Erik Ellington and Vaz Rajan of Human Recreational Services

HRS in Coversation with Roden Gray

Erik Ellington is one of the most prolific skateboarders of all time. His pro career blossomed him into the co-founding Supra, Deathwish, and Baker. Erik debuted Human Recreational Services back in 2018 and met Vaz Rajan when dropping off an early model pair of HRS to a mutual friends’ house. They stayed connected and after a stayover trip at Vaz’s apartment in Paris, HRS evolved into the luxury space that they now inhabit. Hand stitched and hand painted details, fully lined leather; extra butter. Erik and Vaz’s crew is also deep, as you have probably seen a pair of HRS in the past two years on Jonah Hill, Jason Mamoa, Orville Peck… the list goes on.

The current collection entitled “Chapter 2: A Dream Escape.” pulls from a multitude of inspirations including Miles Davis, Mick Jagger, and David Hockney to name a few. We had the pleasure to sit down with Erik and Vaz, the man of mystery to discuss their journey, inspiration and what the future holds!

What does that daily routine look like for you guys?

Erik: Mine's a little off. I was in London visiting a friend and I actually got COVID. So, my routine has been staying in this room and getting food delivered.

Vaz: It was probably all those premiers, all those premiers and all the shopping, haha!

Erik: There was a lot. I mean, I was definitely exposed to a lot of people, so yeah. With the quarantine and stuff, I think we've gotten used to doing things like this so it's not really that much of an adjustment to be able to work from, you know, from the room. How's your schedule going Vaz?

Vaz: Relaxed. I'm obviously able to go out, I'm not stuck in a room, but yeah. I'm just waking up early, going to the gym, doing my routine. I wake up early at seven, six to seven, and then I'm in bed by 11.

Erik: I'm sorry, I didn't make it out there to visit you because I told you I was going to come out there.

Vaz: Shoulda, coulda, woulda Erik! We jump on a call almost every other day, it's been like that since we kind of met, you know.

How did you guys exactly meet?

Vaz: We met close to new years in LA. I was in LA visiting a friend and I was staying with a friend of Erik. Erik just sort of dropped by to gift him a pair of shoes, funny enough, Erik had just started HRS and he was kind of doing things (on his own) in the early days.

He stopped by to give a friend of mine the pair of shoes and that's where we met and the rest is kind of history. But we started talking, I just really loved the story and I guess I convinced Erik to move everything to Italy, to make things... to go big - to go hard! Like go big or go home!

Erik: When I met Vaz, we both grew up skating through the 90’s to 2000’s and Vaz is a bit younger than me.

Vaz: Oh I was hungover as hell when I met you that day.

Erik:The first thing that he said when he saw the shoes was “I love what you’re doing, I understand what the vision is and I think I can help you with this.” and I thought that was really cool because the lack of experience that I had with production and Italian development and production, it was something that Vaz had a lot of experience with. I think intimately understanding the background of the inspiration for the brand and knowing that because us growing up part of the same culture, him understanding that and knowing what we needed to achieve - I didn’t quite have at the time, and i think the combination of the two of us together, that was the magic of what makes it what it is.

The name HRS...

Erik: Well you know the name basically... it’s the definition of what the intentions are behind the brand. What we want to do is create something for people to wear and feel good about, what they’re doing, which I feel like it’s a Service, and by definition the word Recreation means to do something for enjoyment or for leisure in your discretionary time; something to do while you’re not working and what we want to do is to blur the line between work and pleasure, thus...

Vaz: We kind of redefined it in the process as well, kind of playing with that whole idea of what recreation can be as well and toying with that. Erik said it best - blurring that line between work and pleasure, work and leisure you can say… turning everything on its head in a way, you know, as our story unfolds, I think what we’re trying to do will become more and more evident as time goes by.

Erik: We're in a different generation now where a lot of the things we do for work or, what we do is actually for pleasure as well.

It's this thing where, even if we do work office jobs or if we're working in like... it's like you guys, you love what you do. I think it's so much different from what the generations before us, our grandparents or whatever, where, like, I think people kind of, they clocked in and they clocked out and their work was so different from what their recreational activities were.

