Creating His Own World: Luka Sabbat for Grailed
Creating His Own World: Luka Sabbat for Grailed
- Words Lawrence Schlossman
- Date May 10, 2017
Here at Grailed, we've been lucky enough to work behind-the-scenes with Luka Sabbat on various projects for a while now. At just 19-years-old, the model/stylist/entrepreneur and general wunderkind has been making a name for himself across the fashion industry, working with all your favorites from Adidas and Kanye West to Dolce & Gabbana and Haider Ackermann. While it's nearly impossible to get him to part with any clothing—seriously, this dude loves his gear—we were finally able to convince him to let some pieces from his personal wardrobe fly as well as curate some of his personal favorites from the Grailed archive. Along with the sale, we sat down with Luka for an honest and engaging chat spanning a multitude of topics and photographed him in and around Grailed HQ.
Photography by Chris Fenimore.
What’s going on in your life right now?
I’m working on Hot Mess. I’m doing another show in Paris in June.
For Hot Mess?
Yeah, yeah. For Hot Mess.
How did the debut go? Was the reception what you expected? How were you feeling?
It was way bigger than I thought it was going to be. To be honest, I thought no one was going to show up.
Really? Were you nervous?
O.D. I really thought nobody was going to show up. That’s a fact, bro.
That’s genuine! Ask anybody that was working that day, I was freaking out. I was scared nobody was going to show up. Because you don’t know. It was my first thing, so I don’t know who’s actually supporting me or fucks with my shit. I was just scared that nobody cared enough to come see me.
Do you ever think—to get personal for a second, since you were about to release this bigger, artful, robust project—maybe there’s people out there that fuck with you as a pretty face? That there’s not some substance behind it?
That’s how a lot of people felt. A lot of people were surprised when they came to the show.
So for you, it’s defying expectations so to speak?
Well, it’s just like breaking the image that I’m just a model, like a model you can only be one thing.
Some people might see Hot Mess as just a show or a book, but it’s more than that. There’s also clothing, or merch as you called it. What do you consider Hot Mess? It’s you and your partner Noah [Dillon], right?
Yeah, so it’s me, Noah and this kid Curtis. It’s just my creative scapegoat where I—where any of us—can kind of do whatever we want and credit it as Hot Mess.
It’s super free-form? It can be whatever you want it to be?
It can be whatever I want it to be. So right now me and Noah are trying to make a short film. Like a proper, really good short film.
With a narrative and real legit actors and all that stuff?
I don’t want to speak too much on it, but it’s going to be fire. And you know I want to make furniture, but all under Hot Mess. But it is whatever I want it to be. I want to just be able to do stuff without it being like “Luka Sabbat.” It can just be like “Hot Mess” all the time.
So you want to lean off of using your name?
Why’s that? Any particular reason?
I just think it’ll take something off the edge in terms of when my name…
You almost want the work to stand by itself. You don’t want people to automatically have an opinion maybe positive or negative just because it’s Luka.
Yes, exactly. You literally took the words out of my mouth. There’s always a bias if my name is affiliated with it. There’s always someone like, “This is going to be really good!” Or, “What could this really be? This is going to be trash.” But I’ve never gotten any bad press. I’m not too worried about that. Hopefully, I never will get any.
Good luck. It comes for everyone, man, eventually. I mean, I guess I can’t say for sure. You mentioned the furniture and I immediately thought of Virgil and how he uses OFF-WHITE. Obviously, it’s a clothing line, but there’s a lot of other stuff that he does in the design world. Is Virgil someone you look towards as a blueprint?
I didn’t think about it like that, but, yeah, he is definitely like my mentor. He helped me out a lot, you know what I’m saying? He was onto me early. When I told him about Hot Mess he thought it was a great idea. That’s why he hopped on board and let me pull so much shit from the showroom, like a day before the show, just so I could go shoot my shit. He let us make a book with him. He helped me find the infrastructure for what I was trying to do.
So truly a mentor is the sense of being a guiding light to point you in the right direction. A person like you, you have big ambitions and huge ideas and you want to execute all of them and I know someone like you is doing a lot of stuff at the same time, so any help is definitely appreciated.
I’ve had this Hot Mess idea forever, but there’s a bunch of people in my life that helped me like figure out exactly what it was going to be.
Do you want to shout any of those people out?
