Graffiti Gods Mint & Serf Tell Richie Shazam About Their Coach Collab
The Brooklyn-bred graffiti duo Mint & Serf have been making their mark on New York for over 20 years, so when Coach’s creative director Stuart Vevers wanted to encapsulate the raw energy of the brand’s hometown, he knew exactly who to call. Today, Coach is debuting their latest collection of leather goods printed with recreations of the artists’ gritty, expressive paintings—along with a campaign lensed by the infamous Juergen Teller. To give us a glimpse into their creative process, Mint & Serf rang their friend and fellow New York legend Richie Shazam to discuss painting spots, murals, and how to stay out of trouble with the cops. —CAITLIN LENT
MINT: Good to see you.
SHAZAM: What are you guys doing?
MINT: I’ll send you a photo right now.
SHAZAM: You’re upstate?
MINT: Yeah. We’re going in the hot tub soon.
SHAZAM: Oh my God, I’m jealous.
MINT: It seats six. You’re more than welcome to pull up.
SHAZAM: If I wasn’t so in the chaos of it all, I would definitely pull up. Well, I’m so excited to talk to you guys. To offer some context, I met both of you in my teenage years, growing up in New York. I’ve always seen you guys as real New York legends. It’s just such a beautiful thing to see that this collective energy still exists in New York. I think it’s so important for artists to be put on a pedestal, and for people to see and appreciate your work.
MINT: Thank you. That’s an amazing intro. I don’t even know what real New Yorkers are, but I appreciate the sentiment.
SHAZAM: I feel like New Yorkers are the ones that have hit the pavement, been on the streets, have this ability to be in any room, any situation, and have this aura, this shine. And you guys— not only as artists, but as people, have that magnetic energy. I feel so fortunate and grateful for our friendship. As New Yorkers, we show up, we’re present, we love having a good time. We love the party, we love the rave. We also get down to business. We hustle. Whenever there’s something for us to be at, we’ll be there and support.
MINT: I totally agree. There is some underlying network of creatives that are so packed together in New York that is really unmatched anywhere.
SHAZAM: Okay. Well, I’m really excited to talk about this collaboration. Tell me all the things I need to know.
MINT: I just got a random email from Stuart [Vevers] showing interest in some work that we created a few years ago. The first call we had was very genuine. The work is not really about pop colors, it’s about a lot of really expressive features, a very dark palette, which is usually not what people are drawn to. It was a very pleasant surprise to find out that Stuart was interested in these really chaotic paintings that were––
MINT: Yeah, moody for sure. Stuart was very welcoming to that. He was like, “Look, it’s up to you how you guys want to explore this, and we’re here to support your vision.” The first iteration was to send us a bunch of material samples, to do some experimenting with paint and see how it comes out on leather. The relationship grew out of that. But we really didn’t really know the—
SERF: The scope of it.
MINT: When you think about collaborations, you think about one, two, three items. We didn’t know that they had a way larger idea in mind, and obviously we welcomed it.
SHAZAM: That’s incredible.
MINT: It was a very interesting process to be in a studio with these exquisite, beautiful garments. There was no art direction whatsoever. It was like, “Here. We love these paintings. Do what you do.” You rarely get that opportunity in commercial ventures. As much as we could push it, we pushed it. And everyone at Coach really loved it.
SHAZAM: Why do you think it’s important for your work to live within fashion? What are your favorite pieces and why?
MINT: If you look at collaborations between other brands and graffiti people, it’s very PC. It’s pretty.
SERF: It’s safe, it’s cute.
SERF: The paintings that were chosen are so raw and aggressive. They look incredible. It looks like we actually hand painted every single one of them.
MINT: Coach, being a legacy leather brand, does leather really well.
SERF: Those leather pieces are incredible.
MINT: And to answer the first part of the question, fashion is about identity, right? It’s a lot easier to do something safe and not take the risk. But as the Russian proverb goes, “Those who don’t risk, don’t drink champagne.” Whether you’re eight or nine, or 20 or 50, or 60, if you’re engaging in graffiti illegally, there’s this very basic function to leave something behind, and whether it’s thoughtful or not, it is this kind of expressive motion that’s somewhat universal and basic.
SHAZAM: Yeah. I feel like in the past ten years, the city has been cleaning things up, but when the pandemic hit it kind of reverted back to the ’90s.
SERF: That’s a good point because prior to that, the city was inundated with big development projects, and to highlight and sell those developments they were bringing in street art and muralism. As soon as there was no money going back into those projects—because everyone was leaving the city—there was a vacuum for the classic graffiti people who just love roaming and getting into trouble. Graffiti has always been more interesting to me than muralism because it’s more of an action.
