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Q&A December, 1 2010

Exclusive Look | The Chippewa Crazy Horse Collection by Ronnie Fieg

The Chippewa Crazy Horse collection is the latest in a growing line of shoes born from the mind of Ronnie Fieg. Equipped with a Vibram sole, this trio of American made 6-inch boots celebrate their American heritage (Chippewa was founded Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin and the boots are now made in Carthage, MO) with special flag lace locks. The locks are the most apparent special feature of the shoe – which also features leather lining and comfort sock liners.

The “Black Bomber Jacket” (brown), “Navy Crazy Horse”, and “Evergreen Crazy Horse”  (36 per color) will be available this Friday, December 3rd at 10am at the David Z. flagship (556 Broadway, Ny, 10012 212.431.5450) as well as online at DavidZ.com.

In anticipation of the Chippewa Crazy Horse release, we connected with Ronnie Fieg, collaborative shoe maestro, to discuss his passion for footwear and his thoughts on collaborative design. Fittingly, given our earlier post on Polo and hip-hop, we got some terrific tidbits about footwear choices amongst New York’s hip-hop elite in the 1990s (consider this an added bonus). Our Q&A compliments an exclusive full look at the Crazy Horse collection. Special thanks to Sean Munro for the photography.

Works and images after the jump.

SL: How did footwear become a passion?

RF: Footwear became my passion the moment I couldn’t afford the styles I wanted. “You always want what you cant have” that saying really rang true to me. Growing up in Queens I would see people wearing the same old kicks; Jordans, Air Maxes and whatever else Nike was putting out. As I started working in Manhattan at the age of 13(1995), it was originally to make “sneaker money”. I was working the stock room in the iconic David Z flagship store on West 8th st.  and I quickly was exposed to all these new brands that were flying under-the-radar. Timberland, Clarks, Red Wing, Chippewa, Adams Boots, Bear AKU, Trezeta, Dolomite, Asolo, Scarpa etc. It was the hiking boot/brown shoe era and David Z was  the main force behind the trend.  I remember the full Wu-Tang clan coming in the store which subsequently led me to spend all of my paychecks on every color wallabee the store had to offer. AZ and Nas put me up on Asolos, Mase and Diddy put me up on Dolomite, and Jay-Z used to sign and leave his old Construction Timbs for me every-time he re-upped with a new pair.   I was 14 years old rocking a new pair of boots/shoes/kicks every week and I quickly became the go-to kid for any kicks in my junior high school.

SL: We’ve spoken before about how your experiences in retail influence your design. When did you start thinking about the potential to fuse what you were learning from consumers and new product?

RF: The minute I saw my mentor David Zaken create SMU’s (special make-ups) with Timberland (Grey construction boot in 96), Dolomite (10 styles of the Hawk Pro and Tibets in 97), Clark Wallabees (grey suede, white perforated leather in 98), Red Wing boots (full collection for Japan in 2000) I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. People don’t realize that David was the first to ever collaborate with a footwear brand, and prior to David approaching Timberland to create the Grey construction boot (10,000 pairs sold in one year) it was unheard of. There was no website or phone orders, people were driving from Florida to buy grey boots. Imagine that, a scramble for boots to wear in 90 degree weather. That’s how serious it was.  Selling all those creations in the 90’s made me appreciate quality and craftsmanship. I was touching and feeling leathers all daylong and I started develop a strong appreciation for materials. I feel that back then it was less about the marketing and more about the product. The thought of seeing product in the store for the first time is long gone but those were the glory days. I’m trying to bring that feeling back.

SL: With David Z as an outlet, you have a rare opportunity to speak to several audiences. That has to be one of your biggest joys, right?

RF: Absolutely, it’s the biggest advantage anyone in my position could have. David Z. is a very unique retailer from a consumer standpoint. The shops have very heavy foot traffic and it still remains an institution for the locals. Working as a creative director, six years of managing the stores and another five of reading reports was the key to my success. I got to see all the types of shoes we sell to all different crowds. That’s where I feel I am different from your average collaborator or footwear designer. I appreciate all types of footwear for all types of people. No matter the category there will always people within that group that want special product, something they could really appreciate.

