Jon Buscemi of BUSCEMI
We interviewed Jon, along with his GREATS partner Ryan Babenzien, on here earlier this month. This is the second part of that interview. With the launch of GREATS being an overwhelming success, and perhaps something we will come to look on as a revolutionary act, we can now turn our attention to, among other things, Buscemi. Jon’s eponymous brand aims to produce “obnoxiously high quality goods;” imagine a footwear equivalent of a Hermès Birkin bag produced in the same factories utilised by Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana. The BUSCEMI 100mm shoe has just dropped in Union LA and is scheduled to appear in other high-end retailers such as Kith NYC, Colette, Soto and United Arrows in the coming days. Aside from his new luxury brand, we also had the opportunity to discuss Jon’s career as an industry insider and life in the City of Angels.
So, how’s LA life treating you?
Treating me well for the most part. Sort of trapped out here as mentally I’ve been fighting going back to NY since I got here 10 years ago.
Can you explain your involvement with Free Range LA? Those food pictures from the Farmer’s Market every Sunday are out of this world.
Jesse Furman founded Free Range and brought me on as a partner in March. He did a few events I was invited to over the past year and I sort of stalked him after that. He is a very talented chef but was a terrible marketer just for sheer lack of time. It’s what I do naturally so it made sense. Also I;ve been trying to enter the culinary space for a few years and this point of entry works. We will have a restaurant by year end, stay tuned.
I’ve heard you’re also decent in the kitchen and that you make a mean marinara sauce?
I’ve been very lucky and been surrounded by great “friend chefs” I lived with Jones Keeffe (DQM) for many years and he helped me perfect my sauce. But the sauce is an old, old 100 year old family recipe.
Sneakers and food aside, what other stuff are you passionate about?
Other than anything with my son, my true passion in life and what motivates me more than anything is out doing my peers. I have been very competitive from birth and played every sport, including skateboarding which isn’t a sport which I did from 88-96. Now the daily operation is treated as such. Going harder and doing better products, marketing, whatever it is, is the passion.
What were the brands that first got you into street wear, before such a thing as “street wear” even existed? Was it the Polo era, or before that? Was there one item you specifically remember saving up for?
Streetwear has been around since the 70’s (Dapper Dan) in NY and I grew up in the late 70’s early 80’s so I am very, very lucky to have experienced the pinnacle and inception of most of everything and anything that happened in fashion in the US. Customizing Lee Jeans, pegged and tapered with my friend Caesar Jimenez in his moms basement and hand making custom lettered BVD t’s and Wilson jackets with Shawn Williams at my house….this is 3rd grade. Fast forward, we skateboarded and were introduced to Stussy at age 13-14 and Skate Rags, Jive (now Fresh Jive), etc…Fast forward going to the grand opening of Phat Farm on Prince Street. Phat Farm was equivalent to today if Pyrex opened a store…it would be mayhem
You’ve been making clothes in some form or another since you were about 11, is that correct? This industry seems like a real labour of love for you. I’d imagine if it was all about the money, you’d have stayed in investment banking, right?
My crew and I were making clothes at age 8 and I have never stopped either making, hunting, digging etc… The love goes back to kind of the first question about the motivation. It’s like that line from Ghost, “Everydays like a video shoot….” Or on the constant first day of school type outlook. Feeling crispy. When we dove deep into the Polo shit in 1990-91 it was about diving into a lifestyle then graduating to Fendi sweaters, Coogi, Armani Emporio and Purple Label. The love is the new experience and showing up somewhere and making people feel bad about what they are wearing…real talk. The money was good on Wall Street but you are exactly right, it was boring.
You honed your skills at companies like Oliver Peoples and DC shoes; both brands being quite varied in terms of product and customer base. How did these jobs influence you and where you’re at today?
Without DC I wouldn’t be doing this interview. I hustled my way into the job. At the time I was looking for any way possible into the game. I took a job from a few friends that owned Girl Skateboards as a sales guy and it was insanely terrible. Not the company but the driving around in a car trying to sell flannels to uninformed buyers. A friend, Wei-en Chang , design director got me an interview and I think I had the right outfit on so they hired me. A month later I was sitting in a business class seat on the way to Munich for ISPO. That’s were it all started. Oliver Peoples sharpened my pencil and then Gourmet was born.
Then you started Gourmet – alongside Greg Lucci and Greg Johnsen – which was and still is hugely successful. How hard was it leaving a brand that you put so much into? Did it all end on good terms?
Leaving Gourmet was one of the hardest decisions of my career no doubt. It was necessary for personal growth. I am still and owner and wish the team all the best but I needed to leave for me. What I want and where I am am going personally from a design and career sense just didn’t match up. No hard feelings whatsoever.
So now you’re doing a brand under your own name; Buscemi. I’ve seen promo shots of handbag inspired footwear and other luxurious accessories; it looks amazing. What is Buscemi and where do you want to take the brand? Where do you want it to sit alongside in terms or other brands and retailers?
The overall theme of the accessories collection is high quality goods with obnoxious high-end sensibility. We are sourcing the best of the best leathers and materials form around the globe, made at the best craftsmen as well. We are launching the collection with a imported floater leather coffee sleeve to replace your cardboard cozy from your everyday coffee spot. This is the epitome of the brand and nature. We are launching in United Arrows Japan, Bsrneys NY, Union LA, KITH NYC and The Tannery in Boston.
The lines between streetwear and high fashion/luxury goods have been blurred so much recently. It feels like we’re in an interesting transition period. Would a brand like Buscemi even have been possible 10 years ago?
Brands like this have existed for decades now. I look up to brands like Raif Adelberg, Oliver Peoples and Chrome Hearts that have pulled of luxury in an American fashion. The houses of Europe, the power house fashion brands like PPR and LVMH have paved the way for this. It’s a new day and smaller brands can live in this space now.
The first collection is a modest selection of leather goods and sneakers. Will you be expanding into clothing and other areas?
We will be expanding into very limited custom jackets and outerwear along with home goods starting later this year when we open our store in LA and available online in the web shop.
What inspired the feather logo? I love it, it looks more like a piece of art than a brand logo.
The feather is something I have always admired and it says a lot about me as a designer. First off it is one feather symbolizing me. Secondly, the feather is drawn from a crow which is my favorite bird. It is powerful and gets under your skin. And the color is for America since the brand is an American luxury brand….