Obnoxiously High Quality: Jon Buscemi Interview
Today’s sneaker connoisseur has developed a serious thirst for the top end of town. Fuelled by an avalanche of celebrity endorsement, demand for high fashion tailoring and premium materials has smashed the market wide open. After stints on the frontline at both DC and Gourmet, Jon Buscemi’s unique background led to a sneaker epiphany back in 2013. The world was finally ready for a new kind of luxe brand – one that fused the best of everything with a street fashion sensibility. Leading the charge was the sneaker of his dreams, a 24k padlocked beauty known as the 100mm. Two years after the shoe's debut, we again caught up with the man behind the name behind the brand to uncover how BUSCEMI ascended to the throne. Time to lock and load!
We last chatted in 2013 when BUSCEMI was just about to launch. You had one shoe and a great idea. How do the last couple of years or so seem looking back now?
It went fast, real fast. When we set out it was more of an art project than a template for a globally recognized luxury brand. We really hit a raw nerve with the ‘BUSCEMI’ customer. I think the nerve was hit because I was simply making exactly what I want to wear. I have evolved as an entrepreneur, designer and consumer, so it’s a natural progression. The luxury market was the last for all of us street and skate people to infiltrate. Seems like the older houses in fashion and luxury have been taking cues from us for years, now it’s our turn. You must be feeling vindicated, everything you told me back then has pretty much come true.
What do you plan to do with all the money that must be rolling in? Buy one of the Derelict cars by Jonathan Ward?
We don’t look at the short term riches as much as we used to. The long term goal is having our eye on a wider distribution, and starting cultural centres around the globe is the mission. Don’t get me wrong, we like the finer things and there will be an Icon ‘4×4’ in my life one day.
The ‘Padlock’ BUSCEMI was the big reveal on Sneaker Freaker’s cover. Are you still surprised at how deeply the model resonated?
The 100mm style is one of our best selling styles for sure and will continue to be, no doubt. I think we built a great platform and we are now having fun with it. New hardware options, using precious metals and precious stones and reinterpreting the leather usage is making it fun. We have sold small amounts over the past two years. Each shoe takes over 50 hours to make and we distribute them in limited numbers around the world. We have probably made around 10,000 pairs now.
You do seem to rely heavily on that design and the variations of it. Attention spans are pretty short these days. Is that reliance a worry?
Quite the opposite. We certainly didn’t invent the lock and are not the first to put it onto garments. We just did it better and at the exact time the market wanted it. We currently offer over 12 different styles of shoes for men and women, a full range of high-tops and lows and our collection is diverse. We’re not worried in the slightest and look forward to the world seeing the new BUSCEMI designs. We are a young company, so stay tuned!
EDISON CHEN X BUSCEMI
I guess you know you’re doing something right when counterfeiters take note and copy your stuff.
We have been seeking out and crushing counterfeit factories when we find them. The fake shoes mostly seem to come out of China and Russia.
What do you think your biggest achievement has been so far?
My son Benito Buscemi, aka ‘The Franchise.'
Aside from your first concept, why do you think BUSCEMI has been so successful?
It was the culmination of so many things at the exact right time. The connections I have made in over a decade in the industry. My entire team is the best at what they do. Had this happened four years earlier it may not have taken off so seamlessly. Our marketing makes entire advertising agencies jealous. No other brand has the balls to shoot Larry Flynt and put it on billboards. I know because creative directors from the best agencies in the world have told me! Where I grew up was the dopest neighbourhood in the world at that time. The entire world looks to New York for ideas and what’s next. I’m very lucky to have come from there at that particular time.
Do you think you’ve come to the attention of LV and the other big European houses?
Of course, I believe anyone who has both internet access and feet will have heard of BUSCEMI. The luxury brands are always playing catch-up and we are part of their world now. We love being able to move really fast around the larger yachts in the harbour.
A little celeb endorsement doesn’t hurt either. What’s been the best moment so far? 2 Chainz? Bieber? Swizz? J-Lo? Are you hobnobbing with these people now that you’ve made it?
Seeing athletes wear our shoes on the sidelines during the Super Bowl this year was pretty special. Of course Chainz is a friend. Perhaps you missed figure skater Johnny Weir dancing on TOSH.0 or Ricky Martin performing on stage with them. I also have to give a shout out to my Australian muse, Ruby Rose.
I’ll tell her! How have you seen Kanye’s move from Nike to adidas?
Kanye didn’t have an opportunity to design his own shoe at Nike. I like the freedom I see with the adidas project.
BUSCEMI 140MM FOR HOORSENBUHS
Are BUSCEMI shoes still made in Italy?
