King Saladeen and Missy Dietz at the announcement of the Boyds collaboration

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Boyds might be about 80 years old, but its 21st century rebrand is nearly complete. On the heels of a $10 million renovation project, the family-run department store unveiled an edgy new collaboration with local artist King Saladeen.

King, born Raheem Saladeen Johnson, is an internationally renowned artist whose talent has landed him collabs with Nike, Lexus and the New York Stock Exchange. He’s become known for adding his signature street-style touch to very high-end luxury items — think hand-painted Birkin bag, or custom McLaren sports car. Soon, he’ll be putting his paint brush to a rare Porsche Carrera GT, but not before he joins Boyds to debut a trio of artworks that aim to give back to the city.

“This is a major situation right here,” King, 36, said of the collab. “They’re the best fashion department store in Philadelphia. It’s just an honor, man.”

Alex Gushner is the great-grandson of Boyds founder Alec Gusher, who opened Boyds as a store that sold cigarettes, cigars and newspapers (and eventually white dress shirts) in 1938. The younger Gushner was front and center throughout the renovation and reimagining process that followed the devastating fire at the Rittenhouse landmark.

“We want Boyds to be relevant to more than just corporate men,” Gushner told Billy Penn.

The store brought in Missy Dietz as director of business development. Dietz co-chairs the Philly Fights Cancer charity and had a longtime business relationship with King — and so began the organic partnership between Philadelphia’s luxury fashion mainstay and the prolific artist who hails from humble beginnings.

“We’re trying to encompass a lot of different things and tie it all together, all tied around King and how important he is to us, to me, on a personal level,” Dietz said of the project. “I adore him.”

King’s works for Boyds will be threefold:

  • A billboard in the Boyds parking lot near 18th and Chestnut that’ll run through December
  • A massive print that’ll be on display in Boyds starting in November and will be auctioned in December
  • A limited edition clothing collab featuring the Boyds x King artwork

All proceeds from the sale of that fashion collection will go to the Abramson Cancer Center. All proceeds from the artwork auction will go to Philadelphia’s Community Partnership School.

Credit: Layla Jones / Billy Penn

Eric Jones, headmaster at Community Partnership School in Brewerytown, said the Boyds x King project has more than just a financial benefit. “In a lot of respects he’s a role model for our kids,” Jones said. “Because in order for us to aspire we have to see an example.”

Influenced by artists like Black Thought of The Roots, King prides himself on his true-to-self style. “It’s definitely self-expressive,” he said of his art. “Everything is definitely from the heart.”

Billy Penn spoke to King about his Philadelphia roots, his skyrocketing career and what working with Boyds means to him.

This conversation has been edited for clarity.

If you could recall one moment from your childhood that was formative for your art life today, what would it be?

I was like 6 or 7 and I used to always write on the walls in my room. My mom would say, “Don’t write anything else!” But then one day she said fine, you can write on the walls in your room. I was able to really release my creative energy and not try to hide it. I always used to get in trouble for writing on the walls, so when she allowed it, it was like, it was dope.

It was something in me that was like “This is my room, so why can’t it be what I want it to be — and I don’t want white walls.” So [my mom] totally just let me be as free as possible.

When did you start gaining popularity as an artist? Was there one project that kind of increased your visibility?

I think it was when I quit my job in 2011. That was when I was able to really live my dreams and really just go different places. Every dollar I saved up was to travel somewhere; to Miami or LA. So I think once I had the freedom to do what I had my mind set on, that’s when the opportunities started coming and I started meeting a lot of people.

The collab that happened that kind of put me on the radar was in 2015. I did a collaboration with Brand Jordan and the Philadelphia School District. It was called “A’s for J’s.” So that was pretty dope and from there that’s when a lot of stuff came, like corporate deals.

You were an artist first for a local clothing company?

Yeah, I used to work for a clothing company called Miskeen Originals. It was a hand painted clothing company in 2002, ’03, ’04. Really big all over the world. Other than selling t-shirts out my trunk that was the first time I ever got a W2 form for doing art. It was crazy.

So collaborating with Boyds in Philly is like a full circle experience.

Yeah, it’s amazing, man, because my best friend that passed away who really pushed me to do art, he used to shop at Boyds. And, you know, we’re younger guys. Boyds just newly renovated everything.

He used to go there when it was just really kind of for the old money in the city. I was introduced to Boyds early on in the game, but me not being at that level to kind of dress like that. I was an inner city kid, sweat suits and stuff like that. Boyds always been a really dope spot. And I remember them always treating me and my friend JP very well.

So now when I’m able do a collaboration and go to Boyds and buy things because I’m older now, it’s just perfect.

School started for Philadelphia students this week. What advice or words of encouragement would you offer kids this year?

I know it’s always gonna be hard because of the environment that we’re brought up in. Doing the right thing isn’t always what you get praise for where we come from. So I would just say get around a circle of people that are super positive because a positive attitude, that just starts everything off the right way, you know what I mean?

Figure out exactly what you want to do and try not to waste time. What I did for myself, there wasn’t any blueprints of being an artist from West Philadelphia, never going to school. So I would just say never think that you can’t do something and if you’re interested in something just try to focus on that and get around people that actually do it, so you can learn the ins and outs early.

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...