Before André Lauren Benjamin answered to André 3000, before he met Big Boi and formed OutKast, which went on to become one of the most influential and iconic hip-hop groups of our generation (knocking out hit after hit and winning a handful of Grammys in the process), André was a middle schooler in Atlanta who had a thing for prep.
But it wasn’t just him—it was everyone he knew, including the older kids, namely, his older cousins in high school who were prepsters, or in André’s words, “hood preps.”
“In Atlanta, hood prep was a take on WASP-y preppy style,” he explains, “but in the hood, they had to find a way to do it in their own way.” The Official Preppy Handbook served as a joke-slash-Bible to the preppy way of life, and in it, Swedish tennis shoe brand Tretorn was listed alongside Sperry Top-Siders and saddle shoes as the preppiest styles to wear.
“I took tennis lessons when I was in the fourth grade, but I didn’t keep it up,” André says about his preppy extracurriculars. “But my best friend whose name is André, his dad was a French tennis instructor, so I was around it all my life—I never got into tennis, only from a style standpoint.”
Now, in a full circle moment a little more than 30 years later, André has partnered with Tretorn to design a capsule collection—his first-ever collaboration with a brand that not only holds sentimental value, but had a role in defining and influencing his personal style. Under his creative direction, André gave the iconic all-white Nylites a very André makeover, with pairs trimmed in red-and-white “candy cane” stripes (his personal favorite), blanketed in terrycloth, or saturated in unexpected hues, like bright aquamarine, deep violet, or bold bands.
Shop the André 3000 Benjamin Capsule Collection ($110-$150), which is available today, and keep scrolling to read more about his fascination with prep, which designer he would love to collaborate with, and where he draws inspiration.
What was your first Tretorn memory?
When I was in middle school, sixth grade or maybe seventh grade. It was me watching the older kids from high school, and my cousins were huge preps. In Atlanta, hood prep was a take on the WASP-y preppy style, but in the hood, they had to find a way to do it in their own way. My cousins, the older kids, the kids in our middle school, all started to dress in that way, too. The look was like Ralph Lauren meets Lacoste, with plaid pants, button-down shirts, and ties. There was a book—the Official Preppy Handbook—and it was a breakdown of preppy style, which included prep names, like Muffy, and explained how torn up your shoes are supposed to be, how torn up your blazer was supposed to be, and the outfits to wear from a kid to a college student to an old man. It was funny, but it gave you style. And for both men and women, the select tennis shoe was Tretorn, and that’s how I discovered it. If Converse was the rocker’s version, Tretorns were the chilled out “I got a Volkswagen Rabbit and a tennis racquet” version.”
How did it influence your style?
I’ve gone through different phases of dressing, but I’ve always come back to the no-frills chill kind of thing and even in my designs with Benjamin Bixby [André’s fashion line in 2008] before, I’ve always taken notes from preppy style and of course, Ralph Lauren, the godfather of American style. He’s high up there in my book. I’ve studied him, I’ve learned about him, I’ve met his kids, I’ve been to his office, I’ve met him. A lot of Ralph is in pretty much everybody. Even in streetwear, there are parts of it that I see Ralph started.
Would you ever partner with Ralph Lauren on something?
I would love to. That’s the dream. I don’t know if Ralph does collaborations, but I’d love to.
Did this Tretorn collaboration give you Benjamin Bixby flashbacks?
Yes—it was a continuation. I designed Bixby through sketchbooks. I’m more of an idealist, not into crazy detail, but I can sketch and draw, so I can easily translate my ideas to a patternmaker or a team of designers that can understand quickly. With Bixby, it was the same thing. From day one, in the meeting with Tretorn, I was sketching because that’s how my ideas go. It has to come from my head to the sketchbook because it’s easier to explain to somebody when I have a visual instead of saying, ‘I want it to look cool.’ Cool may mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, but if you show something, it’s easier. The whole collection is based on sketches from my sketchbook.
How many sketches did you sketch?
Oh man, I can’t count. And they go as far back as sketches of Tretorn from eight, nine years ago. So for my first week, when I met Jeff Staple, I showed him old, old sketches of Tretorn. It was the perfect thing. I was like, ‘Whoa, I was thinking about this years ago, and now, we’re launching.’
How did the collaboration come about?
My agency in California, William Morris, is great at pairing talent with other talent, so I knew I wanted to do shoe design. We had a meeting about who would be good to partner with, and we went through the shoe list, and of course there was Nike, Adidas, Asics, but I kind of wanted to do something a little different. I thought, Tretorn would be cool and eight years later, my agent called about Tretorn. It was really my agent who spearheaded this.
Did those sketches from eight, nine years ago end up in the collection?
Yes, they did. There were certain details I wanted to do, so we played with the details of Nylite, the high-top sneaker, like the Candy Cane. I wanted to find ways to utilize every part of the shoe. I had never seen the trimming, the framing of the shoe really explored, so we tried to see what we could do with the frame. I said, ‘Let’s do this stripe-y pattern,’ which ended up as the Candy Cane.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I have no idea where major thoughts come from. I kind of start from looking around, seeing what’s happening, and trying to find holes of things that are not happening. As for colors, I’m not good with great color palettes, explaining what color I want, so I actually have to see it. So I’ll go around and pick up things, like samples, a book, a toy, an object, a wall, or a phone charger, anything with a cool cooler. I’m like, ‘Oh this is a great color,’ and we’ll try to match it.
How would you describe your collection?
I wanted to keep it light. Tretorns have a traditional Swedish ‘70s, ‘80s kind of thing, and I was like, ‘How can I bring some kind of freshness or lightness to it?’ That was the approach.
How does it reflect your personal style?
I have a light attitude about fashion. I don’t take it too seriously. I used to before, but as I get older, I don’t pay attention to it as much. I wanted to capture that lightness.