After a successful DropX in the fall of 2020, Phillip Leyesa, known as @philllllthy on Instagram, is back, offering a release of the first sneakers he ever aged and showed publicly. The shoe that made him the customizer darling of fellow artists like Daniel Arsham is now available in a limited DropX to a broad audience for the first time. In a follow-up to our previous conversation, we caught up with Leyesa to discuss his philosophy, creative community, and where his nickname came from.
StockX: Have you found that your relationship to your work has evolved since the fall when the last DropX dropped?
Phillip Leyesa: Yeah. It was a long five months and a lot is happening in five months. Every time you work on your craft, you’re going to get better at it. So you do something once, you keep doing it again and again, and again, and more trial and error. You just get better and better and better. You always want to be your best self at your craft because why would you want to half-ass a project when there’s a customer paying for it, and make it not to your fullest potential? You always want to one-up yourself.
What about the way that you think about the philosophy behind the work you do?
I try to keep it true and original to what I’ve been doing from the beginning. So I wouldn’t say I’ve drifted apart from the craft or how I do certain stuff, or how I even look at what I do, philosophy-wise. I just try to keep it true from day one, because that’s where I did from the beginning, and if I changed that I think that would just be different. Then the customer wouldn’t connect to the changes if I did do any changes.
Tell us about the distressed Philllllthy Air Jordan 1 Pine Greens.
Well, it’s the first shoe that I ever did, the Philllllthy Pine Green 1s. It blew up on Instagram. I first bought the shoe just because I liked the Pine Green look. I hated the fact that it had the leather Wings logo and it just looked too clean. I was bored in quarantine and I just took some paint, painted the midsole, took out the wings logo, puttied it with leather putty, painted over it, added some distressed stuff to it. Then boom, I just loved the way it looked. It just started a waterfall from there to do other shoes.
How much of your work would you say you do on spec? And how much is for private clients on commission?
Well there’s some clients I just don’t feel necessary to put it on my social media, only because no one wants the same shoe seven times. I’ve done multiple Breds and Royals and Pine Greens, but I don’t want to keep a repetition of showing it on my Instagram like, “Oh, there’s another pair. Great.” “Oh, he did another pair. Oh, that’s great.” It gets boring. I don’t really like to show the stuff that is good content-wise.
As far as myself, I have projects that I do for myself, but they’re mostly with clothes, not with shoes, because shoes is for other people. I keep the clothes for me. That’s why it’s always 1-of-1s. But now I’m trying to branch off to making more clothes and I’ll make shoes here and there.
How do you decide what projects you’re going to pursue for yourself?
Well, I just have a project in mind and I do it. A project I’m working on right now for myself, it wasn’t supposed to be for myself. But then I racked in 60 hours already doing this project. So I have this emotional connection towards it. I can’t even sell this if I wanted to, because if I were to sell it, it’d be a lot of money at that point. I keep it for myself because of all the time and effort I put into it and I just keep it in my archive. Hopefully later I could just bring it to a shop, make a pattern out of it, and then make it for general release.
Have you ever gotten any commissions or requests that you decided not to accept?
Yeah. Actually, I’d say 80 to 90% of the time I get emails and DMs and I just either don’t answer or just say, “I’m not interested.” Just because I know it’s not worth my time because of all the other projects I have going on.
Have you ever turned something down because it was something that was not interesting or inspiring to you?
Well, most of the people that hit me up for commissions is always either an age Jordan 1 or a Patrick fitted, or just a one of one of my custom. Which all, I’m going to let you know, people say, “Bro, I know the amount of time and work that goes to make it,” but at that point I’d rather be working on myself and making stuff for a wider audience than for one person.
Recently you did a pair of Air Jordan x Dior 1s for Daniel Arsham. Did you catch any flack? Or was there any sort of response to working on a pair of shoes like that?
Yeah. I think that was the first time I told myself not to look at the comments section on any social media or any repost. Because I was going to repost it a lot, a lot, a lot. I was like, I can’t even read this. People say, “Don’t read the comments.” I mean, people hated it, people loved it.
There’s always going to be the haters that don’t like what you’re doing, and there’s always going to be people that love what you’re doing. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. I don’t really mind. But I just don’t like the fact that I’m working on a shoe and I’m like… I like what I do, and to do it for Danny Arsham, I just think that’s amazing. That’s like Gordon Ramsey asking you to make breakfast for him, like a scrambled egg. You would not say no to that. It’s for Gordon Ramsay. You’re making a scrambled egg. That’s how I felt doing Diors for Arsham.
