A Conversation with Michael Cherman

Designer & Creative Director

Mini-doc directed/edited by John Liwag

Hmm, it all makes sense now. You know how they tell you that everyone enters your life for a reason? I look back at the past six months in my life, and Mike Cherman’s story just fell into my lap.

What could easily be the most necessary story in this entire magazine, Cherman is a designer and hustler living in New York City. He probably wouldn’t tell you the latter, but it is what it is.

Allow me to set the scene: I had traveled to New York for the first time last September, and my friend Natalie had invited me over to her place in Brooklyn to hang out with a few friends. There I was, in a city I’d never been in before, buzzing while watching an episode of Breaking Bad.

Halfway through the episode, Mike walked in the room. Not sure how we even started talking but before I knew it, he was telling me that he was a designer and working for Nike. While I was obviously intrigued, I tuned out the rest of the episode and he continued to show me his work upon request.

Not only that, he ended up telling me about his little run-in with the law and how he got his interview with Jeff Staple.

The story would stick with me for months. And what better forum than this tell it once and for all?


Photograph by Ed Mumford

In your words, can you run down that whole story regarding Jeff Staple?

I had nothing.

I was interning for a small Japanese men’s brand called Prohibit NYC in the Lower East Side of NYC. Two doors down from Jeff [Staple]’s store called Reed Space. I had known about him since my younger years just as a small icon in streetwear design and being known for his effect on the game with the design of the Pigeon Dunk.

As early as my junior year I was emailing Jeff’s assistant letting them know I was going to be headed to NYC and wanted to work with Jeff. I am the kind of person who goes out and takes what they want. My parents always instilled that in me so when I got to NYC I knew I needed something and I knew Jeff needed me (or at least in my mind).

So I had been at Prohibit and was making a small amount of money and was making ends meet. Doing any freelance job I could get, I went as far as posting my services on Craigslist. I ran all over the city to do jobs for bodega owners to those weird Verizon Wireless shops that you never get how they stay open.

One day I just decided I was fed up with the same shit and I needed more. I devised my plan that I would make a poster to get Jeff’s attention, but how? 
I went to Parsons at the time and knew they had large format printers so I took the poster design I thought was most effective and pretty much spent about ten hours at the lab and called ten friends of mine for their print credit passwords so that I could basically bombard the Lower East Side with a load of posters in hopes that Jeff would notice me.

I knew where he worked and through a friend I found out where he lived. I went out the next day on a mission, posting posters everywhere, any wall that would take a staple would be a canvas for my posters. I was going insane, just in desperation for a chance. I went hard all day, then finally I was headed home to the wrapped everything up and subway, but why not post one more poster? So I did. About five minutes later I was in handcuffs being taken to the precinct arrested for “graffiti.”

I ended up spending a day and a half in the “tombs” of NYC and the entire time I was just thinking to myself how stupid I was, why did I do this, will Jeff even notice? Who gives a fuck? And then I finally got out to a fresh NYC, no phone, wallet or any possession and felt free again. When I went to turn my phone on I had 30 new voicemails with job offers, freelance inquiries and more. I felt like I had finally possibly done the right thing. I reached out to Jeff’s assistant about a half week later to see if maybe he noticed and I was in there for an interview.

Sadly I ended up only getting offered an internship (I always have such high expectations and always expect more than what might happen), but that offer led to just go work harder for what I wanted.

I ended up getting an email two weeks later from Nike asking me to come in for an interview and it is history from there.

Photograph by Ed Mumford

What is it like being a designer and living in NYC? The creative community is so spread out in Los Angeles—it feels pretty distant and lonesome most of the time. But it seems different in New York. I’ve seen you frequenting with people at the top of “the culture.”

Living and working in New York City is a blessing. You’re around all the most driven and gifted people in the world and at any time you could meet the person who could help define your next 5 minutes or next 5 years. I’ve met a load of amazing people in New York, made and lost a lot of relationships and learned more about myself in 2.5 years of living here than I have in my entire life.

NYC puts your through the most rigorous of tests and spits you right out telling you to “go make something of yourself.” I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing people in my time in New York, no point in name dropping, if you know me you know the people I associate with.

I am the kind of person who believes you should always be happy with what you’re doing for work, you should love the people you work with and if you’re not happy doing what you do, go find something else.

Photograph by Ed Mumford

So, you said went to Parsons for a bit. What happened there? How would you describe your education and experience? Would you still consider yourself to be a self-taught designer?

I am 100% self-taught.

To all the garbage graphic design professors at Parsons, suck a dick. You can’t teach someone how to be a designer. Sure you can teach then what the pen tool is and teach them how to kern letters properly but I truly feel like you have to have an eye for it.

You have to have a passion for it and it is something that you are born with and cannot be taught by any class. I moved from NY to San Diego, CA after my freshman year of high school and because of my lack of friends I spent every day in my room teaching myself the Adobe Suite. Google is your best friend and you can do anything if you put your mind to it. If you think you’re going to art school to learn how to be a graphic designer, get ready for a big wake-up call.

You’re working for Nike now. How did that come about and what do you do there? Do you see yourself working there for a good while?

I ended up at Nike halfway because of the whole Jeff Staple stunt and halfway because of a great friend Emeka Obi connecting me for the interview. Not only that but I had worked at Good Wood NYC when I first moved to New York and I had learned how to use their Laser Engraving Machines which are in heavy use at my job at Nike. Cutting patches, engraving leather sleeves and all types of other applications. That helped me get in the door.

I have to say that if you have an opportunity to learn something new don’t turn it down because it could be big. I don’t really know what my future is here at the age of 21 but I believe I want to be creative and work with people I like and believe in. I never plan to let that change but life has all sorts of plans for you so I like to take it one day at a time.

Photograph by Ed Mumford

Picture yourself around this time next year, where do you see yourself? What do you think you’ll have accomplished by the end of 2012?

I see myself working with a team. I’ve been trying to build a group of like-minded hard-working friends who I can work with. I love getting a freelance job and begin able to call my friend and roommate Ed who is a freelance photographer to come do a shoot, to call my producer friend of mine to come help me shoot a video. What’s better than being able to put your friends?

NOTHING.

What goes around comes around and I think my hard work in 2011 will translate to great things in 2012. I don’t exactly know where I’ll be, but hopefully somewhere warm, on vacation, with a Piña Colada laughing about how cold it is back in NYC. I haven’t taken a vacation in probably two years and I’d say it’s about the right time.

Photograph by Ed Mumford

For more on Michael Cherman, visit ICNYSport.com

Article & Interview by John Liwag
Photographs by Ed Mumford & Weston Wells
Interview conducted in November 2011

Photograph by Weston Wells