Samborghini, the brand, and alias of artist-designer Sam Bledsoe has been incrementally growing in scope in recent years—from designing merch for rappers and clothing brands, to selling his own creative wares. The style is bold, colorful, and graphic. The content is peppered with wordplay and pop culture references that are as clever as they are accessible. Inspired by both streetwear and high fashion, Samborghini is producing some of the most forward-thinking graphics coming out of Seattle.
With his business expanding, we wanted to learn more about his creative process and where he finds his inspiration, while staying in front of the trends.
Vanguard Seattle: What’s the origin of the Samborghini name?
Samborghini: Growing up I wrote graffiti. My word was kind of based around my name, but I can’t say what my graffiti word was because I am not incriminating myself. But it is kind of a play off my old graffiti word. I wanted to sound high fashion. I am still into Gucci, and Samborghini sounds like Gucci, so it seems like on the same level.
VS: And you worked in fashion for a while.
S: I’ve been a graphic designer in the fashion industry for eight years. I finally decided to take my knowledge and do what I want.
VS: You also design for artists. How does that process differ from your own work? Which do you like more?
S: Working with an artist is different because they typically give you some sort of general direction of what they want. The process is they will reach out to me asking for something in my style which is always nice. This is also something that started after I started Samborghini. They want my style. The only difference is that I make a mood board for them, and they kind of pick the direction they want. For the Migos project, I sent them 3 mood boards. One was rave culture from the 90s, one was traditional tattoo art, and one was Gucci. Then they said let’s mix the Gucci with traditional tattoo art. So I went down that route, and that was pretty much it. It worked out nicely and sold really well.
When I work with Macklemore, he gives me a lot of direction. He is picky in a good way. We have similar taste, and we’re into the same tattoo artist and vintage painted signs, stuff you would find at an antique store. So he will give me ideas like “a cheetah,” or he will send me photos he likes. He draws stuff, too. Not a lot of people know this, but he is very good at drawing. He will draw something and tell me to redraw them, but his are pretty good.
Recently I worked with Billie Eilish. I like working with her, ‘cause her style is kind of ahead of the trends. She dresses very gender fluid: a lot of oversized clothes, with a lot of different prints on them. Kind of high fashion mixed with streetwear. Her manager who deals with her merchandise reached out to me. She is kind of one of my muses, in how I style my pictures and models.
So the way that one worked was Billie filled out a questionnaire filled with a lot of stuff she is into. Questions like: “What is your favorite store; where do you shop; if you could collaborate with any visual artists, who would it be?” That gave me a good scope inside her head, to know what she thinks is cool. And the things she likes are very cool—a lot of underground boutiques, kind of ’90s hip hop mixed with high fashion, but it also looks bootleg in a way. So I went off that and made some stuff for her that kind of looks like Louis Vuitton. She wears fake Louis all the time, but I could make something fake that would be sold to her fans. So I made some Louis Vuitton-looking stuff mixed with her logos. People would get the nod, but not come after us and get a cease and desist. That stuff also sold really well.
VS: It looks like you are using an airbrush in some of the work for Billie. Is that right?
S: That’s a good question. I recently started playing with that on my pad. A month before working with Billie, some people online suggested this brand that did custom airbrush, and that’s when I knew there was something there, so I did an airbrush collection for her. I also recently had an art shot at the 35th North Skate shop. I do them on my iPad, and print them on the shirt. I kind of know how to airbrush because of doing graffiti growing up. I know how color blend; it is pretty easy. Making it look airbrushed, I knew that I had to keep the brush super big, to keep the texture, and also print big. In Photoshop, I’ll also add fake spray texture to it. I know I will get haters for this, and doing it for real is a lot cooler, but airbrush is a really difficult craft. I just don’t know how to airbrush and sell shirts. I’d rather do something that I could mass produce
VS: Do you always work directly with the artist?
S: With Macklemore, he is a good friend of mine, so I actually meet with him to work. I go to his mansion on Capitol Hill. But, for example, with Billie, I never really talked with her. I just communicated with the manager. They don’t put me in contact with the artist. That is through Universal Music group. I have a connection there who throws me projects to work on. Same with Migos. I worked through a third party person. I also worked with Tekashi 69, but that stuff never got released. He got arrested, and the people I worked with lost their business relationship with him. I also did some stuff for Lil Pump that never got released, ‘cause they chose some other artwork.
Through them, I am also working with other rappers. Do you know Kid Buu? He is on the come up. A Soundcloud rapper with crazy hair. He dated Black Chyna. He claims he has a clone. He is a goon. That stuff is coming out in a week. His stuff is cool. I love working with these artists. I was on the phone with him and he tells me what he finds cool, and that just gives me more material, which also benefits my own brand. He is into high fashion brands that aren’t that big, that do one-off cut-and-sew pieces that are crazy looking—and Death Metal, spikes, crazy stuff. I can’t make that, but I can make a graphic that pairs well. So I did some Death Metal with Gucci vibes.
VS: How do you keep up with the trends?
S: I go to Hypebeast every day when I eat lunch, and I read the comments because they share a lot of insight into cool stuff. I also follow clothing brands on Instagram, or clothing influencers, and random hashtags, like #NBAfashion. When they walk out, they’ve got some really cool stuff. Skateboards, also.
