Meet Jon Buscemi, the Shoe Designer Who Makes 'Birkin Bags' for Celebrity Feet
You'll never look at footwear the same after seeing Buscemi's opulent designs
Sky-high platforms and ankle-twisting high heels used to be the go-to shoe of every young starlet on the red carpet. But with the rise of athleisure, the new footwear you can spot on every “It Girl’s” feet doesn’t have a pointed toe or a razor-sharp heel, but rather a very comfortable pair of sneakers or boots. And you can thank footwear designer Jon Buscemi, the man behind luxury sneaker label Buscemi, for spearheading this abrupt about-face. Merging high-end design, and extravagant detailing like Italian leather, real gold hardware, and with his latest design 11.50cts of real diamonds, Buscemi offers up streetwear designs for the 1%. In fact, the brand’s tag line really says it all, when you put on a Buscemi sneaker, you’re going to get “obnoxiously high quality goods.” And People spoke with the man behind the fanciest kicks in the world to find out why the A-list are losing their minds over his opulent footwear creations.
How did you first get involved in fashion and design?
Being from New York granted me an upbringing surrounded by style and class. I was surrounded by influences from different ethnicities, growing up on a block that had Italian, Irish, Hispanic, West Indian and Asian families all together. There was diversity everywhere – in music, food, style and even what people drove. Skateboarding was the catalyst for my adventurous side and artistic side. Wall Street gave me the access to make a few bucks and feed my style habits. My crew growing up were the fly kids and it was a competition on who had the best or rarest sneakers or the best denim jacket or trick on the board. We would get into a style and master it. It’s just my nature.
Over the years, I accumulated a 600+ pair sneaker collection of very rare finds. I later decided to utilize my natural eye for design and my acute attention to detail to leave finance and join the design world. DC Shoes gave me a shot with my style back in the late 90s and I helped build the DC Black Water, Connoisseur and Lifestyle Collections. From there, I decided to take the leap and create my own high-end artisan products.
What attracted you to footwear specifically?
The street gave me access to knowing what was out there on the finance side. I learned about private equity, family funds and the IPO market. It made me a student of business in general. And the 16 hour days helped craft my tenacity. I owe a lot to Wall Street and hope to ring that bell one day.
I have always wanted to outdo my peers in the industry. Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to outdo my friends in everything whether it was skateboarding or sports or games or graffiti and now design. The biggest compliment you can get is the approval and overwhelming compliments from your peers. It is the ultimate compliment.
What do you feel you bring to shoe design that sets you apart from your contemporaries?
My wife had this famous handbag, and I won’t say which one, and we split up for a little while, and I had a dream when I was in a hotel room that I took her bag and cut it up and made a sneaker. This bag had a lock on it, so that’s where the design inspiration comes from. The lock is reminiscent of classic handbags.
In 2013, I unveiled an ultra-luxe collection of high-end, Italian-made sneakers- it was part art project and part experiment in avant-garde luxury. These new kicks were the sneaker equivalent to the fashion world’s Birkin bag. The demand was high and the supply was limited with resulted in huge buzz and excitement for us.
Can you talk about the process of creating one of your sneakers from the first idea through execution?
The beginnings of the brand really were about creating art. There was scarcity by default as we made a very small amount of pieces for a few great shops around the world. We have grown the landscape and we offer more now but we still make a limited amount of pieces because of the nature of the way our collection is made. For instance, our 100mm shoe takes over 20 hours to make. The painted edge and the custom hardware are like a nice sauce; it needs to cook.
For FW 16, we took basketball sneakers and elevated them to the highest manufacturing level, the highest quality, and the highest level that they can be. But at the end of the day, it’s just a sneaker.
Have you faced any challenges blending such high levels of craftsmanship and luxe detailing into a traditionally street wear medium?
At the end of the day we are making sneakers and leather accouterments. What makes us stand apart is the attention to detail. I have always loved the painted edge of fine French and Italian brands and we took this approach to our sneakers. This makes us stand apart. To have a man hand paint the edge of a sneaker and to have that 4-5 hour process involved, makes the shoes timeless.
-Your designs can be spotted on a wide array of celebrities, why do you think your work resonates so strongly with them?
In the digital age, where nearly everything is a click away, there is growing pressure to flaunt possessions that no one else can buy. These celebs like J.Lo, Ruby Rose, Justin Bieber, 2 Chainz, Kylie Jenner, P.Diddy, Alicia Keys, etc. mark a new chapter in conspicuous consumption. They came with no warning, bang, there it was. In the era that we live in now, people want to feel like they’re discovering things and are trying to stay ahead of the pack by rocking something that nobody else has and all these guys do it well.
What inspired you to create your new 100mm diamond sneaker? Who do you see wearing it?
The 100MM silhouette was born from the reaction from the blogs and social media to the luxury brand behind it – it’s a simple, yet well-crafted silhouette with high-end embellishments like a padlock, leather tag and large heel handle. For the launch of our first store, I wanted to offer something that was opulent, lavish in design and that represents my own interpretation of luxury but still has the brands core designs —Italian craftsmanship and bold design. The 100 MM sneaker silhouette features 175 grams of 18K gold details and 11.50cts of diamond encrusted closures (retailing for $132,000 USD) designed by Shayan Afshar. It’s the dopest, most expensive sneaker out in the marketplace today.
What do you see as the future of luxury sneakers? Or sneaker culture in general?
In this age, people are trying to stay ahead of the pack by rocking something that nobody else has. The American luxury game has gone from zero to a hundred, real quick. We’re doing it fast — aspiring to even greater heights. I can only hope that we all, as creative brands, can continue to tell our stories and change the way people engage with high-quality products, exposing fans to new styles and experiences.
What do you think of Buscemi sneakers? Would you buy a pair? Sound off below!