How Jon Buscemi Became Hip-Hop's Newest (Sneaker) Muse

Elizabeth Weinberg
Jon Buscemi

For Sean "Diddy" Combs and 2 Chainz, Buscemi's $1,000 shoes fit.

In his 2014 track "Trap Back," hip-hop artist 2 Chainz put a little-known footwear brand on the map when he dropped the verse “You know I’m rocking Buscemis, and I’m as raw as sashimi.” At a time when Gucci, Versace and Louis Vuitton reigned as hip-hop’s high-end MVPs, an exorbitantly priced $890 pair of kicks known as the Buscemi 100mm were suddenly the apple of the music world’s eye.

"I don’t sit around thinking, 'I wish my name was in a song,'" says founder Jon Buscemi, 41, while walking through his Hollywood office, where candles sculpted in the shape of his head line the shelves. "But when it happens, it’s cool."

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Raised on New York’s Long Island, where he began customizing clothes as a kid during the rise of ’90s hip-hop fashion, Buscemi went on to pursue a career in finance, working as a stockbroker on Wall Street to support his lifestyle. When the market crashed, however, his first love became his second career.

"I had a 'What the f— am I doing with my life?' moment," recalls Buscemi, who is married and has a 7-year-old son. "I realized I needed to get myself into the fashion industry by any means necessary." Through a friend who was connected to the skateboard clothing market, he says, he was "able to wiggle my way into it."

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In the two years since launching the Buscemi brand, an elite clientele that includes Swizz Beatz, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Justin Bieber and Quincy Jones has stocked up on pairs of the 100mm and newer silhouettes like the 90mm and 125mm, which are all made from Italian calf leather and embellished with 18K gold padlocks dangling from the ankle straps.

The rest of the world had to log on to Buscemi’s website and get on what could be a monthslong wait list, though his shoes have since become available at Barneys New York.

"We’re not doing any magic tricks," Buscemi, who resembles both a bouncer and Lex Luthor, says of the brand’s short supply/high demand framework. "We might make 50 pairs of a certain color, and when they’re gone they’re gone — we won’t make them again." 

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Still, he insists, there won’t be a shortage of new designs for fans.

"If the brand were a novelist, it would be like John Grisham," Buscemi says. "I’ll be writing a lot more books. Or rather, a lot more shoes."

FUN FABRICS: "The majority of the fabrics and leathers are sourced from the top Italian suppliers in both leather and textile. We also have sourced leathers from Japanese and French artisanal producers."

COLORFUL KICKS: New York fashion house Rochambeau called on artist Aaron Curry to hand-paint the shoes for its spring runway.

CUSTOM SNEAKS: "This was custom-painted for me by Jake Dankfels. He knows my favorite sport shoe from my childhood is the Nike Air Tech Challenge, and he painted it as such."

BRANDED: Quincy Jones fronted the brand’s spring 2015 ad campaign.


This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of Billboard magazine.