There's no denying that slip-on shoes are having a moment. From Crocs, Birkenstock and Hunter all the way up to Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Hermès, there's no shortage of brands delivering hands-free footwear to consumers whose feet live a free-spirited lifestyle. It's a movement that started gaining steam even before Covid-19 pushed those of who were lucky enough to work from home into a life of dressing for comfort above all else. (See: the 2019 rise of #muleboyz.) And sneaker-business star Jon Buscemi decided pre-pandemic to build a whole new brand around the comfy concept.
Buscemi bills himself as a serial entrepreneur, whose projects include a namesake luxury sneaker line that famously sold a $132,000 shoe, as well as a "very, very luxurious" house slipper. The success of the latter planted the idea of building a (more reasonably priced) brand around it.
"Not everyone can pay $400 for a handmade-in-Italy slipper," Buscemi tells me. "So I said, let's do something more democratic — same quality and same thought process, but at a different price point."
Musician and Crocs slip-on-shoe evangelist Justin Bieber was another motivating factor for Buscemi to get the brand off the ground: "I saw Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin in Soho around the same time, and he was wearing a Four Seasons... like the slippers you getting next to your bed in a hotel room that they give you free, usually white terry cloth, he was wearing it around Soho as a shoe. I just love the irreverent kind of nature of that, so I took the idea of a handmade luxury slipper and a hotel slipper and fused them into one. That was the start."
He assembled a well-connected team of partners and investors including skateboarder-turned-entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek, No Vacancy Inn partner Brock Korsan, footwear veteran Chris Noyes, Fuck Jerry owner Elliot Tebele and influencer Hannah Bronfman to launch Lusso Cloud. ("Lusso" means "luxury" in Italian.)
The brand debuted earlier this year with three unisex styles: The Guru ($155) has a chukka-like shape hitting the top of the ankle; the Gehry ($125) is a lower-profile slip-on; and the Pelli ($135) is a true slide with no back. They all have a very hotel-esque waffle knit upper made from partially recycled bamboo and a soft layer of memory foam in the lining. The bottom of the shoes include a layer of latex, a layer of memory foam and a partially-recycled IPEVA outsole that, unlike Bieber's slippers, are made to withstand the outdoors. And they all come in an array of unassuming colorways like white, black, chestnut, indigo, forest green and grey.
The indoor/outdoor style is well-suited to this moment of transition from spending all our time inside to reentering society. And while some may be "revenge dressing" with flamboyant going-out styles, experts say that footwear, specifically, will continue to trend towards comfort even as we start dining indoors and traveling. (Lusso Clouds would also make a for a great plane shoe.)
But again, that's not what Buscemi and his team had in mind when developing the brand. Instead, he was thinking about style icons like Julian Schnabel and Pablo Picasso, his own dressing habits and how the idea of luxury is evolving.
"I guess I've been wearing these type of shoes for two decades. I used to wear Birkenstock Birkis garden shoes with a suit; when Gucci came out with the kangaroo-hair leather mules like five years ago, I was the first one online at Bergdorf Goodman. That's just part of my thing," he says. "I feel like comfort and freedom and more importantly, the lifestyle of comfort is the true luxury. You see Kanye West attacking the fashion business with sweat suits or sweat pants. Experiences are more important than a Birkin bag now."
Lusso Cloud has been relatively quiet with press and marketing, only seeding product to a "small network of influential people and friends, celebrities, athletes, opinion leaders, taste makers around the world," some of whom are investors in the brand. According to Buscemi, the launch has been successful, and there are several new products in the pipeline, including a one-piece (as in the entire shoe is one molded piece of material as opposed to pieces cobbled together) lightweight EVA style and a boot for colder climates. There are also plans to enter the culinary industry — Buscemi was light on details, but teased that "there's a gap when it comes to thought-out shoes for either the home chef or for the industrial side."
While Lusso Cloud occupies its own niche in many ways, it's not without competition: Obviously, brands like Birkenstock and Crocs have been doing their own popular versions of gardening shoes and outdoor slides for years, and fellow utilitarian brands like Merrel, Hunter and Columbia have their own gorp-y versions. Bieber even launched a $5 house slipper for his brand, Drew. There's also Brunch, a more female-focused, hotel-inspired slipper brand. Plus, the Wall Street Journal recently pointed to "outdoor slippers" as one of the main styles driving post-pandemic retail sales. Suffice it to say, the shoes-you-leave-by-the-front-door category is growing rapidly, and Buscemi and co. were probably smart to get in when they did.