Kerwin Frost Takes Collectibles Seriously
Story by Whitney Mallett / Creative direction by Pablo Rochat / Photography by Adam Powell / Styling by Malcolm Mammone / Production design by Wesley Goodrich
This article is a sponsored collaboration between McDonald’s and PAPER.
Kerwin Frost is a man of many hats — he’s a DJ, a designer, a talk-show host, the list goes on. But also quite literally, he wears a lot of hats: a tall bowler, a horned ushanka, a wool felt cone. His signature, however, is the top hat, a bit of sartorial flare that works overtime to invoke two classic archetypes, the magician and the businessman, which the contemporary “creative director” folds into one.
And this hat of Frost’s is front and center in his latest drop,the Kerwin Frost Box for McDonald’s. Specifically, a black top hat adorned with a mint-green hatband and the apocryphal golden arches, which Frost wears in all the collab’s promo. But also his alter-ego, in toy form, a tiny personified Chicken McNugget, wears the hat, too. This mini-Kerwin is one of a cast of characters of McNugget Buddies, which Frost designed, each one with a backstory and personality expressed through their personal style, and a community member in a neighborhood-universe Frost dreamt up called “Frost Way.” Like the Happy Meal toys we all remember from childhood, you can collect McDonald’s x Frost’s McNugget Buddies one at a time when you get the boxed meal at your local McD’s. As an extension of the project, Frost also designed a life-size version of the shoes that his Kerwin McNugget Buddy comes with, so you can get a pair yourself and match the toy.
To share more about his McNugget universe and artistic philosophy, Frost hopped on a video call with design expert Whitney Mallett, who literally wrote the book on taking camp toys seriously.
Hat: Benny Andallo
You’ve got some McDonald’s swag on?
Oh yeah! It’s been sewed to my skin.
What’s that jacket?
It’s just a McDonald’s NASCAR jacket. One of their classics.
Yeah. That was one of the first things I did was stock up on McDonald’s vintage merch.
So how did this whole journey start?
About a year ago, McDonald’s reached out and brought up the potential for us to come together and create magic. When that first happened, I just had to stare for a second. Like McDonald’s is probably the top for me.
Hat: Benny Andallo
Why is that?
I feel like McDonald’s has played a role in so many childhoods, and when I’m in a foreign country and I see a McDonald’s, I feel close to home. It’s always been big for me personally.
When you know how much something’s meant to you and how much it’ll mean to others and you get to be part of writing that cultural text, that’s huge. So tell me what’s inside a Kerwin Frost Box?
Let me show you, I’ve got one right here.
We can do an unboxing.
Do you like the box?
I love all these different textures.
I had this crazy idea of having different artists work on each panel of the box. It was really sweet working with everyone.
Okay, so the box itself is a collectible.
Then inside you can have a 10-piece Chicken McNuggets or a Big Mac, plus fries and a drink, and with all that, you get a Buddy. I’ve got my Buddy right here. This one is the Kerwin McNugget Buddy.
With your top hat on.
And my Fry Guy shoes. My favorite part is, on the bottom here, there’s a watermark that says “Kerwin Frost X McDonald’s.” As a nerd, that’s just, like, the greatest. Here’s another Buddy. This is Waffutu.
Okay, she’s the lovable, curious optimist?
Yeah, she’s the princess of Frost Way. Now this is Darla, she works at the local McDonald’s in Frost Way.
Jacket and pants: Abra, Sunglasses: Miu Miu, Hat: Benny Andallo, Shoes: Kerwin Frost x McDonald's Fry Guy Clogs
And she’s the employee of the month?
There are no other employees there, so that’s part of the joke. But then Darla is also the lead singer of the Frostettos. And then this is Don Bernice. She gives stern advice, but she’s always nice.
Is that a cape?
Yes, she has a cape, very André Leon Talley. And she’s the atelier of Frost Way, she makes all the clothes. When people go to her for advice, she tells it like it is. Then there’s BRRRICK.
The cool guy?
He always wants to be cool. He’s a little mischievous, but he has good intentions.
Jacket and boots: Loewe, Hat: Benny Andallo
Dare I say like a hypebeast?
That’s interesting. Hmm... He dabbles. He does dabble.
And then who’s this here?
This is Uptown Moe.
Okay, uptown. Is he Harlem-coded? That’s where you grew up, right?
Yeah, I feel like if you live in New York, even if you’re downtown, you know an Uptown Moe. He’s a representation of city life and just that person who’s always there and holds it together.
There’s a real sense of world-building. I feel like this is a whole cinematic universe you’ve created. I wanna see the movie, and the neighborhood vibe makes me think of Mr. Rogers.
I love that you say that. What was cool about working on these is we had this understanding that they were really pure. It’s not ironic and it’s not trying to be cheeky. It’s just pure. World-building is always my favorite thing. Growing up, I was extremely into commercials, campaigns and storytelling.
