Dominic “The Shoe Surgeon” Ciambrone grew up working in the kitchen of his parents’ Italian restaurant in Santa Rosa, California. Still drawing, sewing and screen-printing – he even fashioned his own prom tuxedo – at the time, Ciambrone didn’t realize that washing dishes and sautéing garlic would result in a career fashioning genuine Nike crocodile sneakers at gold leaf (with 24k gold zippers and hardware) for James Lebron. Yet they did.
“Looking back now, I learned so much from my dad, and that’s where I think it all came from – my dad being a chef using that food as a backdrop, and the shoe turned out be my canvas,” Ciambrone recalled from the VIP room of his new flagship headquarters. “I come from the hotel industry, so it was important for me to take care of people, and I always dreamed of doing it through creation and learning to create, through sport and hospitality, through food and drinks. It’s cool to tie everything together here and make it a world in a way.
We’re immersed in the bowels of the new Surgeon Studios, an impossibly sprawling converted warehouse just south of downtown Los Angeles’ glittering towers. To say the space is large is an understatement – it’s almost its own campus, with a private sneaker shop, a Glenmorangie bar, a customization shop, a mahogany and sneaker lined cigar lounge and even a field basketball court on the wooden floor surrounded by VIP seats. apparently plucked straight from Miami’s E11even nightclub. This summer, it will serve as a venue for a series of invitation-only concerts.
Outside this atelier – filled with luxury fabrics and exotic skins, heel patterns, insoles, color swatches, vintage sewing machines and basically everything you’d need to outfit a army of sneakers – a party is brewing to celebrate the opening of the flagship Surgeon Studios. In a few hours, multi-platinum stars G-Eazy and 2Chainz will perform on these basketball courts while young celebrities like Jordan L. Jones, Bryson Tiller and Night Tales stroll casually, choosing Tijuana-style tacos and sipping Glenmorangie whiskey cocktails. But for now, Ciambrone is enjoying the relative calm before the storm (except for his young daughter who arrives sporadically, begging to ride the Ferris wheel that too patiently waits outside.)
“My cousin let me wear her original Jordan 1s from 1985. I didn’t really know the power it had, and I wore them to school and it attracted other people. It helped me create a voice without having to speak,” Ciambrone recalled of his origin story. What mesmerized the 15-year-old was how empowered he felt, how those sneakers opened doors and conversations.
“Then after everyone had the same cool shoes on their feet, that’s when I airbrushed a pair and painted it camouflage. I went to the ‘school the next day, people thought I painted the shoes,’ he smiles. ‘So it went from having a cool pair of shoes to making a cool pair of shoes.’
The epiphany led to a hustle and bustle climbing the streetwear ladder, eventually selling custom Vans from the Shoe Surgeon brand to LA uber-boutique H. Lorenzo and making sneakers for a season of Law and Order: SVU. But the breakthrough came in 2010 when mentor Javier Laval, owner and designer of Android Homme, commissioned Ciambrone to create bespoke sneakers for Will.i.am’s VMA performance.
Now, superstars like Justin Bieber, Drake and DJ Khaled wear Shoe Surgeon leather on their feet. Last fall, Ciambrone caused a hypebeast frenzy with a pair of black Darth Vader Adidas Yeezy Boost 700s inspired by the Balenciaga spiked jacket Kanye wore on his donda listening party. And recently, famed sneakerhead and NBA veteran PJ Tucker wanted to flip Bron’s $100,000 crocodile kicks as the most expensive in the world, so Ciambrone made him an ornate quarter-million-dollar pair. 150 grams of 14k white gold and over 32 carats of diamonds from Jason of Beverly Hills.
Ciambrone will then travel to Tain, Scotland this summer to visit its partners at Surgeon Studios, Glenmorangie, to create a very exclusive sneaker inspired by the single malt. It might sound unorthodox, but for a guy who’s made pizza, candy, junk food, and even Ben and Jerry-inspired sneakers, Scotch whiskey kicks aren’t so far-fetched.
“I’m excited because it comes back to working with your hands, and I think we’ve lost that touch of everything handmade. Now it’s coming back and I think it’s amazing when people are passionate by what they do, and that they can show it through their work and be brought to light.
He recalls Glenmorangie being his introduction to the world of single malt Scotch when a friend visited him nearly a decade ago, and soon after he was fascinated by the clean design and poured-in-a-bottle detail. of Bookmark. “Visiting Scotland is going to be amazing, and I know I’m going to take a lot of inspiration from the brand and Dr Bill [Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation]he continues, rubbing his well-cut head. “I love getting inspiration from other crafts, so I’m already thinking about looking at the bottles, looking at the artwork, and turning it into a shoe.”