Coffee in hand, the man behind HIDDEN.NY steps out of the elevator at Hypebeast’s New York City headquarters. He’s the Internet’s foremost archivist-slash-moodboarder-slash-designer, one with a thriving clothing label and a main Instagram account with north of two million followers. Still, he’s immediately self-effacing.

“Not what you were expecting, eh?” he says, a broad grin on his face. Mr. Hidden, as we’ll call him for naming purposes, is used to the surprised reactions of the few that get to meet him (no, he’s not in any of this article’s photos). He gives off an easygoing, unpretentious air, but directly below simmers his deep curiosity and desire for knowledge, traits have enabled him to launch a full-fledged lifestyle brand and hire an entire HIDDEN.NY team, off of the success of his Instagram account and its accompanying clothing label. He’s no stranger to the collaborative space, having worked with everyone from Billionaire Boys Club, Goldwin and NEEDLES to G-SHOCK and Salomon, but his current venture is his most ambitious yet: a partnership with ASICS for a new take on the GEL-NYC, accompanied by an immersive pop-up experience.

As expected from a brand with a follower count in the seven figures, no wholesale stockists and no brick-and-mortar location HIDDEN.NY’s community exists entirely online. Therefore, when it’s time to bring the HIDDEN.NY experience from URL to IRL, the brand is especially keen on giving its customers something that’ll stick with them. “It’s the one chance our community has to see the HIDDEN.NY universe in real life,” Mr. Hidden says. “Creating something with a bit of depth to it, something that [the community] can really interact with, something that leaves an impression is really important.”

And the IRL experience that HIDDEN.NY and ASICS provided to their customers was somewhere between performance art and commerce. Lampooning bland, run-of-the-mill ‘80s and ‘90s office culture, the release of the HIDDEN.NY x ASICS GEL-NYC was held at an “office,” in which new employees (read: customers) watched a “training video” that Mr. Hidden notes with glee, is known as the “world’s most boring video.” Then, they fill out forms to select their sneakers and matching apparel. 25 of these customers who previously found QR codes that HIDDEN.NY scattered around the Big Apple’s streets were even able to purchase a 1-of-25 limited-edition pair, only obtained by putting away their phone and heading from the “waiting room” up to “the office” itself — a fully-built experience straight out of Office Space— after watching the training video. There, they’d go meet “the boss,” who’d shake their hand on a job well done, and give them their limited-edition sneakers, a moment immortalized in a Polaroid picture for each winner.

The entire experience was a melange of all things HIDDEN.NY, from the office occurance (which was inspired by a photo of long-haired Michael Scott shaking hands with his boss) to the shoe’s inspirations: Mr. Hidden’s near-lifelong affection for Photoshop and Illustrator, the tools, he notes, that create most modern streetwear.

“I was using a cracked Adobe suite when I was a teenager — I didn’t even buy it. That’s how this stuff starts, just having an idea and being able to create it,” Mr. Hidden says. “Now, it’s at a point where I’ve got a full-on brand and am doing a collaboration with ASICS, and it all started with those tools on my computer. I did it, and I want to communicate that other people can do it too.”

In the words of Mr. Hidden himself, here’s what the collaboration represents, why an IRL experience is so important to his largely-digital brand, and a little bit of the creative magic behind his endevors.

You have a very passionate digital following. What’s it like translating that energy into a physical experience?

Trying to make it immersive is key. Bringing the product to life, creating a universe around it. That’s how you make an interesting pop-up.

It seems that the markers of a successful pop-up have changed dramatically over the past five years or so. Where before, having a big, unruly turnout and the cops getting called — essentially generating as much hype as humanly possible — was the goal, now it’s more about providing that experience, offering something immersive instead of just having people show up and buy something.

Yeah, I think that’s the way it’s going. Trying to create a better experience for the customer. Those kinds of pop-ups were the result of the “drop” model, which I think is getting a little bit old. The streetwear customer changed a lot during COVID. They want to be treated better. I hope I can do that [laughs].

“Creating something with a bit of depth to it, something that [the audience] can really interact with, something that leaves an impression is really important.”

This pop-up is very interactive. It’s almost more like a performance art installation with a product element than the traditional commerce-focused pop-up or party. Can you tell us more about the creative process behind that, and why it’s so important?

It’s like the one chance that our community has to see the HIDDEN.NY universe in real life. They form this relationship with it online, but it’s very rare that they actually get to interact with it in this way. Creating something with a bit of depth to it, something that they can really interact with, something that leaves an impression is really important. You’ve only got one shot at each pop-up, so if the community can experience something, not just buy something, it’ll leave something with them that’s greater than just a purchase.

It leaves a feeling behind.

Absolutely. With this pop-up, we worked backward. The whole inspiration came from The Office, specifically a photo of a young Michael Scott shaking hands with his boss. It’s just such a funny picture that’s always stuck with me, and it’s brought to life at the end of the experience: you get the shoes, shake hands with the boss, and get a Polaroid taken. Though that’s the end of the experience, it was what we came up with first. Then, we built a whole corporate office-based storyline off of that.

So you built this whole concept off of the inspiration from that one photo? Can you walk us through that process?

It just started as a funny idea, really. Brooks, one of the HIDDEN.NY designers came up with it initally. He likes … I’d call it a ‘90s vaporwave aesthetic, and for some reason that theme, my love of Photoshop and Illustrator, The Office and the shoe we designed all fit together. And that’s what we wanted to do — going back to what I said about those immersive experiences, it’s almost like we’re bringing the universe of the shoe to life.