I hate name-dropping in any sort of way, and some of them I don’t want to speak on, but Virgil helped me out heavy. My dad [Clark Sabbat]. Noah. Even my girlfriend because my girlfriend spends so much time with me. She’s literally herself, but she’s also an extension of me. She knows exactly what I like. She knows and understands my aesthetic. She knows what I’m trying to do. Whenever I do anything creative I always run it by her.
She’s your sounding board.
Yeah, ‘cause she's the best. She’ll tell me if some shit is trash.
She’ll be honest with you.
She’s super unbiased and gives good constructive criticism. She’s helped me out a lot.
A bunch of my friends too.
Like the people in your inner circle whom you trust the most?
Yeah, like Kerwin [Frost] and them.
Outside of Hot Mess, your career has absolutely blown the fuck up to the extent that I have to imagine you’re turning down mad projects. When it comes to being the face of products or campaigns…
I do turn down a lot of jobs just because I try to keep it a bit more on brand. But sometimes a check is just a lot and I can’t say no.
Haha a check is a check, when it’s big enough.
That’s a fact! But I try to turn down a good chunk of work just on some political shit. Like not actual politics, but there’s just things I can’t do. Like, something happened with my homie and I know how a certain company or brand moves.
I feel you 100%. That’s called integrity. Again, it’s not about chasing a check for the sake of a check…
Because I’ll get the Hot Mess check eventually.
Right, right. Well, that’s the thing, you’re a busy dude and you’re at this inflection point in your career where you have to ask, do I invest in myself? Do I put the money back into my own thing?
That’s what I’ve done in the past. Almost all the money I made from modeling I put most of it into working on Hot Mess.
When do the clothes come out? Because I’m sure kids are chomping at the bit to get a piece of actual gear.
I’m dropping my lookbook soon.
How limited is the merch going to be? And we’re calling it “merch,” right? Just to be clear…
Yeah it’s merch.
Is it going to be like crazy limited?
I don’t want to make too much of anything, since it’s my first time. I’m probably going to make 20 of each tee, 5 of each jacket and 10 of each hoodie.
Where will people be able to buy that when it comes out?
I’m going to put it on the Hot Mess website.
Backtracking a bit to what we were talking about, picking the brands and choosing who to work with. You’re a guy that has worked with everyone from Adidas to Haider Ackermann, so you clearly have this wide breadth of clients who fuck with you. Is there anyone who you would love to work with that you haven’t yet? Who is your white whale, as they say?
I mean there’s mad people. There’s a lot…
I think it’s interesting because you are the definition of popping, we don’t need to dance around that subject. I think it would be interesting coming from the guy who seemingly can do anything he wants. What are you still chasing?
I’m chasing for like a Valentino. We have such crazy visions for proper high-fashion, like Prada and Dior. Those are all things that seem accessible, and they kind of are, because I know people at Dior, I know people at other places, but I still feel like I can’t sometimes. I feel weird approaching them on some link and build shit.
I get you. It’s more about continuing to do your own thing and hope that those people come to you.
Yeah, I mean, I've got some deals in the making.
Obviously, there’s this whole youth culture angle to consider. I hate saying “the youth,” but you know what I mean: the kids that came up off of IG, the SoHo kids, you and your inner circle. You guys have brought an entirely new level of respect to a younger generation, that, honestly, without you guys wouldn’t exist. You have really opened the door and paved the way. With that said, are there certain brands that don’t get what you guys do, that are still a little turned off because of your age? Do you see any age discrimination because you’re still just 19? Has that ever been an issue? Like, “Luka has great taste, but he’s still a kid.”
Yeah. I’m not going to say the brands obviously because I don’t want to hurt any relationships, but there’s been a bunch of situations where like if they ever end up hearing this or reading this they’ll know. But it’s like, “Oh this kid’s great! We love him! But he’s 19 so we can’t work with him.”
They big-dog you.
Yeah, on some other shit.
Yeah, but I’m not going to lie, Hot Mess has shot better content than some of their campaigns. It’s so annoying, but, I mean, I get it since it’s bigger brands that are “too established.”
I think for the Grailed audience—at least the part of our demographic that skews younger—I think they definitely look to you. Sure, sometimes just for the obvious “what’s the next trend?” or “what’s the next piece I should cop?” inspo because obviously you have exposed a lot of stuff. But I think that kids look to you and sees this version of themselves that they can strive for. Almost like an avatar. So they look at you and go, “Wow this kid is 19 and doing this?! I need to study his moves.” What is some advice you would give to that kid?
