At the launch of his latest collection at Milan’s Slam Jam, we caught up with New York footwear impresario Ronnie Fieg to learn more about what it means to be a patriot, his flying necessities and why he’s only consumed seven cups of coffee in his entire life.
It’s hard to imagine the current sneaker boom without native New Yorker Ronnie Fieg. Largely responsible for putting overlooked sneaker brands like ASICS and New Balance back on the map, Fieg’s name has practically become synonymous with must-have new releases. While he has yet to start his own sneaker brand, he’s developed his own aesthetic across countless footwear collaborations, merging high-brow design elements with typical New York cool. These sensibilities carry through to his apparel creations, sold under his store’s KITH banner.
No where is this cohesive design language more evident than in his recently revamped Manhattan location. Working with art and architecture firm Snarkitecture, the boutique features KITH’s curated selection of accessories in a theatrically-lit environment, complemented by nearly 500 all-white cast replicas of the original 1985 Jordan 1 hanging overhead. Aiming to bring this conceptual footwear and clothing culture to the world’s most fashionable cities, we caught up with Fieg at Milan’s Slam Jam ahead of the release of his “Home Field Advantage” collection. Check out our conversation in full below.
What’s the collection about?
It’s the first time we’re distributing our collection to other regions in the world. For the first time we wanted to implement this mentality of being patriotic about being an American and being a New York native, and applying that to the collection. So what you’re seeing is historically American fabrics, not necessarily American-made fabrics, just the American mindset when it comes to design. You have a lot of flannel being used; plaids, mesh, French terry and chambray. Those are the four materials that are constant throughout the collection and we wanted to implement that as the main aesthetic behind everything.
It’s a spin because what you’re used to seeing in mesh is not what we’re showing you in mesh. What you’re used to seeing in chambray is not what we’re showing you in chambray. A fishtail jacket made out of French terry, for example, is not something you’re used to seeing. You’re used to seeing a hoodie or pullover. So we’re giving you traditional American fabrics usually used by American brands, but giving them a twist to make it ours and make it KITH.
When you see the “USA” logo and the “US” logo, the “US” can be interpreted as “Us” from “Just Us” and it can be interpreted as “U.S.” When you see the logo treatment on the different pieces, the materials themselves represent the country.
Do you think they’ll be any resistance toward such an openly patriotic collection?
We’re yet to find out. I don’t think there will be because if this was a Parisian thing and it was releasing in New York I don’t think I would be opposed to wearing something from another country if it was forward-thinking and something new that I haven’t seen before. I think because it’s not overly distributed – it’s only distributed through four accounts and those four accounts are only getting 12 pieces per style – people can feel different when wearing it. They won’t see other people around them wearing the same garment. Plus, there’s only four pieces out of 20 that are branded with the country or city.
Graphic-wise, what do you think of as quintessentially American?
I don’t know of specific graphics I would necessarily think of. One that definitely comes to mind is the USA Olympic logo that we had back in the day in the ‘90s. That’s one I used for the USA logo and then I used the same typeface for the NYC logo on the white jersey. It also inspired me to use mesh. So I think the USA graphic is what I think of the most and then obviously the flag. And that’s where the colors come in for the custom-designed plaid.
You just flew in from New York. Are there certain sneakers you always travel with?
Yeah, usually there’s always a couple of sneakers that are very easy to pack. The Innevas and Flyknits are relatively easy to pack. Those two will always come with, and the other two or three pairs rotate.
The first two because they collapse?
They fold over and they’re easy to pack. I like carrying one suitcase, not two, so I try to fit a week’s worth into one bag.
Do you think sneakers are part of a long-term trend or are now permanently part of the fashion landscape?
I’m the wrong person to ask.
Because you’re a sneaker designer?
No, because if they weren’t I’d have trouble with the shop I currently have open. Sneakers will always be a part of people’s wardrobes. Obviously trainers have their ups and downs. It’s always a cycle between what’s really missing in the closet. Do I need a fifth pair of sneakers or should I buy a pair of shoes or boots? And it all depends on the weather. If we have an early winter then people need more boots in their closet and less sneakers. But if it’s nice up until mid-January then people will wear their sneakers throughout. So there’s a lot of factors that weigh into that but I think sneakers are essential for everyone.
What are your thoughts on all the different types of sneakers created nowadays? There’s everything from luxury to performance.
