Wanting to wear sneakers no one else had in high school turned into a career for Dominic Chambrone, better known as The Shoe Surgeon. The 29-year-old California-based artist started making shoes for himself when his friends started wearing the same Jordans to school. Now, he creates footwear for the likes of Justin Bieber, Riff Raff and Jerry Ferrara.
Chambrone spoke with Footwear News about the big names he caters to, the most expensive job he’s ever done and why he disdains making python Jordans.
Why did you start making custom shoes?
As a high school freshman, I had an older cousin who had an original pair of 1985 Nike Jordan 1s. I didn’t know what they were, so I wore them to school. I had an older brother who played sports, and all his friends had Jordans, and all the older guys were giving me props — they were so pumped that I had the original Jordans on. Then we started getting Jordans early from someone who hooked us up, but then my whole crew in high school started wearing the same shoes, and I was like, ‘I can’t do this, we look like dorks,’ so I picked up an airbrush and painted a pair of Air Force 1 all-white mids into camouflage, went to school the next day and got an even more intense response from friends and classmates. Ever since then, it was about progressing and changing from paint to glue to sewing to actually learning how shoes are made.
Do you have any formal training?
I’m mostly self-taught, but I did like a 4- or 5-year apprenticeship at a shoe-repair cobbler in Windsor, Calif., for Daryl Fazio. And I took a week-long course in Oregon on shoemaking, but it wasn’t sneakers — it was more like dress shoes. I had to convert learning dress shoes to sneakers, which is quite a big curve. I also got the chance to go to Italy and watch factories make shoes, and I also have a bootmaker mentor in California who does really well-made cowboy boots. I pieced it all together to make handmade sneakers.
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Do what you love they say and you won't work a day in your life…. I don't fully agree with that, even when you do what you love, you have to work harder then before, harder, more hours , you have to give a lot more then working a 9-5 for someone else … etc What you get in return is self satisfaction and a way to provide for your family. I'm an artist that turned into a craftsman which turned me into a business man by being an artist. #thisismypassioniwontlose #justdoyou Thanks @phenomglobal for the dope essential flannel, the best part about it would have to be the side pockets. This comes in 2 Other colors thx @macksfactor
What’s the craziest request you’ve ever had for a shoe?
Riff Raff wanted some crazy neon Jordans that glowed in the dark, and he wanted his face on the sole, made into the sole. It was pretty wild. He wanted a custom sole made out of his face. I get other requests — people will send me a drawing that looks like a potato wand and ask me to translate it into a shoe.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve been asked to put together?
When I started doing python Jordans. It was hard for me because I’m an artist, and doing something that everyone wanted, to me, it didn’t show who I was as an artist. It was cool to make money doing it, but it wasn’t showing me as an artist and showing my real talent.
How many people have requested python Jordans?
Over a couple hundred, for sure. And I probably made 100. Originally it was the Jordan IV, and then it turned into the Jordan 1 and every Jordan after that. Then basically anything with python on it was selling.
Do you have any celebrity regulars you cater to?
Justin Bieber. I did all of his tour stuff. I have some regular NFL and NBA clients. Shane Victorino is definitely a regular, Wilson Chandler, who played for the Denver Nuggets. There’s quite a few; I can’t keep up with all of them.
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Grateful 🙏🏼 a shoe made by the man himself @hedcheq someone who has inspired me in many ways! I used a lot of the references from the original af1 made but I also added some things that represented me Dominic chambrone @theshoesurgeon the shoes are liquid gold completely laser etched. I added Charlotte which is the city where I used my first laser machine over 10 years ago. I also added phrases from the @entouragemovie Thx for the opportunity 🙏🏼 the next pair you gotta come into the studio and design something that you'd actually wear @jerryferrara These shoes are pretty damn comfortable. Check out the leather laces for added touch by @kingofsneakers #theshoesurgeon #turtle #sneakerhead #handmade #customsarebetterthanfaxtorieanow #shoepalace #melrose #toooooexpensive #fatsals #bombdeli #laser #entourage #entouragemovie #airjordan #wearemelrose #create #makecoolshit #sneakerfreaker #sneakernews #kicksonfire #aceofcustoms #nicekicks #complexkicks #complex #highsnobiety #slamXHype #misplaced #passion #podcastnow?
What’s the most expensive job you’ve ever done?
The TV show “Law & Order SVU” — the episode “Personal Fouls.” I did a shoe that played a big role in the story. I had to make two pairs of custom soles — one to wear and one to use at the crime scene. It was pretty wild. It was more than $6,500. Chris Bosh was in it, with another couple of basketball players.
Have you ever refused a job?
Yes. I started refusing a lot of python shoes, and I’ve refused some designs just because I didn’t want to put my effort into it. To me, it’s not just about the money — it’s to create something to show the client’s vision as well as my skill. It has to make sense for both parties.
How long is your wait list?
Six months to a year.
How long does a custom job usually take?
If you just counted hours, 40 hours, or a week or a month. It could also mean you’re waiting on certain materials to come in, so you have to put it to the side.
When you put together shoes, do you have all the parts you need or does the client provide the shoes and materials?
It all depends on the client, and it all depends on the job. Some clients can provide some materials and leathers. Most do provide the shoes, and I just customize them. I also have clients I build shoes for that are custom to their feet; we measure their feet and draw it up on the last.
What does your personal collection look like?
Ever since I started, back in high school, the whole reason was for me to wear my own stuff. Even back then, I was too busy keeping up with orders to do my own stuff. Now, I’ll wear a dirty pair of Vans or some basic stuff. I don’t even have time for my own collection. Many of my shoes are taken apart — one day they’ll be worked on. I probably have two pairs of old Vans, two or three pairs of Nikes (like Flyknits), more comfortable running type of stuff because I’m always walking and on my feet. It’s more athletic-inspired, more comfortable. I actually own a pair of Misplaced Checks that was a custom job I did with John Geiger — those have a lot of traction right now within the whole industry.
How many pairs do you own?
Five or six. That’s how busy I am. I used to have hundreds of shoes, but it got to the point where I don’t even have time to make myself a pair. I do have a new pair of shoes — a high-top from Clear Weather.