Who is the man behind GucciGhost?
By: Kyle Johnson
After a successful stint as a professional Olympic snowboarder for Burton Snowboards, the elusive man known as Brooklyn’s GucciGhost (aka Andrew Trouble) has gained international notoriety thanks to his graffiti-style artwork. From re-creating Gucci’s iconic GG logo to developing a “Real Love” logo of his own, his street-style tagging brought him front and center with Gucci and high-street fashion. And, as evidenced in his collaborations with his wife Santigold, Diplo and now Gucci, he is a lover of music and art serving as a reminder that, what was once all a dream is now “Gucci.”
In this exclusive interview, which first appeared in the pages of the 12th issue of ODDA Magazine, Trouble talks about his life before “Ghost”, how skateboarding help him become more creative and what it is like working with Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele.
Q: To start, take us back to the pre-GucciGhost era and describe what life was like for you leading up to, and including the moment when the moniker and persona of the “ghost” came to life. Tell us about your time in Canada, your former career as a professional snowboarder and how you got to where you are today, including the Halloween of 2012.
A: My life has always been about just creating and making stuff since I was a kid. I was never really into sports, I was into drawing… my mum gave me paper (and I would draw pictures of Superman and wrestlers all day). Besides drawing, skateboarding has always attracted me and somehow it’s been the entry to the artistic world. Becoming a pro-snowboarder was the beginning of we getting to travel the world and understand the process of creating my own signature products for brands that sponsored me (snowboards, outerwear, goggles, sunglasses etc.) I think skateboarding gave me a whole different way of thinking, a wider perspective, and DIY attitude. A lot of what I was discovering at a young age was through skate and snowboard videos my older friends exposed me to. That’s been such an important time in my life. The process of making my own products for brands and all that, getting involved in every single phase of the process, bringing ideas into reality, creating ads and filming videos… just another extension of the creation that brought me around the world. Being a skater & snowboarder to me was more of a martial art than only ‘a sport,’ I love that there is such creative side to it; it’s all about individuality.
Once the GucciGhost project started, the collection came together so fast. It was super fun and easy working with Gucci because they have the best materials and creative team in the world. Alessandro made it super easy for me because he did not give me any rules or guidelines to follow, he basically told me he loved what I was doing and gave me free reins to create whatever I felt. He gave me a studio to work at the Gucci headquarters, I basically transformed it to feel like my studio space in Brooklyn and just vibes out, played music and painted. He would come in with bags, jackets, and materials for me to paint on and once I was done he would take what I completed up to his office and build on them more.
Alessandro took everything to another level whenever he touched it, it was amazing to see him take some of the pieces that I had hanging on my walls for years before Gucci discovered my work and make them feel brand new again. I brought two suitcases full of GucciGhost samples I had created over the years (jackets, prints, bags sketches, etc.) When I started drawing the GucciGhost it opened my mind to a lot of things. I wondered how far could it go and was intrigued by how people reacted to it. It was fun to strip things down and create a less perfect image of a symbol that to a lot of people stands for perfection.
The logo itself affects people in such a strong way, and for me it was fun to play with the GG logo and Gucci word mark, using slogans like “Life is Gucci” to highlight the fact that the brand has transcended fashion and become a part of English slang to describe something as good or great (Life is ‘Gucci’=Life is Great). I added the ‘ghost’ part of the name because I felt no one could see me and not a lot of people believed in what I was doing so I thought it made sense to create a kind of ‘ghost brand’ that would haunt the real brand until someone noticed or believed in me.
People started to think I was crazy for what I was doing. So many people including friends, business associates and family told me ‘Gucci will never going to talk to you,’ ‘What are you doing? If anything they are just going to sue you!’ I kept transforming all of my surroundings, my whole wardrobe, studio, walls and trash cans anything I could find that seemed undervalued or overlooked I would add value to it by making it Gucci. It felt positive, I was salvaging things that were thrown away and turning trash to treasure as well as projecting the idea of believing in an idea so much that it could become real. For a while every post on social media, all my music projects and video I was incorporating this idea and somehow promoting the GucciGhost idea as a brand. It became sort of an obsession, I said literally ‘I am going to do this until Gucci sues me or hires me.’