Yes, all handmade in Italy by the same 20 people that made our original pairs. Each 100mm takes about 50 hours. Why? The locking mechanism is milled from a solid block of aluminium, treated, buffed and plated in 18k gold. All the leather edges are hand-painted in perfectly matched ‘edge’ paint. This process takes the longest due to the drying of the paint. Once the shoes are complete, they are boxed and protected for their long journey ahead. We just filmed a movie of the entire process, it’s glorious.
I wanted to ask you about this notion of ‘value’ when it comes to footwear. What does value mean to you in terms of BUSCEMI?
It depends on your tax bracket. The BUSCEMI for Hoorsenbuhs retailed for $7500.
What’s the market like at the top end like that?
That was actually responding to demand. One of the best stores in the world, Hirshleifers in Long Island, had some customers that were fans of both BUSCEMI and Hoorsenbuhs. She personally asked me to create a few pairs for her clientele. We made seven pairs and we sold seven pairs. Only one pair is white, no one has seen them before.
LARRY FLYNT X BUSCEMI
I guess there are crazier things in this world. I saw Wu Tang Dunks for $20k last week. You mentioned BUSCEMI marketing before. How did the Larry Flynt poster image come about?
That was all Rob Heppler. The original 100mm was iconic the second we released it and we needed marketing that spoke to our ‘Obnoxiously High Quality’. We made a list of iconic people we wanted to model for us. Daniel Day Lewis, Mickey Rourke, Steve Wozniak… it was an all-star cast. Then we thought about who we had connections to. Heppler went wheat-pasting with Buff Monster one night and met another street artist named Seizer, who at the time was creative director at Hustler. A few emails and a cash transaction later, we got one of the most iconic photos ever taken. Larry said he has had billboards in every city for 30 years and never got one phone call, but he got 12 calls from the BUSCEMI board alone.
There must be a great story behind the actual photo.
Anything shot by Atiba Jefferson becomes classic. Larry had never been asked to model for a real fashion brand before, so he was really excited. I remember him saying, ‘Jon, are you really selling shoes for $1000 bucks? Let me shake your hand!’ He is all business, all the time. He is so good at blackjack he is never allowed to go back to Caesar’s Palace ever again.
Larry is also a divisive figure. Brands are so scared of controversy these days. I guess no brand wants to be Public Enemy No. 1, like VW cars are today. Was there any doubt about using Larry like that?
Larry is sensational and provocative. He’s the only person in the world that called Supreme Court Justices ‘Six assholes and half a fag!’ He did three months in prison for saying that. Negative fallout? None. If the fallout is a successful international brand that sells out instantly, I’ll choose Larry every time.
QUINCY JONES X BUSCEMI
Quincy Jones is another very interesting choice. His career is bananas. I’m guessing you don’t just ring his doorbell and ask for a photo.
That was Rob Heppler again. Q was on our list of icons and we tried for close to a year with no response. Rob had worked with Quincy’s son, QD3, and that’s all we needed to get the ball rolling. Once we started working with him we learned so much, more than you could imagine a single human is capable of achieving in one lifetime. He has incredible stories about EVERYONE. He created Oprah Winfrey. He got Obama elected. Did you ever get MAD TV? Well, he created that too. That reminds me, I have to set up dinner with him this week.
He looks a little uncomfortable in the shots. Does he really wear BUSCEMI?
He loves our 50mm low-tops and never takes them off. Hypebeast did a thing with him and Kendrick Lamar a month or so later and he was still wearing our shoes. There might even be a Quincy Jones x BUSCEMI colab coming out in the future.
Brands these days are obsessed with capturing ‘the youth’. If you’re over 40 you’re practically fossilised. Is using ‘mature’ identities in your campaigns part of the strategy? Is it to appeal to an older clientele or is it something else?
We just chose icons that we feel represent our brand. People that have accomplished so much that you would never imagine them modelling for a brand. You want Brad Pitt? Well, we want his boss.
What have you learned from the reaction to these two campaigns?
That we are doing something right. Ok, let’s go off on a slight tangent and talk about things other than BUSCEMI.
Who is doing footwear right in your opinion?
adidas have come full circle; I’m loving the Raf Simons releases. I’m currently wearing the Nike Acronym Air Force 1. Tony Ferguson with his new brand Rone is doing it right, too.
You were at DC for a while. What’s happened to the skate shoe industry?
The only skateboard company that is really keeping it alive is HUF, because Keith really cares about the younger generation. He takes what is happening in the street and produces it like an old school skateboard company used to. Mall stores posing as skate shops have led directlyto the decline of the skate shoe industry.
One last question. What’s the next big thing?
Self-made sneaker companies. DIY, like when every skate shop had their own board company, now it’s sneakers. Keep on the look out for Jerry Lorenzo, Casbia and Brand Black!