Designer Digest: Clae, Generic Surplus, Gourmet

Sneakers are all grown up at these L.A.-based brands.

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Photo By Courtesy Photo

Sung Choi

Photo By Courtesy Photo

For three Los Angeles-based brands, an understated aesthetic takes sneakers to a sophisticated level.

Sung Choi, 41

Collection: Clae

Headquarters: Los Angeles (design)/Solana Beach, Calif. (corporate)

Launch: Fall ’01, relaunched for fall ’07

Background: Choi, who grew up in New York during the birth of sneaker culture, worked on apparel and footwear for Triple Five Soul and PNB Nation in the city before moving to San Diego in 1997 to design sneakers for DC Shoes. In 2001, he joined skate company Podium as footwear director for the launch of its Lakai brand in exchange for its help in developing Clae. Sales of Clae were encouraging, but Podium’s skate distribution connections were not a perfect fit for the sneakers. The brand went on hiatus in 2004 while Choi (below) freelanced for DC and then headed to Skechers to run its Ecko and Zoo York footwear divisions. In fall ’07, with new private financing through a partnership, Choi relaunched the Clae brand.

Motivation to start the line: “Clae was born because there weren’t shoes in the market that fit my needs or my peers’ needs,” Choi said. “As you grow up, it’s hard to wear sneakers for every occasion. We’re just trying to bridge sneakers and shoes.”

“Growing up in New York really shaped me in a way no other education could have done.”

Signature style: The Russell high-top (below). “It gives younger customers the sophistication, but older customers don’t feel juvenile [in it].”

The Clae customer: Although the core customer is in his mid-20s to mid-30s, “we’re inclusive. It’s anybody from a 17-year-old to 60-year-old man. The silhouettes are really understated.”

Design brief: “Clean lines and less is more, but special enough to stand out. That’s the tightrope I’m trying to walk.”

Retail range: $80 to $150

Distribution: Barneys New York, American Rag and Union in Los Angeles, Bodega in Boston

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