Recently we caught up with Sung Choi, the Founder and Creative Director of CLAE and now co-owner of the new Our Favorite Shop (OFS). When talking to Choi we spoke about CLAE’s direction this year, new styles and his new Los Angeles shop. Check out the full feature below.
SLAMXHYPE / Talk about the year 2001. Where were you at before the brand launched?
Sung Choi / In the early months of 2001, I was the Senior Footwear Designer at DC Shoes, and had approached the ownership there with the initial concept for CLAE. They passed on it, which lead to my talks with Lakai Limited Footwear. I became their Footwear Design Director and we formed a strategic partnership to launch CLAE.
SLAMXHYPE / You guys mention that CLAE fills the void between sneakers and shoes. How so?
SC / I know many of us have been in situations where we felt underdressed in sneakers, but overdressed with shoes. For the last decade we have been creating versatile footwear that blurs the line between sneakers and shoes in both look and feel. You can dress Clae up or down and the idea is that they can take you from work to play, from day to night; without feeling out of place.
SLAMXHYPE / Talk about the new Spring/Summer 2012 offerings from the brand.
SC / We continue to deliver stylish, versatile footwear season after season with quality as the foundation. For the Spring/Summer collection we’re introducing the Powell, which exemplifies the CLAE brand by combining a wingtip saddle upper with a comfortable rubber cup sole, great for many different outfits and occasions. We also have a range of textile options, from denim to chambray to linen, as well as supple leathers and rich suedes. The whole collection features understated yet striking accents.
SLAMXHYPE / What can fans look forward to in Fall/Winter 2012?
SC / We are introducing the Hamilton, a high top that combines elements of blucher moc with a slim rubber outsole for a more refined look and feel. We have also teamed up with Vibram to offer some of our favorite silhouettes like the Strayhorn and Romare with a boot sole, perfect for harsh weather. The line also features a range of color options and classic prints like black watch plaid and polka dot. Something new that we’re really excited about is working with waterproof textiles – they really round out the seasonal collection.
SLAMXHYPE / We hear you recently opened a new shop in Los Angeles, what was the mindset when opening the store?
SC / We were originally just looking for a creative studio, but when we saw the location, we knew it would be great to have our own retail space, which lead to the creation of Our Favorite Shop (OFS). OFS allows us to showcase our collection in an environment that reflects our interests and inspirations as well as carry like-minded products from other brands that we really respect. The shop also gives us the space to host projects and events that become extensions of the CLAE brand.
SLAMXHYPE / Talk about your history with Pete Arbelaez from UNION LA. What was the importance of teaming up with him for this project?
SC / Both Peter and I are former New Yorkers who know LA as our adopted home. We also have UNION in common, in that I came up doing some design stuff for them early on. I worked on the logo, t-shirts, things like that. Peter comes from that tradition so we share a similar taste and sensibility in product and more importantly, a sense of community that we want to build with the neighborhood I’ve been living in for past decade. Peter also brings much needed retail experience – obviously a crucial part of our operation.
SLAMXHYPE / Why did you decide to open a diverse shop, say instead of opening a CLAE store?
SC / It was important to show a range of product that goes beyond our shoes. We wanted to create an environment that reflects our interests and inspirations. Books, music, accessories and everything we feature in the store all have unique points of view and a certain charm. We created OFS to support independent creative endeavors from artisans near and far… with new items being added weekly.
SLAMXHYPE / Talk about working with architects Nathan Lentz and Shin Okuda from the furniture design company WAKA WAKA and architect Francis Ireifej. How did you choose them for this project?
SC / You could say that it all kind of happened organically through mutual friends. Nathan was recommended through our Art Director and sculptor, Charlie Becker. Nathan worked on the Undftd shops in LA and brought along Shin, who works on whimsical furniture through his WAKA WAKA shop. They designed fixtures with consideration for modularity and emphasis on the triangular shape of the space. Francis, our former intern who happens to be an architect, helped us design the modular shelf system and expedited the whole process. The overhang of wood blocks was inspired by the sound diffusers at my friend’s music studio, as well as a particular Asian dry room spa in Korean Town here in LA. Additional help from Knowhow Shop – and their knowledge in CAD machinery – made the whole project much more manageable.
SLAMXHYPE / What can customers expect to find when walking through the doors?
SC / A relaxed atmosphere with CLAE shoes as the focus, accompanied by select products that complement our aesthetic. Accessories by Claw Money, Baron Von Fancy, SLB Sal Barbier, Black Pine Workshop and Babutunde Hats. Books and periodicals including Rostarr, O.H.W.O.W., Sneeze, Wax Poetics, Huge, Inventory. Audio compilations by Masterpiece Sound and Deadly Dragon Sound, plus a selection of new and vintage LPs, CDs, & DVDs Grooming and personal products like Yumaki toothbrushes, Portland General Store grooming kits, Marvis toothpaste, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Matt Singer Dopp Kits, and Kuumba Incense.
SLAMXHYPE / Last words?
SC / Be present.