Friday, March 5, 2010

5 Minutes | Sung Choi

We recently caught up with Clae's Founder and Creative Director - Mr. Sung Choi. Clae Footwear has given a breath of new life into traditional men's footwear, bridging the gap between sneakers and formal footwear. Sung offers a little glimpse into the evolution and growth of the brand while offering up some little unknown facts along the way.

It is my understanding that Clae was your first solo venture that came about as a side project while working as footwear director at Lakai. Can you briefly discuss the evolution of Clae and struggles that you had to overcome?

Clae was originally launched in 2001 to bridge the gap between sneakers and shoes. In exchange for my service as Footwear Director at Lakai, they helped me launch Clae. The synergy wasn’t quite right, so I pulled the plug in 2004 to re-organize. In the Summer of 2007, Clae re-launched independently with new partners who more closely share my vision of Clae as a modern footwear brand. We haven't looked back since.

What, in your eyes, is the most important detail or component you look at when designing a shoe?

I don’t think you can isolate it to one component or detail; really the overall shape, color, material and function have to cohesively come together to bring a singular concept into reality. Easier said than done…

Can you describe your personal design approach?

I have a little sketch pad where random ideas, notes and sketches are jotted down and these little ideas come together over time to make a collection for the season. I enjoy sketching early in the morning with a cup of tea and some classic jazz, which is much different from day to day at the studio with the staff.

With 16 silhouettes it seems Clae offers some of the most versatile footwear on the market right now. Combining a mature aesthetic with a little sneaker flare it seems that each shoe could be a daily driver and also double as semi formal attire. Walk us through which shoe is best suited as your daily driver, work kick, travel choice and your more formal choice?

I do have few favorites, and they work for many different occasions. The Whitman or Ellington works great for formal occasions, but they also look great dressed down with denim or khakis. I also like the McQueen, and dressing it up or down by simply opening up or tightening the eyestay.

This past year really seemed to be the year of the boat shoe. What trends do you think we will see unfold this coming year for footwear?

Work-style Postman boots have been bubbling for few season, and I see the trend continuing to grow.

Is there any one shoe in the collection that best epitomizes the Clae brand?

The Kennedy is very unique in its simplicity; it takes color and material play very well and has a great classic look without feeling stiff or dated.

What catches your eye aesthetically outside of footwear?

Anything with an interesting point of view with a passion for its craft and execution

As the founder and creative director of Clae what has been the most rewarding moment for you?

Seeing men of all ages looking sharp wearing Clae.

5 things people don't likely know about you are...

1. I’m a lefty who can write better with my right, but draw better with the left.
2. I used to make decent money shooting pool back in high school.
3. I got skills with a grill. Don’t test…actually do test!
4. I designed the Union logo back in ’92, which was inspired after seeing Sidney Poitier in a poster for A Raisin in the Sun.
5. Jeff Staple was my intern back at PNB Nation in the mid 90's

5 things you don't leave home without are...

1. Good attitude
2. Keys
3. Wallet
4. Phone
5. Tinted specs

5 favorite spots in Los Angeles are...

1. The boom boom room (my home studio)
2. Rio Cario beach
3. Griffith Park and the observatory
4. LACMA/BCAM/tar pit connect
5. The Getty Center

5 individuals that have inspired you...

1.John Coltrane
2.Bruce Lee
3.Bob Marley
4.Joseph Campbell
5.Bluster, Brue, West, and Zulu (the original PNB Nation)

If you weren't involved in footwear how do you think you would be spending your time?

I'd probably be running a little food clash restaurant or teaching Jazz History at a local community college.

What is the most regrettable shoe purchase that you have allowed to find its way into your closet?

I don’t usually pull bad triggers, but I did buy a pair of all white, leather hi-top Chuck Taylor’s. You would think that they’d work, but I haven’t been able to put them to use. Go figure...

What was the last article of clothing you purchased?

An Army issue Tiger camo combat jacket back in November as a winter/spring layering piece.

What’s in store for the rest of the day?

Getting through the hectic day at the studio.

What can we expect to see this coming year?

A lot of good things are in store for the upcoming season. The spring delivery is hitting stores now; in it we’re introducing three new models: the Bruce, the Ellington, and the Zissou. We’ve also extended our shop-in-shop at the Stussy LA chapter until the end of summer. We just finished up Spring/Summer 2011 designs and are looking forward to working on a video presentation for our Fall/Winter 2010 offerings.


Big thanks to Sung for taking the time to fit us into his hectic schedule. Between tradeshows and shipping Spring 2010 we imagine that there isn't much free time in his schedule. Stay tuned for Sung's Monday Morning Playlist.