In Our Words

The Claw, the kicks, the artist.
Saving kicks from incineration, bombing nyc and baking cookies: the life of New York graffiti legend and sneaker collector extraordinaire, Claw.

by Lori Lobenstine

Recently I got to sit down with NYC graffiti artist Claw. You know I’m always down for a female who more than holds her own, and Claw is no joke. Homegirl’s got her own autobiography coming out about her life as a graffiti bomber! The fact that we’re sneakerheads and age-mates just made it all the more fun, but I won’t put you through all the 80s reminiscing we did…


What got you into loving sneakers, and how old were you?

Helloooooo, I’ve always loved clothes. My mom never let me have what I wanted. I always got my 2nd choice or my 3rd choice… I had four-stripe fake adidas and weird skippy Keds-kind of…Traxx or something like that. So I grew up being a big covet-er. I remember my 1st pair of brand name sneakers were Nike sneakers, and they were the light blue nylon Cortez. Because she wouldn’t buy me the leather ones that I really wanted! I was like in 5th grade. Before that I definitely remember NOT having the sneakers I wanted….

I’m originally from Queens, and it was bearable to have the wack gear, wack shoes whatever because in Queens no one really cared, and then I moved to Long Island when I was 12...All of a sudden it was all about your outfit! These bitches wore mother/daughter outfits! Fly fuckin Nikes, this and that, and I could not cut it. So I’ve been obsessed with clothes and sneakers, since I could never really have what I wanted.

How many sneakers do you have?

I probably have well over 100 but under 200.

How did you become a sneaker collector? Or should I say, collector-at-large?

I became a serious sneaker head in the late 80s, early 90s. I didn’t really start collecting until the mid 90’s. At first I was just wearing them. I always loved sneakers. I’m a creature of comfort. I was always the girl in the crazy dress…and Jordans. And my friends used to be like, “Only you can wear a dress, with fuckin’ tube socks.”

And then I started collecting, not just sneakers but clothes and eyewear. I collect old spray paint, books, jewelry, whatever. I have problems! Do you know that they say that when people are collectors, you know, horders, packrats…it has to do with the way they were potty trained! Google it, some crazy shit. It’s like uh oh, what happened there?

I love love love sneakers. I love love love eyewear. I’m obsessed with eyewear. Way more than sneakers. And also now that [sneaker collecting] is not such an exclusive club, it’s kind of lost its must-haves for me. It’s like, ‘Ah, I’m sure somebody else has it.’ Before with sneaker collecting, I felt like ‘I must get this’ because it would go to some incinerator and nobody would know about this. And I feel responsible for saving this from obscurity. Now folks are banging down the door to get it…

Do you have some sneaker favorites?

My favorite pair of Nikes are the ones that are in Bobbito’s book, the pink ones with the multi-color bottoms. My favorite pair of Nikes in general, other than those from my collection, are my vintage Vandals, which I spent 400 dollars on. Yea, they’re pretty dope. My favorite adidas are shelltoes. They’re nice, just really cute. I’m really into Troop sneakers. Troop was the first company to target the urban market, not be shy, just brazenly go after it. Really they were trailblazers. So it was like the late 80s, early 90s, and it was supposed to reflect this hip hop culture, and I think it really does. I have an insane collection of Troop stuff. I’m all obsessed with Troops.

I really like Spaulding Clydes, the way they look. I think they’re really, really nice. And I also have some weird designer sneakers. I have these weird Chanel sneakers. They’re from the 80s, and appealing to this weird kind of like culture, before there was really a formal sneaker culture.

How do you store your sneakers?

I don’t keep my sneakers that well. I probably should stuff them with tissue paper. And I think there’s a bunch of them like smushed into those giant rubber tupperwares. And there are some that are in their boxes, and some that are on shelves… I’m not the best at that. Since I moved all my vintage stuff into storage… it’s like out of sight, out of mind. I don’t even know what’s in there. Either they’ll be all eaten by moths and all of it gone, or it’ll be worth like ten million dollars in ten years or something!


How old were you when you got into graffiti?

I always thought of myself as a writer, but I didn't get crazy with it really until my 20's. Both my parents were academics, so they didn’t really fall for that in me at all. I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was a kid, at least I thought that’s what I was going to be. I wanted to be that or a vet! I couldn’t get into a decent college but I did get into FIT. It’s a pretty decent college, it’s a good college, but it wasn’t a pre-vet school. I wasn’t going to cut the mustard with the vets! When I started going to FIT in Manhattan in the late 80s, that’s when I got introduced to the wild world of graffiti, and it's never been the same since.

And that took you way outside of the walls of FIT…

Yea, my nickname for my whole life, since I was young, was Claw. So I naturally had a graffiti tag. I thought I was writing graffiti just because my name was claw… ‘Oh yea, I’m Claw, I’m Claw.’

How did you come up with the claw icon?

I came about like five or six years after I started writing graffiti. It was actually the W in my name. I started putting the nails on the W. I can show you old pics…

How did the claw go from being on walls to being on t-shirts, jewelry, etc.?

