Chefs who enter the licensing business typically focus on items closely related to their vocation, such as kitchen gadgets, cook- and bakeware, tableware, and sometimes foods. A category that seems to be outside the scope of traditional chef-based licensing but has been growing rapidly over the past five years: sneakers.
While at first glance there seems to be a disconnect between chefs and shoes, the pairing makes sense on further thought. Professional chefs are on their feet for long hours and work in an environment where broken glass and dropped knives are a fact of life. They naturally have some insights into what they want in terms of comfort, safety, and longevity.
Not only that, but shoe pairings are another means for chefs to exercise their creativity, to bring their personal and restaurant brands into new venues, and to create a buzz of publicity upon release.
The trend includes chefs with well-known restaurants and, in many cases, exposure through television shows, cookbooks, or other media platforms. Their partners can be sneaker companies or chefwear specialists:
- David Chang of the Momofuku restaurant empire, which began in New York and has expanded to other cities, teamed with Nike SB (the marketer’s skateboard shoe brand) to create a Momofuku edition of Nike’s Dunk High Pro model.
- Tyler Kord, who launched No. 7 sub shops in Brooklyn, was the first of several chefs to do a sneaker collaboration with Vans, partnering with the company in 2014 for a No. 7-branded slip-on.
- Louis Tikaram and his West Hollywood restaurant E.P. & L.P. paired with Volley, an athetic footwear brand in Australia (where Tikaram was born).
- Cat Cora, who operates several restaurants around the world and was the first female Iron Chef, was a pioneer in the footwear space, licensing Mozo Shoes in 2013 for two women’s collections, one for pro chefs and another for home cooks. Unlike the other pairings, her line did not focus on sneakers; it included clogs and wedges as well as waxed canvas flats.
- Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, who operate a number of restaurants in the L.A. area, paired with Vans for a six-piece capsule in 2016.
- Claude Bosi, whose restaurant, Claude Bosi at Bibendum, is in London’s Michelin House, paired with the high-end European chefwear company Chaud Devant on a shoe, the GT1 Pro Magister, which had a Michelin-branded rubber sole.
- Paul Kahan is another restaurateur who has paired with Vans, in a collaboration promoting four of the Chicago restaurants overseen by his company One Off Hospitality.
- Eddie Huang, owner of BaoHaus in New York’s East Village, collaborated with Adidas for two shoe models, marketed under the Huang’s World banner.
These shoes (with some variation among individual examples) typically include additional comfort cushioning; are dirt resistant, waterproof, flame retardant, and non-slip; have extra durability and reinforced toes; and feature logos and coloration reminiscent of the chefs’ restaurants.
Most often taking the form of limited editions and/or capsule collections, chef-branded footwear is designed for professional chefs and avid home cooks. But the resulting sneakers are fashion-forward enough to appeal to those without culinary skills, whether they are fans of the chefs or their restaurants, shoppers who simply like the style regardless of their awareness of the restaurateur, or avid sneaker collectors.