SL: Classics are clearly important to you, and you have great reverence for iconic silhouettes. Creating models of classics requires walking a thin line… tell me about how you balance personal desire and the need to keep a shoes integrity, and about how ideas for specific shoes are born.

RF: That’s exactly right, it definitely requires walking a thin line. Luckily that thin line has gotten thicker with experience, not only with the product but knowing what people want and expect out of a brand/project. Not only is it important for me to stay within a company’s boundaries of heritage and history but  it’s to homage  the tradition of the brand and do them justice through my designs. As a consumer I wouldn’t want to see someone fool around with a timeless classic’s appeal, it wouldn’t be fair to the brand.

Honestly, the ideas for designs come at random times. The last idea I had for next Spring’s Clarks project came last week from what I believe was a missing piece from their line. It has literally become second nature for me, I look at a style and think how I could make it better, more premium, and offer something extra where people feel they’re getting more than what they pay for.

SL: How do you go about learning about materials? Does working with different brands open new doors to fabrics, leathers, etc.? Do you stockpile material ideas until the perfect silhouette appears?

RF: I’m lucky enough to work with Sebago in their factory out in The Dominican Republic twice a year. Every time I take a trip out there I learn more and more about different types of leathers. Sebago calls 5-10 different leather suppliers to meet with me for every design triip. The knowledge I have acquired from that alone is priceless. Every brand has their material books and suppliers they work with. I didn’t know how different it would be working with one brand to the next, but  the materials definitely change with each brand.

SL: Recently, you’ve released a few Clarks Originals, the Merrill boots, and now this Chippewa Boot. At once they fit a trend (heritage, classic, whatever), and also keep their own identity. How much of your job requires trend tracking? And, in that how much is about forecasting vs. Immediacy?

RF: Trend tracking plays a major roll in what I do as a buyer and designer. Applying personal taste on certain trends will only work if that’s what the market is ready or waiting for. Certain materials and looks go stale in a matter of months, and even sometimes weeks so my vision needs run parallel with where the market is heading. It’s all about forecasting. All of the projects I released and will be releasing this season were worked on 7-10 months ago. The biggest misconception the market has is thinking I worked on these goods a few weeks ago. There’s a lot more advance time that people aren’t aware of.

SL: Tell me about the new boots, the Chippawa Crazy Horse Collection. How did you come to working with them and what’s the story behind the look and material decisions

RF: Chippewa and David Z go back 20 years. I remember selling their Lugger boots all day long, people loved how long the boots lasted and how comfortable they got after breaking them in. As this “Americana” trend hit the market last year I was interested in seeing Chippewa to recreate my favorite boot from the 90’s. I owned this 6″ moc toe in sand suede and I wore them to the bone in 97 however back then the boots weren’t leather lined and I don’t recall Vibram soles. When meeting with one of the bosses I asked for the highest quality leathers they could get in special tones of green and blue because I feel there is a void in the market with boots in those colors. When I got the leathers I picked the two I used out of a pile of 100 swatches. I then asked him for a chestnut suede and he brought me the most amazing rough out I have ever seen, so oily you could actually see the oil on your hands when taking them out of the box. End result, one of the best made boots you will ever see. The components are all there and they’re made in the United States, perfect.

SL: Store/brand collaborations are pretty commonplace these days. The consumer, for the most part, understands them, and there seems mutual benefit. When someone comes to David Z, and buys a shoe born from the mind of Ronnie Fieg, what do you want them to take away as, I guess, the designers message?

RF: The most important message I’m trying to get across with every single release is value, I need to over deliver and give the consumer more than what they’re pay for. I also need people to know that I don’t place my logo anywhere on the outside of my projects because my main goal is for the product to sell itself. People shouldn’t be buying anything off of logos or brand names, it’s the end product that’s most important. I will continue to give each release the attention it deserves because educating the consumer with the stories behind the projects justifies the time and effort I put in. At the end of the day I want people to look at a shoe without reading a blog post or magazine article and know from the look and feel that it’s a RF product.

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