you know might actually be in it!
It has been my dream to really explain what is it that motivates us to collect. There is a lot of great stuff that tells the what, but less so the why. In my own small way I hope to bring an interesting take on that ever growing cultural topic. It's called Mint In Box and I'm hoping to see it completed in the next year or so.The Mint In Box trailer featuring Brian Flynn of Super7.
What is your dream collaboration?
If I told you someone might go do it before me. We can't have that happen. There are some great things out there, from what Reebok did with Eames. I will admit I was so envious of that project and as an Eames freak had wanted to do that years ago but never could figure out how to navigate it. They really brought a great story to market that needed to be told. Of course those Astro Boy Big Red Boots MSCHF did. Good collaborations touch on the zeitgeist of the time, but also defy it simultaneously. What made those boots great was the conversation it created and the fact they were objects you could see various people projecting onto. The source material didn't matter and that's what made it universal. That was Marketing 101 in a time where art and AI are now merging and there is a lot of fear in the Creative community. We have to sometimes have fun and even be literal and on the nose to push back against the self-importance that is common in fashion now.
Is there something I didn’t ask you that you would like to add?
You probably shouldn't as I could go on forever talking about who the best super robot is and why, but thanks so much for the opportunity to talk to you and express a little about what motivates me. Now what collab are we doing next?
Lead Designer at Saucony