I love the word recreation and it's always just been something that I wanted to incorporate in something that we did. So internally we call it HRS, but it’s to be able to blur those lines between work and play and creating products that, you know, that basically speak to that.

Vaz: I guess our perspective and the way that we work, Erik and I, it’s kind of a narrative, you know? We build on a narrative, our vision is quite cinematic and it’s bigger picture so we want to really build this dream-like scenario.

Our most recent collection is called “The Dream Escape”, but our general perspective is quite dream-like because it is our dreams we’re translating, we're living it and we're manifesting it. So we want people to partake in this whole idea of Human Recreation, you know what I mean?

Chapter 2: A Dream Escape

Erik: Our goal is always to create things, to bring some kind of enjoyment or fulfillment.

We envisioned this “dream escape” or this fantasy or a vision for better times to come, or, whatever those initial concepts were. I think the goal is to bring that fantasy to life through the materials or the designs or the imagery, and I think a dream escape, the products represent that vision.

Vaz: That was during the COVID lockdown period so we were just dying to be in this sort of scenario where being together with friends and totally relevant to us at that moment. That's what we were creating for.

Erik: Exactly.

Vaz: So we felt like that's what we need to portray. We need to allow people into our own escapist fantasy at that moment, because being captive, at home for months on end, all you want to do is to enjoy time with your friends, and to I guess celebrate life.

Erik: Yeah, I agree with that. I was just going to say some of the stuff that we were pulling from like the David Hockney colors and stuff like that was, you know, was used throughout the collection.

But I think like, as far as the split boot on the Luther or the Memphis. It's extravagant, but it's elegant, you know, we were kind of kicking around these ideas of this fantasy, of this dream escape fantasy, a lot of it was like the Stones in Exile or, you know, the La Piscine film and, and a lot of this stuff. It's like, would Keith Richards be able to wear that? If there was a cool way to explain it, it is that there’s a two personality split of this shoe, which is a really cool way to take a look at it.

What's the motivation behind your work?

Erik: If we can keep it fun and have that energy involved in it, then it translates into the product. And I believe that when people can put that on and they can feel something and get emotional about that themselves… that's the goal.

You know, somebody told me the other day, I was wearing a pair of shoes that are not out until fall winter 22 and it's part of this rhinestone series that we're doing where it's just, beautiful. there's hundreds of rhinestones hand placed on the shoes. But somebody told me “that shoe makes me feel good” and to me, that’s the best compliment that we can get, is to actually emotionally change somebody, you know, to make them feel good.

I mean, that's the goal of everything that I've ever done. If I can achieve that and, what we're doing with it is like, you know, people can feel that, is really special.

Vaz's story and his partnership with Erik

Vaz: Maybe I like to keep it that way (Laughter)

Vaz: It's quite a long story, but I've been doing this for about 12 years... 13 years, actually.I started young and I've worked with a lot of, a lot of people along the way, and I've done a lot. Made a lot of mistakes, haha.That's what experience does to someone, you learn from mistakes, and the pricier the mistakes, the better.

You can kind of compare that to skate. We take some falls and then you don't get better without getting without breaking a few bones, you know? But yeah, what I bring to the table here is just knowing how to craft the luxury product and to build a luxury image for a brand, and the rest is a pure partnership between me and Erik.

Everything that we do is a back and forth kind of discussion. You know what I mean? It's a narrative that we both build into it. It's a story that Erik and I are both telling, my personal story doesn't really have to do anything with what we're trying to craft. This is something that we’re creating together and If I have to say I'd rather there be a little bit more of Erik's personal story than mine in this. We’re really crafting something together, we’re building a narrative.

Eric: I can elaborate on you!

Vaz: Hahaha I'd rather Erik talk on me.

Erik: What Vaz failed to mention is that he's an incredible designer. After we first met, we stayed in contact over the next few months and FaceTimed and whatever. I flew out to Paris because we were going to start developing and at that point, there was no partnership, we were just becoming friends.