Jacket: Loewe, Hat: Benny Andallo, Sunglasses: Andy Wolf x KNWLS
And by virtue of being miniatures, toys truly realize an entire scaled-down universe. I worked on this project last year, editing a book about the history of this dollhouse, and it blew me away how much goes into creating a toy and also how much it reflects about the era that it’s made.
It’s something I’ve thought a lot about too, especially with designers I look up to. I wrote so many pages of background for each character. I was thinking about what each one’s day-to-day is like and really pushed myself into the world of Frost Way.
So in this world you’ve created, the Buddies all live according to the Frost Way. What’s that ethos?
The Frost Way, for me, is going head-first, no net. Just going for it and following your heart. When I see the pencil on the Kerwin McNugget Buddy, I remember when I got that tattoo. I was in my younger years and so many people looked at me like I was insane for doing that. If I gave this deep philosophical meaning behind it to someone, they would eat it up and think I was a genius, but if I just told someone I got it just to get it, they’d look at me like I had two heads. Back then, people didn’t really have face tattoos like that, but for me, it was testament to artistry and following my dreams and doing it my way, you know, like how Frank Sinatra says.
Gown, shirt and pants: Willy Chavarria, Hat: Benny Andallo
I remember the first thing I heard about you a decade ago. You were DJing these parties and people were like this guy has a tattoo of a pencil on his face!
It genuinely bothered people!
But I hear what you’re saying, how people will feel your commitment behind something.
With this project, I also love the idea of lightening up the life of someone who has no idea who I am. I went to see Akon the other night and this bouncer took me aside and was like, “You’re the guy from the thing, right?” Then he pulled up this message he’d just sent to his wife with a link to an article on my McDonald’s thing. He’d written, “Can’t wait to get all of these.” And she’d texted back, “Oh here we go again. Just kidding.” It’s like here’s this person who collects toys and this is like their safe space and he’s going to collect these figurines. Or thinking about boyfriends and girlfriends getting each other the McNuggets they don’t have yet. I love thinking about moments like that and it’s something I haven’t got to tap into before.
Really reaching people.
I want to say too, working with McDonald’s from day one, it was amazing the trust they instilled in me. There was a tremendous amount of freedom to explore and create. People would say, “Oh get the bag,” but it was so not about that.
Jacket: Marni, Hat: Benny Andallo, Sunglasses: Andy Wolf x KNWLS
I’ve been really interested in the way things have shifted between artists and brands over the past 10 years or so. Artists of another era had been really anti-logos, and then there was this pendulum swing with artists wearing stuff like that NASCAR jacket you have on. It was disorienting how much counterculture really wanted to reference brands. And I think a lot of corporations realized that artists want to engage with the mass culture around them and so instead of trying to send them cease and desist letters for it, there is this opportunity to work together.
Yeah, yes, yes. I absolutely agree.
And I love what you said about it not being ironic. I feel like we’re over irony.
I think we’re past irony too. It can be misconstrued, like even in my interview show, my genuine awkwardness people can compare it to a show like Between Two Ferns. But anything that I do, it’s out of a genuine passion and love for pop culture.
And so your McNugget Buddies they’re in a lineage with McNugget Buddies McDonald’s had made before. What era was that?
I think it was in 1988 that the Buddies first came out, and McDonald’s brought them back a few times in different markets. I was too young to catch them at the time, but a friend of mine had a collection of them, and I was so taken aback how fun they were to play with. There was like an '80s gym trainer gal in the first collection and then later they had more Halloween characters. I think my Buddies really walk a line between fashion and camp, in a way.
And all of their outfits are completely interchangeable?
Yes they’re fully interchangeable. You can put Kerwin in Don Bernice’s hair or BRRICK’s goggles. I think there are over 60 different combinations.
And any of them can wear Kerwin’s Fry Guy shoes?
Yeah, and so McDonald’s and I actually developed these shoes. I can show you a pair.
Oh my god, they’re clogs. I’m wearing clogs right now.
Let’s go! There were a lot of variations of these and trying to get the height-level right without making them heavy.
Clogs are the best because they’re, like, futuristic, but also this old-timey peasant shoe.
Yes! Making these, I looked through every clog that had come out the past five years.
And they have these cartoon eyes. This is a bit of a signature of yours, an anthropomorphic shoe.
Oooh, what does that mean?
Like having human characteristics.
Right! I kept looking at the McDonald’s Fry Guys and thought it would be so nice to wear them as shoes. I love tying things through and weaving relationships.
Gown, shirt and pants: Willy Chavarria, Hat: Benny Andallo
Whitney Mallett is the co-editor of Barbie Dreamhouse: An Architectural Survey and the founder of The Whitney Review of New Writing.
Digitech: Jeremy Paul Bali
Stylist assistance: Mark Saldana
Photographer assistance: Wendell Cole
Set dressing: Jacob Pillot
Miniature: Graham Epstein
Production assistance: Kelly Cole, Gaby Caplan, Rashaun Pauleon