Have you found that a relationship like with Arsham or other creative relationships like that in your circle has impacted your work or your process?
Well, I don’t know. That’s a good question because I usually don’t talk about my work with other people unless it’s for an editorial like an interview. Because my friends were also creative. We just hang out with friends and we don’t talk about work. When I do talk to Arsham, it’s always like we talk about common interests like cars or plants or bonsai or something like that. I don’t really talk about my craft with other people, per se. It sounds pretty weird. I should probably start doing that.
I feel like that’s something that artists should do. Find people to talk about their work with. But I think I just don’t have someone to… I don’t know if I want to talk about my work with people because you see what you get and like there’s nothing to really talk about because it speaks for itself. Or the fact that I just don’t have anyone to talk about it with, which sounds really sad.
I just sit in my thoughts and I just have all these ideas in my head. I just write them down in a book and then the next week I just to go through all these ideas to see which ones are practical, what I could do in the week of work.
But yeah. I just always keep to myself because I’m afraid if I do tell people my ideas, they’ll just steal it and they’ll run away with it, when I just do it myself, you know?
Where does the name “Philllllthy” come from?
It came from work. I was a display artist [at Urban Outfitters] and I was cutting wood all day. I’ve been at work, the workshop, just dirty with paint, sawdust, cement mix. I’d come out of my workshop and people would be like, “Yo, you look so filthy.” I’m like, oh, yeah, it’s kind of like my name is Phil, so I could just call me Philllllthy. Then boom, it just started like that. Philllllthy.
How did you get into that kind of work?
Well, I started off as a seasonal sales associate, and then I would work at like 6:00 AM. That’s when the display artist would work, at 6:00 AM also. I saw him like, “Yo, who’s this cool guy walking around with a power saw, using all these power tools, a sander? I want his job.” As time progressed, he needed help with projects and I would help him out. Then he left, then they asked me if I wanted the job. They interviewed me and then they gave me the position. I was doing it for like the last four or five years. And now I’m doing this.
Did you have any construction background before then?
No… My uncle was a carpenter, my grandpa was a carpenter, so growing up I always watched them work. I was familiar with the tools because I would see them all the time. During high school I would also work on cars, so I was very handy and I knew some of the tools that were being used at the time. Which helped me progress to woodworking because it’s kind of the same stuff, tool-wise.
Do you see a parallel or a line to be drawn between that kind of work and the work that you’re doing now?
Yeah, a big parallel, because for that job, they show you the end result, but not how to do it. So I would just look at a photo, look at an image or rendering, like a CAD drawing, and I had to make it come to life. You see it, it comes to life. With a distressed Philllllthy Air Jordans, I see a pair of ’85s, I have to do this to a pair of retros. You learn stuff as you go, but just seeing something, like seeing an image and making it come to real life, is probably the biggest parallel with the work I’m doing right now.
So you are using reference photos or reference material of the way that OGs look now?
Yeah. Before I would just go on eBay and search up ’85 Jordan 1s, compile so many images and take stuff from different versions that I like to one shoe. So it’d be a tri-color, the toe box is all scuffed up, the heel cups are… Yeah, the heel would be messed up. Yeah, and like the way it fades and the colors and everything. It’s all just inspiration from other Jordans that I would put into one.
You also recently started doing the sneaker work full-time, right?
Yeah. I quit my full-time job at Urban [Outfitters] I forgot what month because I feel like time has been flying. But yeah, I quit that full-time job and now I do this full-time. Yeah, it’s difficult being your own boss. Before I had an alarm clock set at eight o’clock and I wouldn’t even get out of bed till like 10. Or clock-in at work till like 11. And I would give myself a three-hour break, which I would tell myself it was only like a 30-minute break, but then I found myself watching five episodes of TV on the couch.
It was time for something different.
Has taking it on full-time changed your relationship to it, or changed the way that you feel about it?
Well, like people say your hobby shouldn’t feel like a job. I don’t feel like this is a job. More of a hobby. But I also have to do this because I still have to pay rent. I have bills to pay. So it needs to get done and I’d rather be doing this, what I love, than working for another corporation or another company. Because at that point, I know if I worked for another company or another job, I would just job hop. I’d do that job and then quit because I’m not happy. Do another job, quit because I’m not happy.
Guys, this is like who I am. This is my craft. So even if I hate it or love it, I know I have to do it because it’s who I am and I’ll just get used to it at some point.