Q: Alessandro Michelle, Gucci’s creative director, said of your work, ‘I saw the way Trevor was using the symbol of the company and I thought it was quite genius. It’s completely different than the idea of copying. It’s the idea that you try to [take to] the street, through language like graffiti, the symbols of the company.’ For our reader, explain the creative process behind using the Gucci logo in your work and describe what personal connection it has for you. Then, if you don’t mind, illustrate how the collaboration of your street driven messages and imagery came about with the high-end fashion retailer.
A: It was very surreal when Gucci contacted me. I always felt it would just take the right person at the brand to understand what I was doing and how it would apply and Alessandro was that right person. From then I just went straight to Milan and brought two suitcases full of canvases, jackets, hard drives… all that kind of ideas. When Alessandro and I met we went out for lunch to get to know each other a little bit, then got back to the office and opened the suitcases. I wanted to know how he and the team were reacting to all the stuff… it was so exciting for me and also gave me direction just based off the reaction I got from each piece.
A beautiful part of working with Alessandro was he’s so free, he put no limitations on what we were creating, and that’s why I think it’s been as successful as it has. You have to take risks if you want great results; Alessandro is fearless and works with his heart. You have to have the strength to believe in your vision and love what you’re doing; we both had that in common from the start. Besides, the three years I had been doing the GucciGhost project on a street DIY level.
Once I was at Gucci everything happened so fast! We built the first GucciGhost pieces in two weeks, leading up to the Women’s Fall/Winter show in Milan last Feb. was a very proud and surreal feeling to watch the show and see how the pieces were brought to life. From Women’s Fall/Winter collection, our relationship has kept growing organically. We made some GucciGhost pieces for the Cruise Collection as well the Men’s summer with the jewellery line. From there we did a worldwide tour launching the GG collection at Gucci retail shops around the world.
We built out installations in the shops and threw parties celebrating the collaboration: NYC, Barcelona, Berlin, Rome, Tokyo, Dover Street Market installation, Chicago, Chengdu. Street-driven messages happen I guess because that’s been my surroundings and a major part of my life. I’ve spent a lot of my life skating around in the street, playing in punk bands and listening to rap. I’ve always been attracted to things that challenge ‘the norm.’ Alessandro discovered what I was doing and understood it. Whatever medium I’m working with I always make it feel raw and honest…a new fresh feeling to it.
Q: Spearheaded by a Fashion Week party held at Gucci’s Fifth Avenue flagship store on Sept. 14, your first collection hit the racks this past fall. Tell us about the collection. What was it like working with Gucci and Michelle? Was it what you thought it would be? What are three things you cherished most from the experience?
A: I like that people don’t think I’m crazy anymore. It’s a great feeling to see people’s excitement and curiosity about GucciGhost. It’s amazing how this all came to life! I really enjoyed the process once I was at Gucci but I also really enjoyed the chase. Sometimes the chase is even greater than the glory but, in this case, I value both experiences equally.
Q: Now that you’ve had your artwork and fashion designs worn by celebrities like Rihanna and Elton John, what social responsibility do you feel you have as an artist? What is your message?
A: I think GucciGhost is all about believing in something and making it real even when others tell your ghosts are not real. It’s all about love and creating your own value and ownership. I’m just projecting what I’m feeling and what I want in return. ‘Life is Gucci, Life is Great!’ I totally don’t listen to negativity. A big part of me starting the GucciGhost project was to prove that anything is possible with love and the ability to truly believe and take risks.
Q: When speaking of artists having a deep connection to New York, Michelle made note of Keith Haring and his work. He then went on to mention that you were ‘one of his [Haring’s] sons.’ How does this make you feel?
A: That is the hugest compliment ever; it made me cry when I read that quote from Alessandro.
Q: In addition to your GucciGhost creations, you directed the music video ‘Bitch’ for Zoe Kravitz and her band, Lolawolf. You’ve also released two albums under the alias, ‘Trouble Andrew,’ called ‘T.U.P.A’ and ‘GucciGhost EP.’ In regards to Lolawolf and directing, how did your relationship begin? Were you always into directing videos? Where do you see your directing career in the future? Then, in regards to your band, how did it get its start? What are its creative influences and how would you describe your music?
