How luxury sneaker brand Buscemi got its big break from a rap shout-out

Buscemi’s 100mm sneakers became a must-have after rapper 2 Chainz name-dropped the product. Founder Jon Buscemi wants to build on that momentum and make ‘the best sneaker in the world’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 2:00pm

For streetwear brands, nothing signifies relevance more than a shout-out by a rapper on a track. That moment came for luxury sneaker label Buscemi when rapper 2 Chainz mentioned the brand’s HK$9,000 shoes in one of his songs. It wasn’t long before Justin Bieber and P. Diddy were showing off their own pairs on Instagram, taking the brand from relatively unknown to a cult favourite almost overnight.

Expensive sports shoes aren’t exactly a new thing in fashion – brands such as Gucci and Dior create new styles each season, and sneaker heads have been collecting limited-edition styles from brands such as Nike for decades. Buscemi, in less than three years since its founding in Los Angeles, has captured its own slice of the market.

“I hate using the word luxury because it’s used so much, but going forward we have the opportunity to be new luxury,” explains founder Jon Buscemi.

“There aren’t many brands out there that are redefining what ‘luxury’ means, to really focus on styling, quality and how it’s made. With us you are not just paying for a logo. This is the best sneaker in the world.”

A former investment banker, Buscemi started his career in footwear by working for brands such as DC Shoes and Oliver Peoples before starting the brand Gourmet with fellow sneaker fan Rob Heppler. His love for trainers, he says, goes as far back as his childhood in Long Island, New York.

“Growing up in New York meant that we were almost forced into fashion. I grew up in an area where there were different cultures so I was influenced by so many things. The biggest part was what you were wearing. It was always about the right polo shirt, the best jeans and of course your sneakers. I bought my first pair at the age of six and it stuck,” says Buscemi.

By the time he was in his mid-20s, he had more than 600 pairs. “It’s now become a disease.”

When it came time to launch Buscemi, he had a clear idea of what he wanted. He immediately travelled to Civitanova Marche in Italy, where some of the best shoes in the world are made. There he met a manufacturer that worked with brands such as Chanel and produced 600 pairs of what is now Buscemi’s signature style, the 100mm, a mid-top featuring an oversized handle, padlock and luggage tag that was “inspired by famous handbags”.

The shoes were distributed to 10 retailers around the world and immediately sold out. “The market was asking for it. Yes, Gucci and Prada already had sneakers but it was always done in a sports way. No one really had the mindset to do it in a luxury way and make them in the finest factories in the world,” he says.

Referring to the irony of high fashion taking elements from US street culture, Buscemi adds: “These brands stole from my [New York] culture, so I was ready to take them back and recreate them in an authentic way.”

Three years later and Buscemi is as coveted as it is exclusive. Every pair is handmade

in Italy and takes up to 24 hours to complete thanks to intricate details such as hand-painted

edges, 18-carat-gold-plated hardware and hand sewn leather laces. The materials are sourced

from the finest tanneries in Europe and include everything from leather to exotics in

colours ranging from vibrant red to classic black.

While quality remains at the heart of the brand, it’s those stylish details that make them

stand apart from competitors.

“Styling for me will always come from classics, whether it’s an Italian basketball shoe or

moccasin. We love the idea of classic mixed with a little of technology and luxury. Like a

well made suit, it’s about jazz,” he says. “We want to be stylish but we want to have our point of

view. If you get it great – if you don’t, you don’t.”

Fortunately for Buscemi many people get it, so much so that the brand launched a

women’s collection three seasons ago after model Jourdan Dunn was spotted wearing a

pair. While their first style was a woman’s version of the 100mm, this season they are

launching more silhouettes including a slip-on and sneaker boot.

Also new for spring are men’s styles that incorporate a more sporty element such as a

Vibram sole, which is favoured by marathon runners and appears on a chic pair of

moccasins. The luxe factor is still ever present – the Gladiator, for example, features hand

stitching and a leather fringe studded with 18-carat gold pins, while the 125mm comes with an

elaborate gold cage around the ankles. Buscemi has also created an exclusive collection

of limited-edition styles for local retailer I.T in Hong Kong.

For next season, the designer has big ambitions to expand the product line – they already have

small leather goods and backpacks – while a free-standing boutique in New York is in the works.

“We are taking it day by day. We are not in the business of putting ourselves in a box

– we don’t follow trends, and will continue designing from a nostalgic place.

If we are eventually known as making the best sneakers in world, then I will be happy,” says Buscemi.