I had started working at Swindle as a fashion editor. I’m making this, I’m making that, here and there, and in one week about five people told me I should do a claw t-shirt. And after the fifth person, my boyfriend at the time was like, “You are an idiot if you don’t!” I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll do it.’ And then my two worlds merged! I’m so lucky. It happened to work. It’s not like I ever wrote graffiti so I could put it on a t-shirt!

I’m incredibly blessed and lucky that I get to do this for a living. Like, it’s a business now. It’s strange to me that the claw is a business. And it’s not me anymore. It’s got a life of its own. It’s open to interpretation, and it can really be so many different things. For some people it’s very New York, for some people it’s a girl, for some people it’s like, gangster shit… You know, it can be all those things. And it is! And more!

Has the claw changed to you?

Yea, the claw has changed a lot to me. The claw has really changed…the way I view it. I used to feel like my whole identity was really wrapped up in that, and now I feel like it’s just a tiny little piece of me. It’s not…I’m not a one trick pony. I got a lot more than that to offer. The claw, as much as I love it, and as much as I created it, and it has really put me where I am… I got a lot more tricks up my sleeve than just that. It’s strange. I never thought that that would be something that I could just put on a shelf and be like, aw, whatever. You know, with my clothes and stuff I want to really get away from the claw and make it more about the design and construction. Have it be more of a structural design that a graphical one.

But I bet folks keep asking for the claw. It’s like when you go hear your favorite band sing, and they play all their new songs, but everybody really wants to hear that one favorite old song!

But we sang it 9 million times!! I’ve painted that shit 9 million times, I’ve fucking drawn it 9 million times, I’ve put it on a fucking t-shirt; I’m ready to do some next shit.

And people have to be ready to look for that.

They don’t want that. They want the claw. They want their song! You’re right.


Yea, I’m really blessed and lucky. Incredibly. But it took me a long time to figure it out, or have faith in myself. I worked in clubs and bars for ten years, making outfits, and painting graffiti and not really paying attention to my career at all. And then I got super serious when I was about 26, 27, and I said, ‘I gotta stop bartending, figure out what I want to do with my future’… I was a stylist and wardrobe mistress, or whatever the fuck it’s called, for years, and I stopped painting graffiti. I was trying to be Miss Serious Career Woman.

I just think…your career doesn’t have to define you. You can have a job you don’t really like and have hobbies you really do like. I think you just really need to figure out what you love to do, and just do it, whether there’s money or not. I just think that doing what you want to do, do what you love, just to do it. And maybe you can be lucky enough to fall into some shit and make money from it, but I’m 37 years old. It didn’t happen over night. I’ve been painting graffiti for 18 years. It just all happened to culminate the way it did. It’s an organic thing. And natural, and a natural progression of…me. I feel really blessed and lucky, but I hustle my ass off. It’s not easy.

I just feel like everyone’s a unique person. I’m just into what I’m into.Some people are into duck hunting and golfing, and I’m into art and clothes, and graffiti and movies and a million things. That’s just me. I don’t know.
How has your work changed?

I do so much different stuff. I could be painting a backdrop for a video, or a canvas for a show, or a wall outside at night…my work changes because I change. Every day I’m different than the day before. Every day I learn something and take something away from my experience. How’s my worked progressed? I’m a lot better than I used to be!!! Hahahah! I’m better now.

And when you’re painting, what crew are you out there with these days?

I’m in a lot of crews actually. I’m in some legendary crews…I’m in FC; I’m the only girl in it…it’s a really dope crew. And then I’m in my crew, the PMS crew! It was just a girl graffiti crew, but now it has lots of guys in it because really, unfortunately, there’s not enough girls that can really cut the mustard. That bomb graffiti. That go and have the balls to illegally put up their art. Since we didn’t have many members we recruited boys! Miss 17 is the vice president of PMS and she’s fucking all city crusher. She might be the most prolific female graffiti writer…EVER.

What does PMS stand for?

Power Money and Sex. Psycho Mongrel Squad. Punching Many Suckers. Pimpin Man Sluts. There’s tons…

(image from Bombshell: The Life and Crimes of ClawMoney)


Let’s just say... as I look into my crystal ball, there will be a lot of sneakers in my future! And hopefully everybody else’s too! We’ll see. I’m excited to do some footwear stuff in the near future… [hint hint]

I feel like sneakers need to kind of be more fashion forward because really it’s the uniform of today. People aren’t really wearing suits to work anymore, they’re wearing jeans and sneakers. I think sneaker companies need to really pay attention if they want that fashion customer who wants to be a little bit dressier, but they need to get with the program and make more forward thinking looks and take the function and apply the fashion to it. I think that’s what I’m here to do…that’s what god put me on this earth for! Yea baby!

Any claw legacy? You’re sitting on a porch somewhere in your rocking chair, 70 years old…how’s Claw in the world?

Yo, hopefully I’m a fucking gramma with cookies baking in the oven and shit!

With little graffiti writers running around calling you grandma?

Yea, I bet my kids’ll be nerds, though. They’ll be looking at their parents like, look at these retards. I’m going to college! But really, I’m thinking about family shit…

And for what's coming up for Claw, check out:

Her own book : BombShell: The Life and Crimes of Claw Money

Only woman featured in a full-length documentary movie about seven graffiti-obsessed artists:

Also featured in the second printing of Autograf, about NYC's legendary graffiti artists:

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