A: Zoe reached out when her bandmates from Lolawolf saw some of the videos I had been creating for my record & GucciGhost propaganda posts. So we got together and clicked so I started making all of these music videos. I’ve always made my own videos as a kid skating and snowboarding in 90s so I just applied the same lo-fi raw formula. I keep it very simple and real.The Bitch video with Miley I shot when we were all at South by Southwest (SXSW®) festival in Texas. I went to the dollar store and bought some Miley Cyrus [Hannah Montana] playing cards and just had them hang out in our hotel room partying having fun together… In general, making music, videos, clothing or painting I try to keep it simple and honest. I’ve never been classically trained in any of these fields or went to school for art or music or fashion, I have just taught myself. It’s fun to find my own way of expressing myself. I think not being trained to do things ‘correctly’ has helped me developed my own style. Regarding influences, skateboarding is where it all started for me. It was my entry to art, music, fashion and a way of thinking. Skateboarding is also how I discovered snowboarding and that is what got me around the world at a young age. This exposed me to so much and expanded my mind because I got a chance to experience first hand how other people live their lives. Traveling is the greatest influence to me, it’s played such a major roll in who I have become. Music is everything to me. It has always driven me to create and inspired me to push myself. The power of music is magic, it’s amazing how it can change your emotions, that’s why it’s kind of godly. When I came to discovering creating music it kind of happened by accident, although I always felt the desire to try just never seemed to find time because by that time I was snowboarding as a profession. I had gotten knee surgery because of a snowboarding injury that had me out of commission for about 9 months so I could not really do much but stay in at home.
My wife Santi and I had just moved in together and she had some instruments around the house. I would just mess around playing little punk riffs and she would come in the room and sing over what I was playing.I ended up writing on 6 songs for her ‘Stiffed’ project at the time. Doing that really opened my mind to the fact that, even If I was not trained to play well I could play enough to make a song and express my emotions and even if it was in the most simple way it could still be powerful.
I have worked with Santi a lot of the years. I was featured on I’m a Lady from the first Santigold LP and most recently directed her video Who Be Lovin’ Me feat I Love Makonnen and some others. We always collaborate since we are partners, we share ideas and encourage one another but we definitely give each other a lot of independence when it comes to creating as well. Also, we are parents, that’s the best collaboration ever! I have major A.D.D, I usually jump from project to project, one minute I’m painting, the next I’m filming or designing then back to recording music and so on. I think it helps me not get bored of one thing and keep staying productive. I will drop some new music in March as well as some other special visual projects on Guccighost.com
Q: You’re married to Santi White, the American singer and producer who goes by the name, Santigold. How did you guys meet?
A: We met in NY through mutual friends and immediately clicked. We fall in love, and then moved to NY together.
Q: Having given up a career as an Olympic snowboarder to delve deeper into your obsession with art and music, how do you see your creative work influencing the snowboard culture? Are there any similarities between the two?
A: I think there are similarities between skate, snow, music, fashion and art. Skating and snowboarding taught me about commitment and originality. I discovered a lot of the music I love and developed my sense of style through that scene. Art, music and fashion play a major role in the culture and vice versa.
Q: Give three words to describe each of the following events:
– Leaving Canada for New York
Whole world, one city …
– Meeting your wife, Santigold
– Receiving a phone call from Alessandro Michelle
Q: Your YouTube page says that you’re ‘a Nova Scotia born, Brooklyn artist whose genre bending style permeates his music and designs.’ With our 12th issue paying homage to ‘unexpected perceptions,’ describe your genre-bending style’s influence on modern culture. What misconceptions did you have about fashion before working with Gucci?
A: Regarding misconceptions about fashion, hmmm… I think that people in the business are having more fun than people might think. Traditionally I think it may have been more rigid but me being there just proves that something is changing, roles are changing… we are bringing in new vibes.
Q: Finally, in terms of success, describe what it means to you. What are your goals and future plans?
A: Success for me is to be able to keep creating, exploring and expanding my mind and spirit. Just dream and make those dreams my reality. Making something out of nothing, that’s success.