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Cassius Hirst began spray-painting sneakers for fun. He never imagined this would lead to a collaboration with Prada. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

Who is the Gen Z artist behind Prada’s new sneaker collection? Cassius Hirst, son of Damien Hirst

  • Cassius Hirst was spray-painting sneakers and putting them up on Instagram for fun, but even then he was getting messages asking where they could be bought
  • When he showed his dad, artist Damien Hirst, he was put in touch with Miuccia Prada – the designer loved them so much there is now a Cass x Prada collaboration

Is success about who you know or what you know? When it comes to 22-year-old Prada collaborator Cassius Hirst, the answer is probably both.

Cassius – who goes by Cass – decided to start painting sneakers after he read about a Nike and Virgil Abloh workshop where participants did just that. Soon afterwards, he started buying box-fresh sneakers and covering them in swirling, abstract prints using a spray paint gun.

At this point, he wasn’t thinking commercially, he was just having fun, and he began posting his hand-painted designs on Instagram. His first inkling that this could be something bigger was when major names like A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti started messaging him to ask where they could buy them.

The real turning point, though, came when he wrapped a sneaker in tape and vinyl, painted on top of it to make an undulating landscape of curves and craters, and then showed it to his dad. The father in question was legendary British artist Damien Hirst, who saw his son’s creations and immediately said (according to Cassius), “I’m going to send a photo to Miuccia”.
Prada x Cassius Hirst sneakers. The Cass x Prada is a limited edition range of hand-painted, entirely unique pieces.
Prada x Cassius Hirst sneakers.

Miuccia is of course Mrs Prada, and the result of that message is Cass x Prada, a collaboration that has reimagined the brand’s iconic sneaker in a limited edition range of hand-painted, entirely unique pieces.

Connections can of course only get you so far, and the sneakers in question show that Cass clearly has talent – colourful and arresting, they look more like wearable art than patterned clothing.

Cass spray-painting a sneaker.

Which perhaps explains why Prada – a brand that remains famously picky when it comes to working with other artists or designers – jumped at the chance of collaborating with a still unknown Gen Z painter.

“Prada has really invested in the idea, which is amazing,” says Cass from his studio in London, in the UK. “It’s a big jump for them and for me; there are so many artists and so many people would love a brand to use their art, so I feel very lucky. To see a brand like Prada, which is quite traditional, working with someone like me shows they want to invest in the new.”

Much of the process was, for Cass, entirely new. The venture took about three years from start to finish and saw Cass go to Tuscany to visit the Prada factory, look through archives, borrow prototypes and learn the basics of shoemaking.

Fashion and art need each other. The art world is boring, or at least, I’ve found the art world boring
Cass Hirst

“It was fascinating because there was so much to take in but also because working with a factory in Italy meant a lot of it was a lot out of my hands – a lot of tricky points came where I was trying to learn more.

“Shoes have to be worn, whereas at first I was thinking like an artist. But it all made me realise I’m open to anything.

“Shoes have appeared randomly in my life – shoes aren’t really my thing – but the art is applicable to anything. It has made me see that anything is possible.”

Cass has also spray-painted masks.

Cass has also spray-painted masks, explaining that during a lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic his brother brought some home; at first he thought they were another fun format to work on, but soon he started looking into the meaning behind them and the anonymity removing the face brings.

“[Superhero television series] Power Rangers were huge for me when I was younger,” he says. “There is something fascinating about seeing humans with their faces obscured – we’re all so attracted to faces, but if we can’t see them then we look at people in a new way.”

Cass is clearly far more interested in the artistic side of the Prada venture than the fashion one, although the two industries are becoming increasingly intertwined, something he is more aware of than most young artists.

Cass is the son of legendary British artist Damien Hirst. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd
Prada x Cassius Hirst sneakers.
“Both fashion and art need each other,” he explains. “The art world is boring, or at least, I’ve found the art world boring. There’s always rule breakers, but loads of art is boring. Although I probably only say that after a childhood of being dragged around galleries.”

Some of the sheen of the art world has clearly been rubbed off for Cass after a lifetime’s exposure to it, but he is understandably very grateful to his father and also seems aware of how lucky he has been in comparison to most young artists trying to find their footing.

“My dad has been very helpful,” he says. “Whenever I’ve got stuck, whether it’s thinking I’ve got the finished product or whatever, he’s really helpful at helping me see what I should see. When you work on something for ages, your view can be distorted – my dad’s been super helpful with my perspective but he also lets me handle the decisions.”

Prada x Cassius Hirst sneakers.

Now he’s an established name with a major collaboration behind him, has it changed the father-son dynamic?

“If he needs advice, he sometimes comes to me,” says Cass. “He had some issue with sourcing something – I found a solution. It’s nice.”