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Kustome Collabo Sneaker Collection: Q&A With Founder And Designer Yusef Sirius-El (PHOTOS)

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The words "luxury" and "sneakers" aren't usually in the same sentence -- unless, of course, you're trying to justify the pricey purchase of a pair of Air Yeezys.

However, thanks to a new collection of high-quality sneakers called Kustome Collabo, you can get your fancy footwear without completely breaking the bank.

The collection of kicks is created by "a collective of footwear designers working within a round-table format." The 15 top secret designers involved in the project create under the mantra "raising the standards of fit, quality, and design integrity."

Although the group wants to keep a low profile, we can't say the same for the sneakers. Made with top quality leather, hardware and detailing, the shoes boast sleek styles inspired by world travels and high fashion.

Lucky for us, we were able to unmask one of the brand's designers -- Yusef Sirius-El, a seasoned sneaker designer with plenty of swag and an eye for cutting-edge style. He has designed for a number of companies including: Adidas, Nike, FILA, Cole Haan and Kenneth Cole.

We asked Yusef about his love for sneakers and what we can expect from Kustome Collabo.

What is your design background?
I'm from the tech athletic world, specifically basketball. I started out designing on-court shoes for that category and building kicks for NBA athletes like Chris Webber, Grant Hill and Jerry Stackhouse, et cetera. During those years I got into engineering outsoles and upper systems for shock absorption and lacing configurations for specialized fit. From there I expanded into cross-training, running, fitness and hiking categories ... and that was all before 1998. Since then I've built shoes for other genres including casuals and more fashion-oriented markets.

Why design sneakers?
I'm from the generation that heralded sneaker culture. I was an addict for sneakers. My first job in high school was at the Foot Locker on Broadway in Greenwich Village where I worked until I landed an interview at FILA. I played on the basketball team at Pratt in 1991-1992 and one of my teammates was working for a local brand -- that triggered the idea. Sneaker design wasn't as popular back then but when I got a taste I was hooked.

What's the story behind the brand's name?
Kustome Collabo describes the footwear masterpiece. These shoes are dedicated to the idea of one-of-a-kind constructions multiplied by the refined collaborative touch of select outside brands that we feel represent sneaker culture ideals. In essence, these are original designs that push the envelope and raise the bar on traditional collaboration.

Who are the designers behind the collaborations?
We haven't yet unveiled our first brand collaboration. We want to spend our first season establishing Kustome and the design integrity we bring to the table first. We also want to allow time for our clientele to develop on its own before we mix in our collaborative partners.

What inspired the fall 2012 collection?
The fall collection was influenced by the classics. Right now, we're mixing haute couture with street culture. As usual, I was shocked by the result. We've been receiving ovations since the styles were unveiled. The line is built around a shoe called Renaissance, which is our flagship style.

How would you describe your line in three words?
Luxury sneaker collection.

What is your favorite style from the fall 2012 collection?
All of the styles are carefully calculated to address different tastes within our lifestyle target, so it's hard to select one. If I had to, I would go with the Renaissance, but we've received an unusual amount of excitement about a wrestling boot inspired shoe named the Victory.

We heard you're also an artist -- how does that play into your designs?
Yeah, I was selected and placed into special training when I was in second grade, which extended to a vocational arts junior high, high school and college. I always excelled in fine art, painting and illustration. From those skills, I bring an uncanny ability to color-block shoes, which is immediately apparent in all my footwear work. It's also apparent in the sculpting of the soles I create and in the composition of the upper patterns. My artistic talent and training is the key to the design integrity within the products I build.

How many sneakers do you own?
I have a pretty large sneaker collection. Kustome was born from a problem I have as a collector. The true sports tech brands don't have enough of a presence when I wear them to prestigious events, but the couture sport shoes don't have the engineering and complexity I look for in a real sneaker.

Any celebrity clients or stars you'd like to see in your shoes?
We have pairs waiting for Jay-Z and ASAP Rocky. Lupe Fiasco, Travis Barkers, Mark Wahlberg, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Fergie, Terrance J, Diggie Simmons, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Terry Kennedy, Miley Cyrus, Nas and Lebron James. These are the type of select fashion-conscious personalities that we feel have a style that is in line with what we represent.

Do you have a favorite shoe/sneaker designer?
I don't have a favorite because as a visionary, I'm always looking at design in terms of future milestones and looks that have yet to be attained, but I respect the work ethic of Kris Van Asche, Maison Martin Margiela and Tinker Hatfield.

Who inspires your personal style?
I would say my personal style is a combination of the classic hip-hop icons I grew up listening to like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and LL Cool J. I'm also inspired by the personal style of Tom Ford, and actors like Brad Pitt. I would consider myself a man's man. Living in New York City has had a major influence on me over the years, and I'm also heavily inspired by Japanese culture in general.

Best style advice you've ever been given?
Peter Moore, the CEO of Adidas, once told me, "you are a unique designer who's style speaks to the elusive youth culture, and it's very rare." He said (at the time) Adidas was searching for the exact element my shoes displayed. He was the first person to point it out, which helped me understand how to harness that element in all my work.

What's next for the brand?
We have a very special announcement coming for summer 2013, but it's too soon to say now. Stay tuned on our website for updates and details.

Check out the Fall 2012 collection in the slideshow below.

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