Sole Mates: Mike Cherman and the visvim Christo
The Chinatown Market founder riffs on how the Christo has accompanied him through his career, discusses how a sandal can be a proper luxury item and more.
Mike Cherman has quite the streetwear story to tell. Before founding his wildly successful Chinatown Market brand and creating ICNY, he spent time cutting his teeth at legendary New York boutique Prohibit, working at Jeff Staple‘s Reed Space, crafting custom apparel and footwear for Nike at 255 Elizabeth Street plus the Bowery Stadium and designing KITH‘s familiar box logo graphic.
It’s safe to say Cherman is a man who’s worn many hats. However, one thing that’s been a constant during all the twists, turns, dips and dives in his winding journey through streetwear is visvim‘s Christo sandal. First introduced in 2003, the Christo is a high-priced, high-quality slide inspired by Bulgarian artist Christo Javacheff — more specifically his “wrappings of bridges, monuments, natural formations, and other varieties of everyday objects” as visvim founder Hiroki Nakamura quipped in a 2004 interview with BEINGHUNTED.
Due to its exclusive nature and handsome price point, the Christo is not an accessable footwear option for the general public. However, that’s precisely what drew Cherman to it. In the latest installment of HYPEBEAST‘s Sole Mates, Mike Cherman discusses discovering the Christo, the feeling of buying his first pair, how it’s influenced his own products like Chinatown Market’s recent hotel slippers and how he appreciates its rarified nature, even though his own design process is centered around creating items for “everyone.”
HYPEBEAST: You spent your childhood between Westchester, NY and San Diego — two vastly different cities. How did that influence the development of your footwear taste?
Mike Cherman: I wasn’t really a kid who was thinking about hyped sneaker drops. I liked having a nice pair of sneakers, but wanted them to be functional too. At the end of each summer, my parents would say “OK, you get to buy two shoes for this school year — one for fall and one for spring.” I’d go to somewhere like Bob’s Footwear and Apparel in Connecticut and get my two shoes. That experience was an amazing thing.
I’d try to get Air Jordans if I could, or maybe something like a Nike Huarache. Back then, the shoe that stuck out to me the most was the Huarache 2K4, which I was lucky enough to have one year. That thing was the f*cking apple of my eye, the lightest, coolest basketball shoe I’d ever seen at the time. Eventually I found pickyourshoes.com, and that’s the first time I really discovered sneaker culture. I was like “what the f*ck is this website where all these shoes I can’t get exist?”
“The Christo has the DNA of things that I love like outdoor gear, military looks and tactical garb, and shows its inspirations in such a unique way.”
When did you find out about the visvim Christo? It’s definitely not the kind of footwear you grow up on, unless you’re the coolest kid in the world.
Yeah, I’d grown up by the time I found out about the Christo [laughs]. I was living in New York City and working at this streetwear store in the Lower East Side called Prohibit. One of my bosses was this guy named Shin Nishigaki. He was from Japan, and would take a lot of trips to Tokyo. When he came back to New York City, he’d always have a suitcase full of samples from friends that worked at different Japanese companies. One time he had all these visvim shoes with him — boots, FBTs and more — but what really stuck out to me was the Christos he’d brought back.
I was also working with Chace Infinite at the time, and he had a small collection of Christos. Though the first time I’d seen them was when Shin brought them back, the first time I really got to check ‘em out was through Chace. I remember being like “man, I really want a pair of these.” Then I saw how much they were and I had to take a little step back [laughs].
Later on, I flew to Korea for a pop-up shop when I was doing ICNY, and this consignment store had a pair that was lightly used for like $250, which is a steal. I bought them, of course, and afterwards I wore them to every airport, on every flight. I even wore them in my house!
I worked so hard and saved so much money to get that first pair. I was hooked, I was like “this is my sh*t.” The Christo has the DNA of things that I love like outdoor gear, military looks and tactical garb, and shows its inspirations in such a unique way. I’m not a huge proprietor of making stuff that most people can’t get or afford, but I will say as a consumer it’s a very satisfying thing to have something that not many people have.
What drew you to the Christo instead of the other styles in the suitcase your boss cracked open?
I could immediately see myself wearing it. Although all those other silhouettes are legendary too, I feel like they all take a bit more of a “learning curve” to get comfortable with. Wearing something with tassels or an extra collar on the outside, even wearing something that looks like a Red Wing boot is a different type of style and approach to fashion. The reality of the Christo, however, is that it’s approachable. It’s something that a streetwear kid can wear or an old dad can wear and it doesn’t look that different.