As corny or generic as this sounds, and I genuinely hate this sentence with my life and I wish there was a cooler way to say it, but being yourself is so essential. Like, I move so safe and so low-key all the time on purpose because that’s me. People have no clue what the fuck I’m doing. Like, I’ll post a picture of my outfit and they don’t know what I’m doing behind the scenes. Too many people flaunt their work and say “I do this,” “I do that.”
Do you think that’s more being humble or about being secretive and protecting what you’re doing?
Both. I might be secretive because I don’t want people stealing the swag. I don’t want people biting. I don’t know, I guess I just don’t want people knowing what I’m doing until it's done. Also, if you talk about something too much and then it doesn’t get done you look stupid.
You see that kind of shit on social media all the time. The whole “Big things coming, I can’t talk about it, but big moves on deck” type thing. But then those moves never materialize and you look like an asshole, if anyone even cares enough to call you that in the first place.
It’s about being yourself because too many kids try so hard to be so cool. Like, they get around certain people, they get around clout, and they’re like “Oh, I gotta be this way.”
Right, they act a certain way to impress people.
That shit don’t work.
To your point about people biting the swag, there’s gotta be a part of you that’s super flattered to give kids inspiration. Then there’s the other part of you that’s like….
Oh, it’s not even about kid’s biting the swag. It’s about companies biting the swag.
Gotcha. So when you tweeted that just the other day you were talking about corporate level people biting.”
Oh, that tweet? Oh no, that was a super specific tweet about two people.
Two individuals who will not get shine in this interview…
That will not get shine. But it’s so crazy. It’s, like, wow, damn, bro! I didn’t even know you could bootleg a person!
I remember one time I saw you after you had gotten some fan art on the street, like some kid’s artwork of you. How does that make you feel? Is that real love?
I mean, shit, that’s love. Some kid was just running around with a painting of me hoping to run into me. That’s dedication.
Is it weird for you at all? Because let’s be real—and we don’t need to talk about specifics—but you’re friends with famous people. The paparazzi know who you are.
I don’t get paparazzi’d though, which is fire.
I’ve one thousand percent seen paparazzi of you haha.
Not with a certain Kardashian?
Oh, that don’t count though.
Why? Because that’s not even about you? It's mature that you can acknowledge that.
I’m a background n***, bro.
Okay, forget about that. But as far as your fame, is it weird to you at all? Do you relish it at all? Is it perk?
All of the above. It’s a perk, but also it’s weird sometimes, but also it’s pretty cool sometimes. It can be mad annoying.
It all depends…
Sometimes I try to do things like take classes or some random shit and I’m trying to be low-key about it and people are like, “Yo, I recognize you from somewhere!” And then it’s all blah blah blah.
You just want to live. Like, you’re trying to do a private thing, like take a class or whatever, and you’re not out there trying to be in the public or be this caricature version of yourself that maybe people expect, so I can imagine that’s depressing. Not even annoying. That can ruin your entire day.
Yeah ‘cause I might be trying to do some shit that I’m just enjoying by myself, dolo, alone on purpose. And then like someone comes in and they try to talk to me before, during and after and I’m just [makes annoyed face]. Like, I’m trying to do some activity, like go to the zoo. I be going to the aquarium and shit haha.
That’s how you know you’re popping when you can’t even go to the aquarium anymore.
Yo, that’s crazy! Some dude at a ticket booth is trying to get a picture and I’m like, “Yo, I’m trying to see some sharks and penguins and shit.”
Obviously, I’m much older than you, over ten years older. When I was growing up, around your age, and kids were about to graduate high school or just beginning college, there was a lot of pressure to like drink and to not do like stereotypical nerd shit. You and your friends—you’re like the coolest fucking kids in the world, arguably—but you guys are famously sober and play video games. And you are unabashedly nerdy about clothing. Is that something you ever think about, this generational shift? Or how you guys are positive role models to a new generation?
That’s a fact, bro. You gotta be sober, you gotta be on your shit, you gotta work. I’m all about, like, even if you don’t like video games or you like sports, or fucking origami, I don’t know, I don’t know what kids are into, but if it’s good and it’s positive you should just like be on it. Don’t try to front for the ‘Gram or for Twitter. Too many kids want to pose with guns or smoke weed or look like they’re smoking weed.
