Dominic Ciambrone, better known as The Shoe Surgeon, worked down to the wire to prepare for the Super Bowl. He had seven different pairs of cleats to finish for four different Los Angeles Rams to wear in their victory Sunday.
As we spoke to Ciambrone last Thursday, a few days before the big game in Los Angeles, he and his team were still racing against the clock for one of the biggest platforms in the world.
Odell Beckham Jr., who has long turned to The Shoe Surgeon for customized cleats that match his swagger and high level of play, wore two different pairs before pulling down a touchdown and leaving the game with an injury. His pre-game workout is where his feet truly shined, as he wore an arrangement of diamonds and gold on cleats with an estimated value of $200,000 — 1,494 diamonds with a total weight of 25 carats and 150 grams of 14-karat gold formed two solid Swooshes stitched on in the style of Off-White.
Three other Rams stars also tapped The Shoe Surgeon for their Super Bowl footwear, including Cooper Kupp, Von Miller, and Jalen Ramsey. Kupp’s two pairs saw a KAWS x Comme des Garçons shirt design repurposed for his feet and another in the style of the Off-White x Nike Dunk that matched OBJ’s in-game footwear. Ramsey opted for a solid chrome look pre-game and hearts with the names of his daughters in-game as an ode to Valentine’s Day.
Miller’s cleats didn’t even have a final design yet when Ciambrone spoke to us — the end result was a relatively muted black and blue pair with a skull and crossbones — which showed just how busy the past two weeks had been since the Rams secured their spot in the Super Bowl. Ciambrone hopped on the phone with Input from his Los Angeles office to discuss his work for the big game, what the moment means to him, and why in the world he’d put so many diamonds on a cleat.
What does it mean to you to have your designs out there on one of the biggest stages in the world in the Super Bowl?
I’ve been doing custom shoes since I was 15, so 20 years. I’ve worked hard, and the team has as well. To get to this moment, I wouldn’t expect anything less from us and the team. This moment means so much to me.
It brings me back to being 18, 19-years-old when I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina. I ran into this customizer who told me that he painted cleats for the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl in 2004. So at that time, at age 18, I’m just like, “Whoa, how is that possible?” It opened my eyes to anything being possible. So it’s surreal to be back in this moment with the brand making cleats for some of the best players in the world, one of the best teams, and in the biggest games.
For OBJ’s cleats, how does the process differ from usual because you’re working with gold and diamonds?
Jason and I have worked together for a few years now. We’ve actually spoken about doing a diamond cleat for Odell a few years ago, but it just wasn’t the right time.
Working with hard metal pieces, gold and diamonds, means you have to be way more strategic and thoughtful of how you’re designing. Technically, if he wanted to, he could play in the game with the cleats. That’s how well we make them. You just probably don’t want diamonds coming off your shoe or potentially hurting something with the metal.
How did this idea originally come up?
Odell is over the top. He’s a big personality; he’s big into fashion; he’s big into making a statement not only by being such a great player and making amazing catches, but also showing out on the field, like wearing a Richard Mille watch, or a custom pair of cleats.
Over time, I’ve always been pushing the limits. I’ve made gold and diamond shoes for LeBron James. Mine and Odell’s relationship has been close over the past four or five years, so we were talking about wanting to do it in the warm-up. It just didn’t feel right because the game wasn’t right and then he got injured. As soon as they won [to secure a place in the Super Bowl], I got back to him and said we’re doing it. This is the time to do it.
So the entire production process has been in the past two weeks?
Yeah, I’m looking out the window right now at what we’re still working on. I don’t even have the diamond pieces yet. We should be getting them tonight. We’re still working on three or four pairs of cleats and really pushing the limit coming down to the wire.
There’s a little bit of Off-White inspiration in the design, too. Why did you want to include that?
It’s a design that’s really cool, but it’s also a functional way to make something. Our solution is kind of like the Off-White Swoosh, which makes the gold easier to put onto the cleat. If I had a gold piece and had to sew all around it, it would be much more difficult for flexibility. It not only acts as something that’s cool and sought after, it’s also a functional way to create something.
You also did the Virgil Abloh tribute cleats for Odell back in December. What did Abloh mean to you in a personal sense and as a designer?
We met a few times, and we talked here and there. He was someone that could really speak culture and streets into the mainstream and at the highest level with Louis Vuitton. Him being able to bridge the gap and showing other creatives, wherever they come from, and him being African-American — it gives a new perspective on what’s possible. As long as you put yourself to work and focus, you can make anything possible. He was not like a normal person. He created his own path.
You’re also doing cleats for Cooper Kupp for the first time. How do you end up working with a new player? Is it word of mouth from someone like OBJ?
This one came directly from Odell. We’re potentially going to be doing [Matthew] Stafford’s cleats as well. Odell’s linked me with a lot of people.
I don’t like working with a lot of people who are athletes. It’s just tough to work with so many because we only have so much bandwidth. Not only do they need to be the best, but they also need to be swaggy in a sense that they respect the art. I make shoes to be flashy, but they’re also wearable and for performance. I can’t just make cleats for anyone.
I’ve gotta ask because of your position as a high-profile customizer. What have you thought about Nike beginning to crack down on other customizers in the past year or so?
I’m grateful for Nike and Jordan Brand being the reason I got into this creativity at a very young age. I wore a pair of 1985 Air Jordan 1s in high school. Everyone looked at me and kind of tripped out. I was able to speak without actually having to talk, just by wearing a pair of shoes. I’m also grateful that I’ve been able to work with them and do a collaboration with LeBron James.
You know, it’s such a powerful brand, but it’s tough to maintain full control. Working at that high of a level, that’s not an easy business to run. I think they’re doing a good job.