That ties back into something you’d mentioned earlier — how your online community has this idea of what HIDDEN.NY is in their heads and that this is your chance to show it to them in person. Do you feel that there’s a pretty solid middle ground between how they see HIDDEN.NY and how you see it?

The nice thing about the HIDDEN.NY audience is that they’re very receptive. They’re very curious, but also very chill. Even at the last pop-up we did, there was no pushing and shoving. It was a very respectful community vibe, so I feel like I can do this type of stuff with my audience. They’re very open to something that takes a bit more time and a bit more thought, as am I, so I feel like we really connect that way.

“We’re looking for lasting memories.”

Digging deeper is a core tenant of HIDDEN.NY, both as a platform at large and in the context of this experience. Why is that important to you, and why is it important to your audience?

We’re looking for lasting memories. Something to feel connected to, a real experience, a real interaction. If HIDDEN.NY doesn’t provide that, it’s a faceless Instagram page. Providing depth is extremely important. There’s a lot of depth to be had through the course of this experience: you see the post on the HIDDEN.NY page, and you find the QR codes we put around the city. You don’t know what, exactly, it’s for, but you come to our pop-up, dive into what’s going on and get some special shoes at the end of it. That’s something you’ll always remember, not something that just lasts a week or two. Real experiences and real interactions like that make a huge difference.

And in support of that, no phones are allowed in the pop-up. Was that something you knew you wanted to do as soon as the idea started coming together?

Yeah. It’s pushing everyone to have a real, tangible experience. You normally would only interact with HIDDEN.NY on your phone. This time, no phones. I wanted people to really be in it.

A lot of iconic streetwear brands — and even early “sneaker culture” — were built on the backs of community-driven storytelling, well before the modern market where brands are obsessed with controlling each and every piece of their narrative. Do you think having a true word-of-mouth pop-up with no extensive digital documentation recaptures that element of community storytelling?

I think streetwear is built on passion, specifically people feeling extremely passionate about a culture that’s bigger than just them. That passion is what I’m focused on, which is why HIDDEN.NY doesn’t need a public face and this project can tell the story it does, one of using tools like Photoshop and Illustrator to create a streetwear brand from the ground up. This collab really is an ode to streetwear, old streetwear espeically. The creation process behind those graphics.

What do you view as a successful collaboration?

One where the person I work with helps me create something that I could never create on my own. This collaboration with ASICS, their decades of technology and experience, helped me create a much better shoe than I could have on my own. They’ve done an exceptional job bringing the idea to life.

What made you decide on the GEL-NYC as the canvas for this collaboration? Some fans of your work might have expected an archival model, given all the research HIDDEN.NY does, but the GEL-NYC offers an interesting blend of both new and old.

I think that’s it — it’s a nice mix between a casual sneaker and a runner. It’s got that grounded, solid sneaker feel but the technology and comfort of a runner. The NYC bit is a nice parallel as well. I founded HIDDEN.NY in New York City, and it’s in the tagline, so that made sense and tied the whole concept together quite nicely.

What part of the HIDDEN.NY story does this collaboration tell?

The story of how I started in streetwear, and how streetwear is created in the modern age. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a photographer and I got pretty good at Photoshop. As a teenager, I got by doing freelance graphic design, which I continued when I moved to New York City. I had a few design jobs with menswear brands, then, of course, creating HIDDEN.NY and designing all the graphics for it too. The whole way through, all that work was done on Photoshop and Illustrator.

It just holds so much. To me, even looking at the bounding box [on the shoe’s lateral heel] is nostalgic. It’s like looking at an old Pokémon game, just a good vibe. Thankfully, those good vibes translated into the design process. We only had to make one sample, and no big changes were necessary.

Besides the Photoshop and Illustrator references and the The Office shoutout, what other cultural references informed the collaboration?

All the taglines on the posters created to accompany the collaboration are playing into the idea of your run-of-the-mill office, just like Office Space. “It’s not a shoe, it’s a machine” draws from a vintage Apple add as well. Microsoft Word, other boring-yet-nostalgic office stuff [laughs].

Who’d have thought “boring nostalgic office stuff” would be such a vibe?

That’s kind of what makes it fun, right? Even when people are downstairs in the waiting room, waiting to come to the “office,” speak to the “boss” and get their shoes, we’re playing this two-hour-long video of a guy explaining how to use Microsoft Word. It’s from 1989, and known as “the most boring video ever made.” Almost two hours long, and he says some really weird stuff in it. But it’s funny to use those things as a reference because they’re so far removed from anything in our sphere.

Last question: what’s something that you really hope the collaboration communicates?

I hope it communicates how HIDDEN.NY started. How you can create a business out of nothing. I used a cracked Adobe suite when I was a teenager — I didn’t even buy it. That’s how this stuff starts, just having an idea and being able to create it.

I started by printing sh*tty T-shirts in my sitting room, with ink that would come off after one wash. But people bought them, and each time I could do them a little bit bigger and a little bit better. That repetition and those learning experiences are so important. Now, it’s at a point where I’ve got a full-on brand and am doing a collaboration with ASICS, and it all started with those tools on my computer.

I did it, and I want to communicate that other people can do it too.

The HIDDEN.NY x ASICS GEL-NYC released via a one-day pop up at 41 Division Street in New York City on Saturday, March 23, then shock-dropped to HIDDEN.NY members on the HIDDEN.NY webstore Sunday, March 24. A general release will follow later this year at a yet-to-be-announced date.

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