I linked up with cobbler, designer and artist Dominic Chambrone, better known as The Shoe Surgeon at his shop in downtown Los Angeles to discuss his background, creative process and future projects. Recently, Chambrone has gained a ton of publicity for his collaboration with John Gieger on the “Misplaced Checks” Air Force 1’s, custom Yeezy Boost 750 Moccasins and numerous crazy sole swaps. There is definitely a lot more on the way from The Shoe Surgeon. Check out the complete interview, along with images I captured at his shop below.
Can you tell readers a little bit about your background? When did you start customizing shoes and clothing?
I would say i really got started in high school. Yet, in middle school I would pick up an orange sharpie and colored my DaDa’s that my mom bought me from Ross or Marshall’s. I first started wearing Jordans in high school. I had the original ’85 Jordan 1’s. My cousin had 1’s first and I wore them when I was a freshman so all the seniors and juniors were like “Oh damn, those are originals,” but I was still new to sneakers so I didn’t really know what’s up. I just thought they were a great shoe. Then I started getting Jordans early through a friend and then I’d go into Footlocker and they’d look at me wearing the J’s that they haven’t even released yet and they’d freak out. Then my crew was wearing all the same Jordans so it started getting old. Then, I picked up an airbrush one day and did a camouflage pattern on an Air Force 1 Mid. Those came out really dope but didn’t last how I wanted them to because I painted the sole as well. The overall look was crazy though so then all my friends asked me to paint their shoes. That’s when it turned into me making shit for myself to me making shit for friends. It’s still kind of like that because I make so much for other people that I don’t really have time to make anything for myself.
What’s your thought process when you’re coming up with a concept for a new creation?
There’s no specific thought process. I think it changes all the time. There’s just things that spark ideas at certain times. Whether it’s a picture or seeing what someone else is wearing or looking at architecture in a certain way. I guess conversation with someone else really sparks ideas. Sometimes I have conversations with people and they say something that sparks my creativity.
What’s your favorite base shoe to use and why?
A lot of stuff that’s seen on my Instagram are customer recreations. Now I’m more fond of the Air Force 1 because of John Gieger and the shoe‘s recent popularity. It was also one of my favorite shoes growing up. It’s a good design. I like some brands other than Nike as well. I’ve been doing some mash-ups with Adidas. I’m friends with the guy who started Clearweather Brand who also did a lot of the designs for Supra. I’ll saw their stuff at Agenda and really love their new shoe. I don’t really like anything but for some reason I like it.
Do you think you’ll ever bring your talents to a large corporation such as Nike or Adidas?
I met with Nike about possibly being a concept artist for them, but I don’t think I’m the fit their looking for. I would definitely bring my talents but it wouldn’t be just for them. I would definitely do freelance work or a collaboration with them. I’d definitely be open to that.
How did you and John Geiger originally connect?
I think he’s followed shoe customizing in general and then I dipped a pair of Vans in rubber, I was doing this whole dipped and dripped thing where I was dipping vans and adding python swooshes which showed more of my artistic side instead of doing the same shit over and over that everyone else was doing. He was like “Let’s dip my Jordan 4’s,” so we dipped them. Months went by, so I reached out to him like “Yo, let’s do something.” Then at Agenda Vegas last year he said he had these three ideas and wanted to do them back to back to back and I was like “alright.” So the first one was the wheat Nike Air Force 1 with the Gucci swoosh. Simple but super eye catching. Then he was like “Throw swooshes all over it…blah, blah, blah,” so I picked out some materials and threw it together and that really built a working relationship for us. We both made it so we’re able to make money in a way where we can at least pay for things, but it’s not like we’re making crazy money. It’s more to change the industry and to make show people that want to create that it’s possible.
You said that you discussed three projects with John Geiger. Can you give any insight on the third?
I think the third one was supposed to be an idea that I was going to come up with. But then, I had so much work that I never got to it. He usually sends me boxes of random shoes that I can pick and choose from. I received one and asked him what his favorite color was, and he responded “red.” So I went ahead and made a red moccasin low top Air Force 1 and surprised him with it. That ended up getting a lot of hype and it was fun for me because it was out of the ordinary.
You just got back from a trip to Europe. What did you do while you were there? How did the trip inspire you?
We went to Italy first, Florence and Milan and saw factories, visited shoe repair shops then we went to Paris. We went to trade shows as well. It was inspiring in a sense where I got to see other brands, factories and just people doing stuff, so it gave me a lot of inspiration to start doing my own thing.
Would you ever mass produce one of your designs or do you want them to always be made in-house?
I have a million designs, that comes easy for me. It’s just a matter of figuring out what market that design should go to. I think people follow me as an artist and there are more followers that want to be able to afford one of my products, and working with a factory would help me get to that price point. It doesn’t make sense no matter who you are, or who you think you are to have some outrageous price tag nobody can afford whatever it is you’re putting out. I want to make products that are true to myself, that consumers can afford.
Are there any other upcoming projects that you can give insight on?
There’s a lot more on the way from John and I. I’m working on a handmade Jordan 1 that will be a collaboration with Landry Lacour, who is a French shoe maker. I’m trying to find a way to merge traditional shoes and modern sneakers/fashion. I’m also going to be working on my own brand which will offer clothing, sneakers, boots, jewelry and leather goods.