SHAZAM: Yeah. But what’s cool is that artifact that’s on the wall, on the train, wherever it is, it’s like a testament of that time. I’ve always been so inspired by the act of graffiti. I’ve seen the battling and the wars behind it. But the timestamp thing is so interesting especially in music videos and films, the recognizable tags that you see in pop culture.
SERF: It was always so cool to see your tag on Law & Order.
MINT: You know what’s crazy? Production companies now go to places like Bushwick to film, but instead of filming the graffiti, they actually photoshop and print fake graffiti in order to avoid being sued.
MINT: And it looks so ridiculously weird, because you can tell that it’s fake graffiti, done by a Photoshop designer or something like that.
SERF: Is that to avoid payment?
MINT: Yeah, they acknowledge the fact that they have to pay something, but they also acknowledge the fact that they’re not going to pay anyone.
SERF: But they’re acknowledging how cool it looks.
SHAZAM: What was your favorite place to paint?
SERF: The Manhattan Bridge.
MINT: It was more fun before it was open to pedestrians. You could just hang out up there and climb all over the place.
SERF: The only way to get to it back in the day was through the tunnels, so it was very limited access. While you’re crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan, you have these moments where you look around and you’re like, “Oh my god, this is the city I’m living in.”
SERF: “This is the city I’m painting.” And it’s fascinating, because it’s such a crazy beast.
MINT: As we’re waiting for the train to go home, most people are just getting up to go to work and we’re like, “God damn. How lucky are we? We just spent the most beautiful night under the stars, outside on a bridge, painting. And we’re going to go have a good breakfast, sleep in our own beds, while everyone else just looks miserable.”
SERF: Even now, being on the Manhattan Bridge is cinematic as hell. You just look over and you have to pinch yourself.
SHAZAM: You’re like, “Oh my God, this is so fucking sick.” I grew up riding the train, my entire life. I took the train by myself at eight years old.
MINT: Me too.
SHAZAM: That’s another real New York sentiment. It’s the little things that I don’t take for granted. I’ve gotten to travel the world and be in other incredible cities, but nothing compares to being on the subway, being on the bridge, walking with my friends. And those conversations…I’m like, “If only we could have recorded the shit we were talking about.”
MINT: It’s okay, in the future, they will.
SHAZAM: I’m so curious to know more insane anecdotes. You guys definitely have some crazy, lit stories.
SERF: There’s one that comes to mind, but it was in San Francisco––
MINT: Yeah, yeah.
SERF: We had met Rambo [graffiti artist Lance De Los Reyes], RIP. He took us around bombing. We went to the Home Depot and were stealing a ton of spray paint, and throwing it over a giant gate to get it out. Followed by painting all night, and the cops coming.
SERF: Rambo and I were able to get away. We hid from the cops, walked home, made some pasta with his roommate. But an hour or two later, we decided to go paint again. So we climb up on the rooftop across the street from his place. I was just taking my sweet ass time because when I get on a rooftop, I feel really comfortable. It’s so romantic. You’re under the stars, the breeze is blowing. Then, all of a sudden, the cops show up. They start climbing the building, the only place to go was through a doggy door, and so, I pushed Rambo through it. We run, and we’re inside some person’s apartment, and the dog is barking. All of a sudden, the man popped up with a giant rifle pointed at us, and the dog was going crazy. So we’re telling him like, “Yo, the cops are coming. Just relax, chill out. We were just doing graffiti, we mean you no harm. Just let us hang out.” This guy opens the door and lets the cops in. Rambo grabs me and pulls me down the stairs. We run down the stairs to get out, but this guy locked the door from the inside, so you needed a key to exit his building.
SERF: Weird, right? So we turn around and run down this long hallway that had a light at the end, and it was lined with what looked like tinfoil. So we get to the end of this thing, and it’s hot as hell. It turned out to be a weed grow. We’re like, “Oh fuck, man.” Not only are we getting arrested, but now we just fucked this guy’s whole situation up too. So we climb underneath the grow tables. These guys drag us out, arrest us, and as they’re walking us into the precinct, the desk sergeant’s like, “Oh, shit. You got the rest of the New York crew, huh.”
MINT: It was a learning experience.
SHAZAM: Definitely. It was a wake up call.
SERF: The wake up call to run faster.
SHAZAM: [Laughs] I feel really good about this conversation.
MINT: Cool. I really appreciate it.
SHAZAM: Of course. I’m just so happy to celebrate you guys, and I’m really hyped for this.
MINT: Are you going to come to the launch?
SHAZAM: When is it?
MINT: September 8th. We’ll send you an invite for sure.
SERF: I’ll see you in BK, Richie.