VS: There’s a strong connection to the skateboard style in your work.
S: I look to skateboarders for fashion cues because I always have. I grew up skateboarding, so my aesthetic will always be loosely based on ’90s skateboard fashion—graphic tees, hats, sneakers or skate shoes that all have an edgy, carefree street vibe. An icon to refer to is Harold Hunter, who was kind of the face of the brand Zoo York back in the ’90s. I thought this look has always been so dope. His style and other skaters style influenced streetwear brands such as Supreme. Fast forward twenty years, and you have high-end fashion brands tapping into the streetwear culture and look, like the Louis Vuitton X Supreme collaboration.
Skateboarders are still so effortlessly cool and remain the face of streetwear brands. Now you have Blondey McCoy who is the face of Palace, but recently was the face of a whole Burberry campaign and is now signed to Kate Moss’s modeling agency.
Skaters in Seattle have crazy fashion, too. You can go to the tennis courts at Cal Anderson Park on any Friday night and look at what they are wearing. You will see anything from a matching Adidas tracksuit to a whole matching Realtree camo outfit, or some dope ass vintage polo, or some crazy ’90s vintage shirt that no one has. At first, it seems weird for a skater to have those outfits, but they are just ahead of the curve. So I will notice things they are wearing, then make a shirt that would pair well with that outfit, or fit the aesthetic. Then six months after that, I will see high fashion brands like Gucci, LV, or Prada coming out with some shit I saw a skater wearing at the tennis courts.
VS: You’ve got high fashion emulating streetwear. You are turning that around a bit. What do you think it is about emulating high fashion and mixing in other things that makes your work so popular?
S: Well, I like to make fun of fashion. The current state is already making fun of themselves. These high fashion designers know that they are making ridiculous things because they know that it’s all for some crazy Instagram post, and the more ridiculous their fashion is, the more people are going to want to buy it. It’s like with Virgil Abloh and these orange chains. He knows they stand out. I made fun of the orange chain before he even released it. I saw it in a post that he had, and I knew it was going to go off. I do it to make fun of it, and also because wearing bootleg stuff is okay now. When I was younger, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t wear fake Gucci. People would call you out. Now it’s kind of cool. I like that. I can take something that cost 600 dollars, flip it, make some joke with it, and sell it to some broke skater for 25 dollars.
VS: What are some design rules that you follow when designing shirts and graphics?
S: One thing that I realized in the past year is the two-second rule. When you walk by someone they have to figure out what you are wearing. Some shirts now are too complicated with too many words. Some designs are too esoteric. It just needs to be simple, not very wordy, so that some stranger can walk by and understand. It’s a graphic shirt; it is disposable. Not something that you need to spend too much time on.
VS: You had an art show where the medium was a shirt, is that right?
S: The reason why I had an art show is actually very interesting. Here is some good advice: When you market your pop-up shop as a pop-up shop and you’re an upcoming brand, not that many people are going to come. Not a lot of people care about pop-up shops. It’s not a cultural event that people go to. But if your brand it as an art show, people will want to go support the art. That has given me a great turn out. The owner, though, did want me to frame the shirts.
With graphic tees, you are not just making artwork for its own sake. It has to be something that people want to wear in 2019. I try to make it trendy or ahead of trend, including the colors, the fonts.
VS: Tell us more about the typography. Do you have a favorite font?
S: I am super into typography. I love it. My favorite font is Futura Medium. It is a sans-serif, simple and looks good on anything when you track it super wide. It looks good on sport, high fashion, travel posters. It’s a better Helvetica. The curves are smoother.
I just dropped a typography foundry called kernclub.com, and you can buy all my fonts. It is also much easier to sell. With shirts, you have to do so much like modeling, advertising. But selling a font, you just get the money.
VS: You’ve also been designing and selling Adobe Illustrator brushes. What’s the story there?
S: I am a graphic designer first, and I want to make cool stuff. That’s my passion. I want to offer illustrator products to other creative directors. I made a chain brush, and one in barbed wired, ‘cause they’re super trendy. I also do it to piss off other creative directors, ‘cause they are like, “I just put up some design with barbed wire in my last season.” When I make it accessible, I oversaturate the market, and hopefully, people will start doing something different. I kind of fuck everyone over because they are all making the same thing. While they are stuck on that I move on to the next trend.
VS: What’s one of your favorite tees that you have ever owned?
The first one that comes to mine is this Garth Brooks tee that I bought from my friend. It is ridiculous. It is three photos of him: one is a profile, another is looking straight out the camera. And it’s silly cause he is wearing his headset on the photo like it’s a cool thing to be wearing. It has a checkered board in there. The graphic is huge. It was made in the 90s so the ink is really set in. That shirt also started a movement with my friends called the Garthboi Cliques, where we dressed like Garth Brooks/goth/trap. It kind of is still going.
VS: What do you think of collabs with other brands?
I love when brands do that. If I could do something, it would be with Glassy Baby. They’re a Seattle-based glassblowing studio.
VS: Last but not least: Any plugs?