I’m a fan of all types of footwear. I’ve been in the footwear industry for a long time and when I first started I wasn’t dealing with athletic shoes at all. I started buying athletic shoes for the chain of stores I worked for after I became the buyer. Before that the chain was strictly boots and shoes. So I’m a fan of all types of footwear.
Is there room for different types of sneakers like fashion sneakers? Of course. But I feel like the classic brands will always be there and the other brands that are trying to get into the sneaker world might be they’re for a few years and then they’ll work on something else that will be better for whatever apparel their working on for the season. There’s always a place for everything, it just has to be executed correctly and curated right.
Similar to sneakers, are there certain tech devices you always travel with?
Yes. My Beats Pill because that’s important when doing anything in the hotel room – it’s important to always have music around. I always travel with my laptop, my MacBook Air and my iPhone.
Do you ever consciously disconnect completely from the Internet?
Not even on a flight?
Yup, it sucks. It’s like I hate to love it but it’s important to be accessible for me because I have 48 employees and I’m still involved in every category of the business so there are always questions that need answering and I need to be there to answer them.
“Every element in life you can apply certain taste levels and execution to on a daily basis.”
What kind of work do you do on a plane?
I would be working on things that usually require the internet (laughs).
Is it your first time to Milan?
First time to Milan, third time to Italy.
Do you have any favorite hotels?
In Milan no as it’s my first time here, but in general I have hotels I like to stick to in certain cities.
New York, for instance?
I heard a rumor you want to get into hotel design in the future. Is there any truth to that?
Yes there is.
Is that a reality for you? Are you making steps towards it?
I’ve dreamt about it, that’s a good step. Currently I’m focused on what I’m doing now, but what I’m doing now will also surprise people in the near future for other things I’m going to get into.
In what respect?
An ongoing desire to always do more. A certain style and aesthetic. Every element in life you can apply certain taste levels and execution to on a daily basis. I just want to have an impact on more than I’m doing currently.
When you move into different mediums, do you approach them in a protege sort of way or more learn-by-doing?
Unfortunately, it’s always learn-by-doing. However, I’d actually prefer to start in the protege role, but sometimes the ideas I have I’m impatient and need to see them happen in front of me quickly. So sometimes the protege role takes a backseat.
In addition to hotels, are there other products you’d like to design?
Yes. Furniture design. We’re talking about the far future. I’d love to get into furniture design. I believe furniture design would be good to learn before I start hotel design. I’m learning a lot working with Snarkitecture, for example, on the build-outs in the store. The experiences I’m trying to build in the retail spaces are the primary focus for me right now. And fixtures, whether it’s furniture or millwork, are very important in build-outs. So I’m learning a lot right now and I think that I’ve learned more in that field than I have in anything else in the last year.
Did you check out the COS x Snarkitecture installation?
I did yesterday.
What did you think?
Huge fan of everything Snark does because I feel like they are very forward-thinking. They want to do things that will disrupt the market and they do things on a large scale. So if they sign on to do something it won’t ever be anything small, it will always be something that will be remembered and they’re into creating moments the way I’m into creating moments. Only I do it with product and they do it with build-outs and installations. So I think what we’re doing go hand in hand which is why our relationship has been so good.
What do you think of this place [Slam Jam]?
It’s minimal and aesthetically pleasing so the product is the focus, whereas in LA I wanted the experience and the feeling when you first walk in to be the focus. In LA, people saw the product and then understood why I was there, but here I need them to see the product in order to understand why I’m here. It shifts between product and build-out in terms of what I want people to see first and what I want people to be most amazed by. Here it’s a beautiful space but the product is the main focus.
What about the other spaces?
Well this is a KITH pop-up for a week and the other spaces will be within their retail space. But I know they know how to present product in the most tasteful way possible and that’s why I like those retailers so much.
Earlier you mentioned you take one coffee a day –
I don’t actually. I had the seventh coffee ever in my life today and it was the third espresso I’ve ever had in my life, and that’s because I’m very jet lagged and I need to be awake for this conversation and I might be a little too awake right now to be honest.
Really? Why don’t you drink coffee?
It runs through my system relatively quickly.
I can take that out.
You can leave it in, I don’t give a shit. Or maybe I do give a shit. That’s the problem.
One last question, and I asked Stefan Janoski the same thing, how do you pronounce your last name?
“Fyge.” “F,” picture of an eye, like an eyeball, and then the “G.”