It is usually safe to assume that those who inherit a famous surname will have a punchy self-assurance to go with it. The Beckham, Law and Moss kids of London society are well practiced in shuffling between members’ clubs and luxury brand events — often sporting the triple threat: blaring outfit, high held chin and a knowing smize.
You might expect the same from Cassius Atticus Hirst. He is one of three sons to Damien Hirst, reportedly the wealthiest living artist in the UK, who infamously turned works like his formaldehyde floating animals into a personal fortune estimated at £315 million by 2020’s Sunday Times Rich List. Immediately though, his middle child, 22, is gentle with a warm smile and surprising frailty.
I meet him at Prada’s Old Bond Street store, where we sit on a red ostrich leather sofa at the back of the shop. Stacked up on the shelves are Hirst Jr’s new 22-piece, spray painted trainer collaboration with the Italian fashion label. He was given piles of Prada’s America’s Cup sneakers to play with and developed a collection of neon shade shoes with front facing labels embossed with his nickname, CASS. They range from distressed looking to pure white. Some have added texture on side panels, and all have names like ATT4CK and D3CAY, derived from electronic music terms.
Unlike his father, who is known for jumping from crafting diamond-encrusted skulls to medicine cabinets or butterfly wing covered canvases, it is spray painting which has totally and completely captured Cassius’ attention. “I’d love to paint this sofa,” he says, giving it a gentle rub. “It would probably look very good with spray paint. But it’s always trickier if you get one of those in your studio. You only get one shot. Shoes are a nice small thing.”
He started playing with spray cans age 10. “I’ve always loved it. I got a little skate ramp in my garden, and I made these stencils and sprayed them on. It was very shoddy, my spray paint work was terrible,” he says. In 2014 he dipped into trainer customisation and, since then, his painted Nike Air Force 1s have been snapped up by the likes of A$AP Rocky, Rihanna, Offset and the late Virgil Abloh. The Cass x Prada pairs are equally collectable, produced as a limited series of 3,000 with a £1,400 price tag – a hike up from the basic Prada America’s Cup shoes at £600.
Securing the luxury deal came with a leg up from Dad. Three years ago, Hirst sent a snap of Cassius’ sprayed sneakers to Miuccia Prada herself, who replied: “This looks amazing, let’s do something”. What followed was a process of “trial and error,” he says. “It was a case of having enough shoes to experiment, and taking things as far as I could. Finding where it’s too far and then pulling back from there.”
It is early evening, and outside the shop a throng of Prada-clad partygoers are forming a queue, ready for the cocktail soirée celebrating the partnership. Cassius has no plans to get on the booze tonight though. “I’m basically allergic to alcohol. I can drink it, but there’s a limit,” he says, explaining he suffers from health complications following a seizure he had during Sixth Form.
“I had a seizure after a heavy weekend. I left school to go to the shop to do some photography with a friend, and I was feeling a bit rocky. Then I dropped down and had a seizure. Full on like, proper heavy stuff,” he says. “I had another one on my 18th birthday party. I stopped drinking, stopped doing any drugs, and ended up just working pretty much all the time,” he continues. “So it was kind of a good thing. I’m sure I would have wasted a lot more time if it hadn’t happened by now.”
He has leant into the experience, weaving brain scans taken at the time into the Prada collection. Having first sprayed them onto the trainers, he settled on making one his logo and splashed it across the shoe boxes. “I just realised that it’s good imagery which I haven’t really seen before, and I stuck with it,” he says.
A career in art and design wasn’t always part of his game plan. In fact, during adolescence, Cassius fought back against his dad’s line of work. “Hating [art] was pretty bizarre,” he says now. “It was kind of that classic teen rebellion sort of thing, but also not understanding art. Thinking that it is really pretentious all the time, and that there is no other way.”
Did he learn creative lessons from Hirst at home? “Not really from my Dad, in terms of learning about art. I mean there were bits and bobs,” he says. Rather, it was in education that he found his footing. “I had a really good tutor towards the end of art school. It’s kind of more of a mental thing than learning how to make stuff. I realised what art was. Everything’s art. And everything that you love is art. And it’s indescribable really.”
This mindset aligns nicely with the world of NFTs which, thanks to high profile players like his father (who raked in a cool $25m for his ‘Spot’ collection of NFTs last year), has taken the art industry by storm. “I like the NFT world,” Cassius says, “but I’m a bit more about the physical. I’ve seen a lot of NFTs where it’s like ah, it’s alright, but I think if I went into it I would want to push it a bit.”
“You can do anything in the digital world. I’d want to do full 3D renders, that’s what I like,” he says. Is there any temptation to follow Damien Hirst in capitalising on the virtual? “I’ll take some time before that,” he says.
The party doors open, and in seconds Cassius is scooped up by the gaggle of well dressed enthusiasts. One thing is clear: whether or not he exudes some stereotyped, blockbuster surname status is inconsequential – everyone in the room already knows who he is.