Bembury's former boss Kanye West is no stranger to collaboration, nor empowering the creative forces he surrounds himself with. In music, he and his DONDA team helped propel artists like Desiigner and Chance The Rapper to the forefront. "I met Kanye West; I'm never going to fail," Chance himself raps on West's "Ultralight Beam." That sentiment also applies to West's fashion-related projects too.
Savvy sneakerheads know West worked closely with Nike design legend-in-the-making Nathan Van Hook on the Air Yeezy II, literally using Andre Agassi's famed Tech Challenge II as the foundation for the still-hyped sneaker. For YEEZY Season 1, West tapped the talents of longtime collaborator Virgil Abloh, Vetements designer Demna Gvasalia, and award-winning menswear designer Robert Geller, known for his romantic-tinged collections and well-executed knitwear and bomber jackets.
One of the latest creatives West brought under his wing is Salehe Bembury, a 30-year-old designer whose previous stints include creating new shoe silhouettes for labels like Greats and Cole Haan, while we recently learned that he was enlisted as Versace’s new head of sneaker design, although no more information is currently available on what he he will be working on specifically. We originally stumbled upon Bembury via his LinkedIn page, which listed his current position as the vague "Mens Footwear at YEEZY," a gig held since November 2015, according to his profile. His bio says he is "passionate about finding innovative solutions to real world design problems," which fits in with West's overarching desire to improve the world by making it a more beautiful place to inhabit.
But just who is Bembury? Well, an interview with job platform Monster.com sheds a little more insight into his background. Born and raised in New York's TriBeCa neighborhood, Bembury's first job in the footwear industry was actually designing men's and women's footwear at Payless ShoeSource. Incidentally, Payless is the same company Kanye West cited as one he'd wanted to collaborate with during a recent interview with Ellen Degeneres. For the record, the company confirmed Mr. West indeed had a conversation with Payless CEO, Paul Jones.
After Payless, Bembury headed over to Cole Haan, working under Jeff Henderson as an innovation designer, handling sportier takes on wingtips, boots, and loafers as well as some of the label's famed LunarGrand models, which melded Nike's uber-comfortable LunarLon sole technology with the world of classic men's footwear. You might have seen his concept for a red Cole Haan x Nike Air Max 360 shoe floating around the internet. For a guy obsessed with sneakers, that experience only made him a more versatile designer.
His time at Cole Haan led to a footwear design direction position at Greats. There, Bembury worked on forward-thinking sporty silhouettes with a luxurious touch like the Pronto, but also got to put the well-rounded design lessons he learned at Cole Haan into practice. Bembury helped shift the sneaker-focused company's offerings by working on silhouettes like the Canarsee, a web-strapped utilitarian sandal that recalls Birkenstocks and visvim Christos, which have a hippie-at-boot-camp appeal.
Previously, we reached out to Bembury for comment, but haven't heard back. It's not entirely clear which specific kicks Bembury worked on at YEEZY, but it's most likely the non-adidas collaborative footwear, like the hiking boot hybrids from YEEZY Season 3. While the crepe-soled boots from YEEZY Season 2 dropped long ago, we can ascertain from Bembury's November 2015 start date that he probably didn't have a hand in their creation—as the Season 2 show preceded his tenure at the company. But judging from Bembury's Instagram, he definitely spent some time in the YEEZY fold, posting photos with Ian Connor, getting a close-up look at Pastelle gear—and even an autographed pair of YEEZY Boost 750s he received for his birthday:
While it's still quite early to quantify the impact a promising designer like Bembury will have as part of the Versace design team, it's nonetheless exciting to see what he'll bring to the table. A job like that is definitely something millions of other people would love to have. So perhaps it's best to leave you with some sage career advice Bembury originally doled out to Monster:
For your resume, be relevant, says Bembury. “This may seem obvious, but only include industry specific work history.” And if you don’t have much? He suggests, “associate yourself with someone you respect. Names are important in this industry, so even if you can’t work for someone in paying position, don’t hesitate to take an unglamorous internship or apprenticeship.”
For your portfolio, “brands want to see how you think. In the beginning, I was trying to show off flashy sketches with pretty imagery. That wasn’t what it was about. It’s about problem solving. They want to see insight and they want to see a solution that leads to a final product.”
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