Having grown tired of the paint-by-numbers Nike AF1s that were draining the sneaker scene, Dominic Chambrone aka The Shoe Surgeon went on a quest to provide the customising game with something different. Thanks to a host of peeps ready to open their minds to something fresh and original, The Shoe Surgeon chanced upon meeting Justin Bieber's stylist through a hook-up at Android Homme, forever changing his life. On board as the Biebster's personal sneaker reconstructor, Dominic has forged a close relationship with Biebs' favourite brand Supra and created some neck breaking kicks along the way. And from the sounds of it, he's only just touched the tip of what he can create. We hit up the tatted tinker to find out more!
Hey Dominic, tell us a little about yourself and how you got into ‘shoe surgery'?
It all started in high school around 2001 when I was 16 by airbrushing AF1 Mids with model paint, which didn't hold up. I also started cutting out Nike Swooshes and gluing them on top of the shoe. It looked cool for a lil' bit but I have OCD and I'm such a perfectionist so I started the search for something that would last on a shoe. A friend at the time, DJ LAZYBOY took us to a much older and better shoe painter GHOST's art store in Berkley CA, which was like an hour away from where I grew up. There I found this paint called Angelus and the rest was history. When I graduated high school I got a home sewing machine as my senior present from my grandma (which I asked for). After school I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina with my grandma and uncle's family where I met Ronnie, a shoe customiser who painted the Carolina Panthers Superbowl game cleats. We became friends and started painting shoes for a store in a local mall, but then I started getting over painting because I wasn't that good and also because paint doesn't last forever no matter what kind of paint you use, so I sought out more.
I studied so many blog, books - whatever I could read. Also Sneaker Freaker - you guys were a pretty big influence on my career. I got the first Sneaker Freaker book (issues 1-6) from Borders and went through it a hundred times for reference/inspiration. I looked into sewing machines that could do more and started hunting out new materials like leathers. The person I actually talked to on the phone was a customizer named C. Williams from Canada who has been doing some crazy shit for a very long time. He was probably the first one that inspired me to do this. He was a cool dude to talk to. He told me to use everything I saw as inspiration. When I made my first handmade pair of Vans for a store in Charlotte called NICHE, I wowed the owner and from there I kept evolving my work and getting better and better. I'm completely self-taught and I LOVE what I do. I can pretty much do anything too, from changing the upper to changing the soles. I'm on some next level customizing shit.
Reconstructing sneakers has been on the underground while customisers took the limelight, but with that scene saturated these days, how are you setting your self apart from the pack? What are some of the aspects that make your designs shine?
Well I think outside the box. I work with traditional cobblers and boot makers. I'm learning the ins and outs of shoe repair and that itself has taught me so much. I have two mentors I'm so thankful for. Daryl Fazio a shoe repair cobbler who has been changing soles for over 30 years and Michael Carnacchi who makes custom fitted cowboy boots for some well-known people (Jay Leno to George Lucas). I'm lucky to live where I live in Sonoma County! I like doing things that look like they cant be done. I love changing soles as well as completely re-doing an upper. I just have a much different eye for fashion then a lot of different customizers out there.
Talk us through the process of the Pendleton Supra you recently made for Chad Muska.... The shoe looks completely different from its original Skytop III form...
Man, my original design for this was not supposed to look like the final product. hahah. This Pendleton design happened last minute and when I say last minute I mean last minute! So my plan was booked for July 6th 2011 and the whole weekend before I was making shoes non-stop. I had orders for Jawan Harris and some other people. I didn't even get to celebrate my Fourth of July. So it was the night before I had to leave for LA and I was staring at everything in my work space, at all my original designs of what I was gonna do (which was some lame grey design). I had recently gotten hold of some Pendleton scraps and they were just sitting on my worktable, literally staring me down telling me that I needed to use them. So I went back into my ‘drawing board' aka my brain and redesigned the shoe using the Pendleton material along with brown suede natural leathers and resoled them. I didn't sleep a wink and they couldn't have turned out any better!!
True that, they look buttah! How does working on shoes with Justin Bieber differ from Chad Muska?
Well for Bieber I work close with his stylists Maya and Ashley. As for Chad I actually haven't made a pair for him. I made those Pendleton Skytop IIIs for myself to display at the Factory 413 release party and the store. So each inspiration comes from everywhere and everything. It can come in any second or from a bunch of things. Inspiration is really crazy.
Speaking of the Biebster - tell us how you hooked up making shoes for the kid? You basically get your kicks seen to millions of teens the world over!
Yeah, this was pretty crazy! I've got to thank Javier Laval, owner of Android Homme for introducing me to Maya, who is Beiber's stylist. When I made a pair of customised Android Hommes for Will.I.Am to rock at the MTV VMAs, I hand delivered them to Jav and then he introduced me to Bieber. Months went by and I got a call from Maya to do two pairs for Justin at the AMAs and from there we became friends. I think we work well together. I'm very grateful to work with them ¬- they've done a lot for me!
You seem to have a strong connection with Supra - refreshingly surprising when we see throngs of Nike remixes! How did it all come about and why Supra?
Well to be honest I've been over Nike a long time. I don't even really like customizing them - I usually charge extra if people ask me to do them hahaha. Supra came about because Bieber loves the brand and Maya shops at Factory 413. It's located right in the heart of Hollywood where a lot of celebrities shop, so I'm sure Maya started showing the guys a lot of my custom work and always talked me up to them. Finally I went down to the store and met the manager Mike and he was really cool. I also met Joy, the marketing director - they are all really nice and cool there! I got on the phone with Mike one day, two weeks before the Skytop III release party and he invited me along. I asked if he would want me to customize a pair of Skytop IIIs for the party and he was stoked. Mike and I have some custom stuff in the works for Factory 413, so watch out. Chad also likes my work and wants to work with me, so I hope that pans out.
Tell us about your work with Android Homme? They have a very similar aesthetic to Supra - are there many challenges working with a brand that already tries to push the boundaries of fashion and design?
Working with Android Homme is awesome; Javier Laval is like a dude I really look up to. He gave me a chance at something and didn't even know me. I look at him like a big brother. That brand is doing some new shit, so you better watch out! Jav and me also have some shit in the works that's gonna break necks!
Eyes are peeled! On average, how long would a pair take to construct?
Anywhere from four hours to 24 hours but you also have to include design time, so that's another 24 hours of design and then getting materials etc etc. It's hard to say, I just pay attention to every detail.
If you weren't reconstructing sneakers, what would you be doing?
If it wasn't for Facebook and Android Homme's ‘Javier Laval', I don't know if I'd still be making shoes, I'd probably be doing hood rat stuff wit my ‘frenz'.
What's up next for you and where can peeps cop a Shoe Surgeon exclusive?
You can place orders through my website email. Coming up for me, I'm apprenticing at the cobbler shop in Windsor with Daryl Fazio and also doing some custom fitted boot making in Sebastopol with Michael Carnacchi. I'll be still working on my own designs, working with Supra and Android Homme. I'll keep doing what I love. Half of my tattoos are sewing machines, cobblers and stuff related to my craft, so you know I'm dedicated. I want to learn to make shoes from scratch. I want to visit Italy's shoe making factories, I want to go to Android Hommes' factories overseas. There's so much I want to do but I just gotta keep my head down and work and it will come.