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"What’s our story about?” Jonah Hill asks a room of about 20 teenagers. This is well before lockdown, so a crowded room is still a normal thing. After a cacophony of answers are yelled out, each of which he notes on a whiteboard with a dry-erase marker, Hill probes a bit further. “What’s the emotion we want to convey?”
Although he may be dressed like an auteur in an all-black outfit, rose-tinted sunglasses, and white Adidas Superstar sneakers with black stripes, Hill isn’t in pre-production for his next project. He’s teaching a class of Chicago high school students about the filmmaking process as part of his newly minted partnership with Adidas.
“Directing is like painting a picture from 100 feet away and someone else is holding the paintbrush,” he tells to his students as they break out into groups of writers, camera crew members, actors, and directors.
This kind of opportunity to interact with the next generation of creatives is one of the reasons Hill decided to ink a deal with the Three Stripes. Although his love for the brand has been well documented over the years, Hill was actually on the verge of starting his own streetwear brand before Adidas came calling with an official offer.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to have my own brand. I had all these exciting, great people lined up to partner with,” Hill says. “But Adidas said they’re not just going to make the product I want from a fashion standpoint, but we’ll also get to do things like we’re doing today, which is actually doing good. They’ve got the resources and the juice, so I couldn’t say no.”
Hill has grown to be a cult figure in streetwear over the past five years. Although he hasn’t been on the big or small screen in about a year, he’s is still one of the paparazzi’s main targets. There are Instagram handles dedicated to his outfits. Style publication like this one have lauded him as a beacon of excitement in the world of menswear. People have gathered in the name of his personal style on two consecutive summers. Part of what’s endeared him to the hearts of bloggers, influencers, sartorialists, and the like is Hill’s organic connection to the brands he’s spotted wearing.
“That, to me, has always been what Jonah has been about: dressing for yourself, dressing for comfortability, and not necessarily being swayed by trends or hype or looking like he’s in the pocket of the big brands,” says Lawrence Schlossman, brand director at Grailed and co-host of the podcast Throwing Fits. Hill credits streetwear outlets and people like Schlossman and his podcast co-host James Harris for helping him realize he had sway in fashion. Schlossman and Harris held two Jonah Hill Day celebrations in New York in 2017 and 2018, the latter of which Hill actually attended.
“Some brands are collaborating with the biggest streetwear brands in the world. Other brands will just work with A-list talent or just independent niche designers. What’s interesting about this is that it’s kind of like Adidas leaning into this creatives space,” Harris says. “It’s the multi-hyphenate guys who aren’t necessarily designers first. It’s not strictly athletic and it’s not just lifestyle for the sake of calling it lifestyle. They’re trying to home in on this independent creative space. I think Jonah is the poster child for that.”
Before Adidas was paying him to wear their sneakers, Hill was already doing it for free. If there’s one rule that he abides by, it’s to strictly wear labels that he truly fucks with—not ones that pay him the most money.
“I really only wear stuff that my friends make. When all these other people, who I didn’t know, started sending me stuff to wear, it was like, ‘Oh, you just want me to get photographed wearing your clothes. I don’t even know you, so I’m not going to do that,’” Hill explains, mentioning Lev Tanju and his London-based label Palace as an example of a person and a brand he always supports. As it happens, Palace has collaborated with Adidas several times, including a golf collection that dropped earlier this year.
Working on products rooted in “less-popular” sports in streetwear, like Adidas Golf x Palace Skateboarding, is one of the inspiration points for Hill’s upcoming Adidas collection. One category that piques his interest: tennis.
“I really liked that Lev got to take a passion of his, that’s a sport known to not have a younger style, and do a cool Palace collaboration,” Hill says. “Another one of those sports that would really be dope is tennis, because tennis gear is usually corny and I think it would be fun to spin some new style into it.”
There aren’t full details on what Hill and Adidas have coming down the pipeline, but the actor, director, screenwriter, and producer has a clear target of who he wants to make products for: people like him. Much like the roster of celebrities that Adidas has been steadily building, from Ninja to Beyonce, creativity is Hill’s arena. “The big thing for me is less about the athletic, but more about the people that are going out into the world and trying to have creative jobs, and how you can still express your style in that environment,” he says.
Seeing as most people don’t have the physical attributes of a pro athlete, Hill’s ultimate goal is to make something that’s stylish for any type of person. He’s gone through a body transformation of his own over the past decade. At one point, he thought his shape would preclude him from participating in streetwear.
“When you’re a bigger guy, a lot of the time, people don’t really fuck with what you wear and fashion goes right out the window as an option for you,” Hill says. “I thought it was really dope that people really started to pay attention to what I wore, because it’s something that I’m really passionate about.”
The main driver for the “Jonah-ssaince,” as Schlossman and Harris put it, wasn’t his weight loss, but his ability to fearlessly wear pieces that normally wouldn’t go together, like a Mitchell & Ness Phoenix Suns jersey tucked into a pair of black trousers. It’s not a look someone pulls off without a positive self-image.
“Confidence doesn’t come from body shape, it comes from something within that people have to wrestle from themselves,” Schlossman says. “Just to even get to the point where you can have fun with it, you need to feel good about yourself, and that’s just self-improvement to some degree.”
Perhaps that’s really the most captivating thing about Hill’s turn as a style muse: He’s not only progressed from the sleazy aesthetic of tie-dye Grateful Dead tees to a refined artist in monotone color palettes, but he’s also grown career-wise from playing the funny sidekick, to director, to, now, product designer. He’s constantly evolving into a new version of himself, while still maintaining his everyman demeanor.
“All I know is anything I direct or act in or wear reflects a version that’s getting closer to who I genuinely am. I think life is a big journey to get to who you genuinely are,” Hill says. “Chip away at that. I think I’m a good example of someone who’s outwardly trying to do that in the world. I started as one thing and I’ve been able to chip away and get closer to the truth of who I actually am.”
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