Now Trending: How a Lifelong Sneaker Obsession became a Fashion Tour de Force
October 11, 2016
The rise of the luxury sneaker has been swift, transforming shelves of casual oxfords and desert boots into high-top meccas overnight. But the influx isn’t a trend; rather, it’s a coming of age for ’90s sneakerheads who spent their youth pursuing deadstock and hunting grails. (Holy, that is.) Given the trajectory of sneaker collecting—better, rarer, more exclusive—its high-fashion invasion was really only a matter of time.
The same could be said for Buscemi and its founder, L.A.-based sneaker designer Jon Buscemi. “This brand is a graduation,” he explains. “It’s the result of a natural progression.” Articles outlining Buscemi’s climb to the top usually start with his departure from Wall Street to work at the iconic skater brand DC Shoes. In truth, the story begins much earlier. “Growing up on Long Island during the boom of hip hop and skater culture was an exciting time,” he says. “I still remember the first time my friends and I saw a spiked belt or an Adidas shell-toe with fat laces.” Already a huckster at age 8, Buscemi and a small gang of friends (“bandits,” he calls them) started customizing and selling shirts, painted hats, and studded shoes. He admits, “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit.”
That spirit thrived during his Wall Street phase. “The high energy enhanced my hustle, and I learned a whole new level of entrepreneurship,” he says. Along with a few new sales techniques, Buscemi acquired the cash flow to sustain his growing fashion addiction. “I was motivated by luxury. Growing up middle class, we wanted to shop Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren Purple Label… In a way, you could say I ended up where I did because I wanted to shop at Neiman Marcus.”
But Wall Street can be a grind for creative souls. So in 1999, Buscemi made his exit—with a closet of over 600 sneakers to show for his efforts. From there, he joined DC Shoes (where he earned his “PhD in sneakers”), did a stint at Oliver Peoples, and cofounded the streetwear brand Gourmet. The culmination: The 2O13 launch of his eponymous brand. (Name sound familiar? You’ve definitely seen his cousin Steve on shows like HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.)
All Buscemi sneakers are crafted in Italy, complete with handpainted edges and a signature gold padlock. “I could have made these sneakers in Korea, America, the moon even, but I wanted to make them in Italy because that’s the menswear epicenter—that’s the dream.” Elevating a sneaker to audacious levels of craftsmanship took a leap of faith, though. “Every time you start something new, it’s a risk,” says Buscemi. “But 95 percent of being a leader is not caring whether or not you succeed. You have to do your own thing, and I just got really lucky.”
And while the brand charts Buscemi’s personal story, it has its own narrative. “I didn’t want to start with a product, so I started with a story about a guy, much like myself, from the streets who appreciates the finer things. When you walk into a Ralph Lauren store, you can turn left or right. Right for the polos and logo shorts, left for the haberdashery and fine suiting—the inspirational stuff. That’s where we gravitated growing up. Buscemi is for the guys who turn left.”