Believe it or not, Willis Ansong was artistically inspired by Law & Order. While watching an episode in his grade eleven journalism class, he came across a character named Peter Franco—and loved the moniker so much that he co-opted it, less as an alias and more as an expression of the life that he wanted to lead. For Ansong, “Peter Franco” became representative of an idea, a lifestyle, and a means of artistic expression. “Initially, it was going to be used for any art discipline that I wanted to put out there,” he says, but, “I always knew that I wanted to do something fashion-oriented.” Building on this hunch, he tagged the word “sneakers” onto the title (because it “just sounds good”) and this past August, he finally launched a line of t-shirts under the Peter Franco Sneakers label.
PFS’ designs use bold imagery, created with the intention of being art rather than just being provocative to garner attention. “In no shape or form are we just trying to piss people off,” Ansong says. The shirts have been created in collaboration with artists (Wesley Lyn designed the “Voyeurism” and “Nude Model” tees, and Taya Cornett designed the “Thriller” tee), and are rooted in what Ansong magniloquently describes as a “racy, sassy manner” or an “inspiring, decadent, flossy manner.” The Thriller tee is an example of “giving you pop culture and slapping it back to you on your face.” Although each design conveys a different message, Ansong hopes that all of the tees promote an over-arching feeling and idea. To him, PFS intersects high and low culture; it’s “modern, regal, nouveau avant-garde—an always polished look whether it’s on a rebellion tip, a decadence tip; whether it’s grunge [or] grime.”
For the moment, Peter Franco Sneakers is a very small boutique collection, available for sale on the company’s website and at Gotstyle on King Street West. A new line of tees is coming in June, but it won’t be huge—just “something to sprinkle the pixie dust over the summer.” In the meantime, Ansong is focused on putting out a strong fall collection that will launch in September and will include street gear like hoodies, tanks, and long-sleeved crewnecks.
As the collection expands, Ansong intends to draw on the “colours, creeds, and ideologies” in Toronto for inspiration. Were he to have his way, Peter Franco Sneakers will one day be associated with Toronto in the same way that Vivienne Westwood is to London and Peter Cohen is to Los Angeles. It’s a lofty goal, and it’s hard to discern if what Ansong has in mind for PFS may be too much—but he doesn’t seem to care. It’s his vision and he’s sticking to it.
Photos courtesy of Peter Franco Sneakers.