And take xans.
Take xans, take pills, look like they’re “fucking bitches.” Bro, that shit is lame. I’m not even gonna lie, that shit is corny. It’s extra. There’s no reason to be extra. Like, kids want their role models to be a rapper or some shit.
Speaking of role models, you mentioned Virgil already, but who else? Whoever they are, people you know personally or people you don’t.
People I don’t know…probably like Aphex Twin.
Haha that’s a good reference.
He’s sick bro.
I never really think about role models. I’m too caught up in my own shit. Not on some ego shit, just like I don’t wake up and go “How can I be this guy?” It’s random. I’ve had role models where it’s a guy on the street I meet once and we have a crazy conversation and he teaches me some crazy shit about investing. Just some random rich guy. I don’t know his name, but to this day I live with his information. I might even consider actors or a character from a movie as a role model.
This is not on some I’m gonna kill anybody shit, but Mickey from Natural Born Killers. That guy is so sick. Like him and his girlfriend just doing whatever, bro. That’s what I’m on with my girlfriend just not murdering people. Me and her are just super secluded. We’ll link with people every now and then, but we’re just me and her, doing whatever we want.
That goes back to that idea of creating and living in your own world. You mentioned before how you just wake up and you’re like already in your own head in a positive way and you kind of exist in your own bubble, but that’s what you want.
Yeah, I’m really in my own world. Oh, another role model would be Naruto. My man’s just always striving to be the best. He wanted to be the Hokage and no one really believed he could become the one, but he had a hidden gift, he has the nine-tailed fox inside of him, you know what I’m saying? Nobody believed him. They all thought he was a scrub.
What’s your hidden gift?
If it’s hidden then I don’t want to say. It’s just like all this creative shit. My hidden gift is my brain, man. I’m really on some other shit. Like once I finish this short film and drop my furniture that’s the hidden gift, bro.
So you still have a lot to prove?
Yeah, I still have a lot to prove.
Finally, does anything keep you up at night?
Haha, I saw you’re back on the sticks.
Back on the sticks, practicing harder than ever.
Are you good enough to be professional?
I’m not. I wish I had the time to be as good as I want to be.
Like if you devoted yourself, do you think you could be ill? One of the best?
If I devoted myself and really gave it as much time as I want to give it, I could probably be that good. All I do, if you go through my history…
Oh, I know you’re a huge gamer. I’m well aware of this.
Yeah, it’s all gaming videos. Like, I watch Capcom Pro Tour. I watch E-league. I mean, all Street Fighter everything. It’s all practice. You know, you gotta play so these moves become muscle memory. It’s about reads and reaction.
Fast twitch muscles, all that shit.
Yeah, yeah. Knowing what combos into stuff. It’s super technical. Like, I’m still trying to figure out who my main character is. Street Fighter really keeps me up at night, bro. When I want to go to bed, when I’m genuinely tired and I want to go to bed, I don’t think, I just play the game until 4 am. If I’m too lazy to play, I’ll just watch a video of people playing.
Are video games your greatest love? If I said one gotta go, fashion or video games, and we weren’t thinking about your career, but what you actually, truly love, could you choose?
Nah, I couldn’t choose. Probably video games because it’s more...fuck! I don’t know! That’s the hardest question, bro. I don’t know. I’m hot. It depends, bro! Because now that I’m so into fashion, I’m obviously going to pick fashion, but, like, if from square one I had to choose I would probably pick video games. Originally, before I got into clothes, I used to make montages, quickscoping and shit. I’ve always wanted to make a video game. In fashion, you’re making clothes for a certain demographic or certain people, a certain look. A video game is whatever the fuck you want it to be.
You’re creating your own world.
It’s a fantasy. You literally create your own world, your own characters. You can dress them how you want to dress them. I don’t know, it’s just so sick.
So the sale you’re doing with us, we’ve been trying to do this for a minute. What is the motivation for you? Are you trying to clear up space in your closet? Give your fans a piece of the action?
I hate clearing up space in my closet, but I gotta give a few kids that really want pieces the opportunity to get a piece. I just want kids to be able to buy shit I fuck with, that I like, that I wear. Kids always ask me, “Where’d you get this?” Now they know. This will be an opportunity for kids to actually get some shit that I wear.
Any last words?
No last words.