"The Creators" - Ronnie Fieg, Chapter I: “A veteran sneaker designer”
When it comes to the high-fashion industry, picking out big names who are synonymous with greatness is easy: Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, Giorgio Armani etc. However, the same can’t necessarily be said about streetwear, and in particular, the sneaker game. Individuals from stylists, rappers, influencers, reality-tv stars, athletes, as well as designers have tried and keep trying to leave a long-lasting imprint on this world. Few of them have done it. We thought this series, "The Creators", would be an interesting way of telling streetwear and sneaker creators stories, plain and simple.
Queens is the biggest borough of New York City and the second most populated, inhabited by an impressive array of individuals from all walks of life which makes it a melting pot open to all kinds of influences. One kid grew up here, obsessed with three things: music, sneakers and breakfast cereals and he would become one of the most prolific creators in the last decade. His name is Ronnie Fieg, and we're going to tell his story.
Childhood: Relationship with Queens
A child dreaming about pairs of Reebok Pumps and receiving a pair of Asics Gel-Lyte III, and then his first pair of Nike Air Max 90’s at the age of 8. He and his friends wore Scottie Pippen's kicks when everyone wanted to be Michael Jordan. Ronnie didn't know what all these things would have meant decades later and how much his childhood in Queens would influence him. "Growing up in Queens is like the number one melting pot in the world. That's what shaped my childhood and influenced me to become who I am. It was the most important time in my life: just hearing things for the first time, seeing things for the first time, learning just like being a sponge... So my sister would work in the city and she would put me onto things. I remember she used to wear shearling jackets and Timberland hiking boots with the tags still out in the boots: that was the thing that was happening in the city and she'd get like laughed at in school just the way I would get laughed at later when I started working in the city. At the age 13, 14 I started wearing like royal suede Wallabees and New Balances and Queens was like a little late to the game with that, but Queens also had its own style that I would bring to the city whenever I would go out. That was very much in effect" - he stated on September 2017 during The Blueprint, the interview series by Complex Chief Content Officer Noah Callahan-Bever.
Turning Point: David Z
At 13 there was the first and maybe the most important turning point of RF's life; David Z, first cousin of Ronnie's mother. Z offered him an envelope of cash to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah and Ronnie gave it back instead asking for a job. Over time David Z had become an institution in New York in regard to shoes. "He was that dude growing up that everybody in the family just wanted to be, the coolest dude I knew, like my idol. I saw this guy that owned his own stores and did whatever he wanted to do. I was intrigued by that at a really young age, I thought that was like something that I can do. I used to see the store and how people interacted there, the music and the culture: it was way different than what I was seeing in Queens. I was really young but I wanted a job, I wanted to start working there and to see what life was outside of my neighborhood". With that passion, David Z couldn't say no. Ronnie started from the very bottom, in the stockroom, learning everything about footwear, marketing, product placement, and managing a successful business. Soon Fieg was working on the sales floor: "At the age of 15 I was now helping every dope celebrity, I was working on 8th Street and between the fifth and sixth Avenue was like the most influential block in America. On the weekends they all parked on 8th Street: Diddy, Jay Z, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes... Everybody had their own tastes and own individual style". And, "Those were the days that made up the DNA of who I am" (GQ, December 2016).
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The Creator: the First Collaborations
Own tastes and own style: you’ll hear these descriptions in many of his conversations. Ronnie’s own tastes propeled him to his first major milestone: a collaboration with Asics. After a short period as an assistant buyer, Fieg became the buyer of David Z's chain in the city. After upping the success for the Onitsuka Tiger brand for the stores newly revised Ascis account (above all with "wrestling shoes"), he was given the opportunity to design his first pair: "Mike McLaughlin offered me the ability to work on a shoe out of the archive, he actually let me open up old catalogs and I saw a shoe that I once had when I was younger. When I really wanted a pair of Reebok Pumps my mom bought me a pair of Gel-Lyte IIIs and I was really upset at first but I fell in love with them, wore them till they had holes in the soles and then I wanted to go back and get another pair and they were discontinued, so when I saw them in the catalogue I wanted to bring them back. We made 756 pairs". It's 2007. Three colors, one name: 252 pack, since every color was limited to 252 pairs. The first one was released in May, the other two in July, during a party in collaboration with Complex. Vibrant colors on a forgotten silhouette: the risk was high. I wasn't interested in promoting myself, because I was working for David at that time. I had a friend in Complex, convinced her to take a look and then the party was with Complex on the 5th Avenue. We sold 50 pairs out of the 756 and I was like I'm gonna lose my job over this because David wasn't happy because I did this without working with him. I had Asics on my side for the business with Onitsuka, but it was a do-or-die situation for me". After selling 6-7 pairs in store the day after, he had a conversation with "a gentleman who bought the shoes" and the next day his parents saw his shoes on the cover of the pursuit section of The Wall Street Journal: that guy was an editor for the newspaper. When he went to the store, there was a line around the block: within two days the shoes were sold out. And the guy who thought he would lose his job had the chance to talk to the president of Adidas America, who walked in the store and started a conversation with him, and a second collaboration, the David Z x Adidas Superstar "Black Tie", was born. In an interview with freshnessmag.com Ronnie Fieg stated: "The main idea behind the Black Tie Project was to design a Superstar that looks like a shoe, can be worn with a suit but can still be worn with your everyday fashions". The traditional rubber toe cap was replaced with embroidered leather, for a clean all black pair numbered at 400 units.
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Even before the Black Tie Project, Ronnie created two more pairs for Asics. In December of 2007, Fieg’s Solid Gold and Stainless Steel Gel-Lyte III’s were released. The Stainless Steel’s were an homage to the 25th anniversary of David Z, while the gold accents on the Solid Gold celebrated the independent NY retailer as a high end store. Limited to 450 pairs, both shoes displayed their nicknames on the heels. In an interview with nicekicks.com, Ronnie explained the main feature of his second project with Asics: "I wanted the shoes to be clean. And you don't see David Z anywhere on the collaborations because we don't want to sell the shop. We want to create a product that people get excited about because of the product itself, not the store you have to line up outside of. The design of the shoe should be the attraction". And on October 31st Hypebeast already celebrated Ronnie Fieg as "the veteran sneaker designer". TO BE CONTINUED
By Francesco Sannicandro