Meet Austyn Gillette: Risk-taker With Style—On and Off the Board
Words: Rob Brink / Playboy.com, April 22, 2018
Photography: Curtis Buchanan
Despite being at the helm of one of the only apparel brands of note in skateboarding and surfing at the moment—a brand called Former—where everything, from pants to thermals to tees to board-shorts are all custom (there's even safety pins and nail polish), 26-year-old professional skateboarder Austyn Gillette wouldn't dare consider himself a designer or fashion aficionado.
Interviewing him about related intangibles like "style" and "inspiration" and "process" usually derails into ponderous banter and a roasting of the current state of affairs, which, I'd like to imagine, puts us somewhere in between the great writers and philosophers sipping coffee at Paris' Cafe de Flore in the 1920s and Beavis and Butthead. "Do you think boot cut is going to come back?" Austyn pontificates. "Isn't that just a nicer way of saying 'bell bottoms'?" I say.
"What about capris or something?" He continues. "I'm ready for it. I just want to see it. When is the landline phone going to be hot again? It's just inconvenient enough to be really fucking cool and retro." To know Austyn is to love his uncanny ability to observe the circus that is life happening all around him. Amused; never triggered; notoriously deadpan, Austyn is the constructively berating older brother that everyone (including the world of skateboarding) needs. He's what Ryan Gosling is to Steve Carell and his beloved New Balances in Crazy, Stupid, Love. "Everything's just going backwards right now. Like full-on '90s. I don't even know what people are doing out there," he continues.
"They're suffering for the trend," I reply. "Oh boy. That's exactly what they're doing. There's a lot of fucking bullshit and some half-assed skating going on. It hurts the fucking eyes and soul. Everybody's a fucking celebrity; everybody's trying to get some with their internet personas. Everybody's just blindly throwing shit out there—putting a little milk down on the stairs and seeing if any cats come lick it up. And just because Rihanna wore their dumb ass shirt, people are successful financially. All that matters is putting your shirt on a fucking rapper. I can't wait until the modern rap is fucking done. I really can’t.”
At the heart of this ranting, though, lies the desire to see people try harder and contribute to creating great, timeless things—to filter out the nonsense and elevate the whole. Austyn is a quality control person, and you can count on two hands the professional skateboarders and brands from the last 30 years known and respected for that. "I think all that really matters is being good at what you do and putting out good content. If people like your style and you influence them, and they influence you, then you're doing something right and it's honest and pure. I don't think people are delivering right now. They aren't pushing the envelope and I hope that that changes.”
Currently living in Los Angeles, the Orange County, California (Whittier, to be exact) native has been skateboarding since he was 8 years old, securing sponsorships and magazine coverage by age 9. As his career progressed and his skating matured, alongside his friends Dylan Rieder and Alex Olson (half-jokingly dubbed "Team Handsome" by the skate community), Gillette eventually came to be known as one of the most stylish and respected skaters of his generation, both on and off the board.
He's shunned blatant money grabs, flavor-of-the-month trends, NASCAR-esque logos and a wardrobe that looks like an Easter egg coloring kit exploded all over the cast of Seinfeld's closets. Instead, he prefers black or white basics—slim fit pants, tucked-in tees or wife beaters, dress shoes off the board and signature skate shoes that replicate them while on it. In essence, a man's man approach to dress over that of say, a mall skate shop employee or Odd Future festival-goer. "These days I love a '40s or '50s style, or even something like Peaky Blinders—that kind of early 1900s thing," Austyn explains. "Straight leg, wider pants and a clean shirt, stuff like that."
Far more important than the appeal and influence of Austyn's clothes, though, is that his natural ability on a skateboard rivals some of the top pros on the planet. These days, for most, opting out of chucking yourself down gargantuan rails or gaps and steering clear of the contest circuit is career suicide. But Austyn's technically proficient, yet surf-like approach to street skating embraces speed and finesse, with a trick selection that has always showcased skill and refined taste beyond his years. He skates fast; his push looks great; his flick is quick; his power understated. His landings possess just enough sketchiness to make them cooler than if they were perfect—carving from side to side or sometimes hopping his feet into the "correct" position after the fact. His arms and upper body continue spinning long after his legs are locked in place. His motions are fluid even though at first, they might seem like exaggerated flair.
Simply stated, Austyn is amazing to watch on a skateboard. He knows what looks good and has the talent, sophistication and restraint to execute it, alongside a keen sense of style to accentuate it. "I've always hung out with older people who have good taste," Austyn explains, "because of that, I wasn't so inspired by my contemporaries or skateboarders my age. I was always looking outward and I guess that's how FORMER is too.”
Conceptually born from the friendships forged on the "Team Average" surf trip to Australia for Monster Children back in 2012—with pro surfers Craig Anderson and Dane Reynolds (two of the most stylish and respected surfers out there today), and legendary professional skateboarder Dylan Rieder (who passed away in October 2016)—FORMER officially launched in March 2017 and is an anomaly in the sense that, as obvious as it seems, pro skaters and surfers rarely start brands together.
When I ask Austyn what he would like to see more of, he responds, "To tell you the truth. I would just like to see less. I would love somebody to say, 'No. There are too many of those out there. We actually can't make that.' You know how you have to go through the city for a liquor license or something like that? Where there's a cap and you've got to wait a year until they auction off somebody else's license? It should be like that." He continues, "but at the same time, I like that people are getting away with whatever, because I've always dealt with that—manipulating an article of clothing I find at a vintage shop and cutting the sleeves off or something like that, and people will ask me where I got it."
He notes that many of Former's pieces are "based off pieces purchased from vintage shops—things from back in the day—and then we put our little twist on it. And we'll ask men and women for feedback on what they like and don't like about it." Above all, there is an authenticity and passion behind each functional, timeless piece that he believes people can recognize. He continues, "Rather than doing what everybody else is doing, we're just doing what we want. It's a marriage of two completely different lifestyles filtered by experiences and friends who have good taste."
And that true place is the heart and soul of cultures like skateboarding and surfing. The desire to manifest a feeling inside of you into something tangible outside of you. To counter the inanity of popular culture and create what doesn't yet exist, if for no other reason than to have fun or inspire oneself and circle of friends—an ethos often appropriated but never duplicated, by mainstream fashion—the subject of decades-old animosity between the two worlds that only seems to be intensifying as more and more of skateboarding's influence, including plenty of stolen designs, seem to be popping up on runways, in advertising and on the racks of department stores all over the world—Thrasher's logo being the primary source of "inspiration" for many at the moment. "Skateboarding's always been pretty noisy," says Austyn.
"It's just a noisy, rebellious sport. I hate calling it a sport, though, but there's just something about it—you hear it, then you see the person doing it, and you don't know why it's so cool, but it just is. Everybody knows that. Skateboarding has a big presence and has been cool ever since it started. Bigger brands outside of skateboarding are drawn to it because it's rebellious. They're just buying into this thing we built now that it's already cool and accepted. There's nothing behind it other than that.
Never lacking in self awareness, Austyn jokingly concludes: "But it's just clothes at the end of the day and it's all pretty silly. We're not humanitarians. We're not doing anything special. Most people are so fucking oblivious to all the shit we are talking about anyway."