It always felt to me like the Christo was the bridge to the world of what visvim was, a great way to discover the brand. I might have walked into a visvim store before I had enough money to buy Christos and been like “I can’t buy a $1,000 USD mohair vest.” I mean, the first thing I bought from visvim was a candle! I think those experiences are what helps you appreciate the big purchases you make as you come up through the game.
How does the Christo fit into your personal style?
I’m not the kind of person who’d usually wear flip-flops around all day. When I’m at my office, I’m running around, bumping into things. I can’t wear a sandal then. But when I’m in my house, going for little errands, relaxing, I’m almost always in Christos. It’s a leisurely, easy thing to wear, and I can still appreciate it from a style perspective. It’s function and fashion fused together in a perfect harmony. I don’t want to wear some sh*tty adidas flip-flops even if I’m just going to the grocery store — I want to have something that can be the focal point of my outfit. Something that can spark a conversation.
“When you’re a young kid it’s all about ease and convenience, but honestly even as an adult you’re looking for ease of process in life. All the cool sh*t about the Christo aside, it’s an easy, comfortable product.”
So it’s the ultimate house slipper/errand runner for you?
Oh yeah. It really is the ultimate house shoe. Reebok’s Beatnik is right behind it, but the Christo is number one. Honorable mention to slip-on Merrell shoes too, honestly. I’m a Jew, and I used to go to bar mitzvahs wearing the f*cking suede slip-on Merrells.
When you’re a young kid it’s all about ease and convenience, but honestly even as an adult you’re looking for ease of process in life. All the cool sh*t about the Christo aside, it’s an easy, comfortable product. That’s the hook, line and sinker for someone who can appreciate all the other things I mentioned.
Let’s talk about Chinatown Market’s hotel slippers. Did you work a little Christo influence in there or take any inspiration from it?
I mean, Christos were the shoes I traveled around the world with and wore in hotels instead of the slippers they offered because I just wanted my own thing — I didn’t want to roll into the sauna wearing some thin terry cloth slippers.
Drawing from luxury slides like the Christo, drawing from the hotel slipper, finding a middle ground. That’s where we started to explore from. We’d ask ourself things like “How do we tweak these designs, how do we mess with these concepts, how do we take it to the next level.” The Christo’s DNA was definitely a huge part of what we were trying to do.
Over the course of the last year there’s been a heavy paradigm shift in the world of footwear due to COVID-19 lockdowns. There’s an enhanced focus on ease, comfort, adaptability. How do you think the Christo fits into that? Is it a way to “dress up” — which some people still need to do to feel good — without having to leave the house?
Totally. Reasons like that are why Chinatown Market is making things like elevated hotel slippers and Smiley slides. We recognize that this is the way for us to service the needs of our customers, who still want their functional, practical pieces to look nice.
If it was a few years ago, everyone would be saying “oh, well this sandal ‘trend’ is going to die pretty soon.” Now though, we’re seeing a shift because the direction the world is pushing us in necessitates it. In that sense, sandals are a really exciting and interesting thing these days.
“I have a collection of Christos because I know that when I’m 50, 60 I want to be that dad who’s out here looking like Adam Sandler, comfy as hell in the baggy-ass gear he’s always rocked.”
Do you think a sandal can serve as a proper luxury item? The Christo obviously has a pretty lofty price point and there’s a real artisanal feel to it. It’s not in the same vein as, say, a Gucci flip-flop.
I think that the Christo will always be a niche product because it’s not something that’s meant for everyone. I’m a designer who always strives to create something for everyone. However, I think there’s something special about being able to create something for a small amount of people who really appreciate the process. It’s interesting though: that focus on a niche group is the antithesis of how I think when I’m making product for Chinatown Market.
As I get older, I’m constantly looking for items I’m going to want to have forever. I have a collection of Christos because I know that when I’m 50, 60 I want to be that dad who’s out here looking like Adam Sandler, comfy as hell in the baggy-ass gear he’s always rocked. I admire that idea of knowing what you love at a young age, keeping it strong and staying true to it as you get older.
Makes sense. I’ve heard that when streetwear kids grow up they either become a visvim dad or an Acronym dad.