I took a trip, stayed on Vaz's couch, and within 48 hours, what he had put together, It was like the perfect extension of our mutual ideas. So everything we had been talking about and collaborating about and just all the stories that we had talked about and influences and, just different designs, things that we wanted to see... The way that he was able to kind of put that in an overview and then, and then tie it all together. It was something that ‘s beyond my ability. And I think that it's really cool because to work with somebody who has got that kind of experience and that kind of knowledge of the product.

So when we flew from Paris to Milan right after that to start, researching factories and development and all those things, which was through his connections prior to that. The materials that were sourced, every single step along the way has been extremely professional. The tact and knowledge that he has is second to none. I've never seen anything like it. So his history and his experience and all that stuff, what I saw firsthand was like the magic of what makes the collections, what they are.

I can channel the things that have inspired me and all of the references and all of that, I can just kind of throw all that out and then Vaz channels it and puts it all together and presents it and that's a specialty… and I think he left that out.

Vaz: I'm so happy that Erik understood what I presented to him the first time.

Because I gave him this idea that it could be this magnificent thing that it is today and at that moment, he was almost scared, in the beginning, can it really be that? it can really be like that?

And I was like, yes it can! It was just that moment where I think when he saw the first, when we had our first collection come together, that's when things changed dramatically at that point.

We both finally realized that we can actually manifest that. And that's what happened. And now we're in our third, fourth season. We're working on chapter four right now. So It's been amazing, so far and it's going to get better as we keep going.

What's next for HRS?

Vaz: Our most recent collection is called “Return to Arcadia”, which basically was our kind of take on party aesthetics, it's going back to, really celebrating life. We were exploring country glam because we thought it was the first collection that we actually shot like the campaign in states, so it was kind of like the return to someplace and Erik came by with this Arcadia idea! So we were looking at Elvis and Neverland and Erik brought in his friend Orville Peck, which was fantastic. And that was like the icing on the cake. It was just the best thing that could've possibly happened for us to have. and also to have this genuine support, throughout the whole process. And shooting it in Nashville, which was such a great experience. I was, I was so upset that I couldn't physically be there even though I was kind of virtually on set.

Erik: Yeah, that wasn't one to miss.

Room: Laughter

Vaz: The people, everyone was so happy and none of it was staged. It was just, it all seems so natural. Like, you know what I mean?

Erik: Yeah, it was so cool because the name of the collection, you know, Return to Arcadia was this return to a paradise or returning to some kind of like something that was, it was actually the next step after the Dream Escape.

So it was, this thing it's like you're dreaming of something in the middle of the pandemic where you can't actually, realize that. And then the Return to Arcadia was the actualization of that. And then Vaz not being able to travel to the states was the funny thing about it.

Vaz: We had like, we, you know, we had country glam artists, like Gram Parsons...

Erik: and Jaime Wyatt was a part of that. She was really awesome and Orville, like you said, and you know, our friend Davey (Daviante) Sayles and Riley Hawk, and yeah. Like, I mean, Cathy (Catherine) Han styled that shoot with Vaz and it was just, I mean, it was, it was incredible and the stuff, you know, the colors, and the stuff that came out of that is so far beyond what I expected.

You know, when you have a really good team together and I think everybody's kind of vibrating on a positive frequency or on this certain energy, the result of it is always going to be good. I mean, so many things went wrong on the shoot and everything turned out alright.

So it's just like, you know, when things are clicking like that, and I mean, there was a tornado touching down, the shoes hadn't arrived yet. I mean, there were so many different things happening and everything turned out better than I could have even imagined. Vaz was, at the time we were on FaceTime, and for the last collection, I was on FaceTime for most of the shoot. But this one for some reason the reception... I was on a farm and it wasn't working.

Vaz: At some point that the blueprint was on. You know, Erik had the blueprint and he just had to kind of just go with it. haha

Erik: Yeah. And it was just like, you know what, just have fun and do it, you know, like I was like, alright, fuck it.

I think we got a little off the track of the questions, but I think it definitely segue into the method that we use for how we develop and then how we shoot these collections that have campaigns and stuff. The thing for us is that if we can have fun and have that energy involved in it then it translates into the product, and I believe that when people can put that on, they can feel something and feel emotional about it themselves… That’s the goal.

You can find Human Recreational Services here.

Photography by Jason Roman
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