Getting time with Chris Kyvetos is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. He’s one of Australia’s busiest and most innovative retailers, and the man behind the success story that is Sneakerboy. Chris is this week’s D’Marge Man About Town.
When Chris Kyvetos opened up the retail space Sneakerboy – now in Melbourne and Sydney, and soon to be on the Gold Coast – he had a unique approach to selling luxury sneakers: have a small space (around 100m2), keep no inventory, and ship buyers their highly coveted Giuseppe Zanotti or Raf Simons sneakers soon after they’ve chosen them online.
The “store” is actually more of a showroom, which just shows you the physical shoe you’ll be getting within three days of cyber sale. The stores have been a cult favourite among luxury shoppers, but it’s no accident: Chris Kyvetos might only be 32, but he’s long been a familiar face in the luxe fashion game.
Rachelle Unreich heads into the sneaker cave to find out more.
RU: Before Sneakerboy, you worked at Harrolds. When did fashion become a real influence for you?
CK: From a very young age. I used to go into all the fashion stores around the city and look at everything, which is how I got my first job in the industry, as a sales assistant. During high school I had worked in the warehouse at Harrolds, which in the late 90s was a very classic and conservative menswear store. I wanted something a bit more fashion oriented, so I got a job at Cose Ipanema, my favourite store at the time.
They carried Dries Van Noten, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons which I was obsessed with in my late years of high school. I was quite intrigued by what Yohji was doing in terms of silhouettes, and his take on menswear. I saw it as something unique, with the volume and deconstructed shapes. I saved up $900 to buy a pair of Yohji trousers, which I’d wear with t-shirt and sneakers.
RU: A lot of Melbourne’s famous dressers went to Cose Ipanema. Who did you serve?
CK: I remember so many people, like [art gallery owner] Anna Schwartz when I was a teenager. She would wear head to toe Comme des Garcons, and I was obsessed with the way she orchestrated her look at her understanding of the brands she loved. I sold her her first Rick Owens jacket, even though she [at first] said, ‘I won’t wear that.’ I sat her down and spoke to her about Rick, and when she bought that jacket, that was a thrill for me.
“It’s one percent inspiration and 99 percent management and work.”
I was a bit intimidated [by people like her], but I learned to deal with that. I saw something in Rick Owens very early on, and having a person like Anna listen to you – with her knowledge and experience – does wonders for your confidence and teaches you to trust your own eye. I knew, from dealing with Rick Owens, that there was a really authentic vision there.
RU: You have also had a vision for Sneakerboy. Have you ever rejected a label because they don’t have that authenticity?
CK: Many times. I was dealing with an American streetwear brand when we first started, who was quite true to what he was trying to do. But as a season or two went on and the brand got bigger, I felt it had become more commercial in the wrong way, and I stopped buying it. At the time with my partners, it was a big kerfuffle.
Sales would indicate that this brand was a breadwinner, and I dropped it and said no, I don’t want to do it anymore. You wouldn’t normally drop a brand that was performing like that, but I felt like it had lost a bit of integrity. That was quite a big call, but not for a second did I regret it.
RU: You recognised Rick Owens would be a major star. Are you good at fashion prophecy?
CK: I bumped into a guy called Jon Buscemi in a trade show in Europe in 2013, and he had three shoes on a table. I thought wow, even though I had never heard of him – no one had ever heard of him as a luxury shoe designer. I thought, these are incredible and they’re going to make an impact, so I bought it.
A few years later, he’s one of the world’s most prominent footwear designers. It was the product that first caught my eye, and then when I got talking to him, I understood that his product was going to translate as a luxury product.
RU: Your business has gone through a change of late where Sneakerboy was restructured (but you are still involved). What is your business motto?
CK: I’ve been living in the last two years on a simple motto: keep going. It’s one percent inspiration and 99 percent management and work. The one percent only gets you so far, and then the rest has to kick in. When you’re the creative side of something, it’s hard to reconcile that with the management and business side. They don’t go together a lot. Managing that is a daily challenge for me.
You have to learn when to compromise, when to fight for something, and when to back off.
“I dressed Kanye West once for the Grammy Awards, when he was in Sydney. He’s as meticulous as I’d heard.”
RU: Where do you get your inspiration from?
CK: I get inspired by the customer base. Sometimes, I’ve just walked the streets of the city and observed the kids that shop.
RU: But haven’t those kids changed? Didn’t fashion among younger people used to be about rebellion, and now it’s often about aspiring towards designer gear?
CK: The fundamental driver is still anti-establishment, I don’t have any doubt about that. The undertone just may not be as pronounced as it once was, although that’s debatable. The kids that are buying luxury are influenced by sub-cultures in sport and music. Their icons are anti-establishment.
RU: Who’s that? Jay-Z and Kanye?
CK: I think those two in particular represent [the notion of] we did it our way, we didn’t follow anybody, we’re self-made, we’re independent.
RU: How would you describe your own style?
CK: I’ve always worn basic sweaters, low hanging jeans and sneakers, ever since I was a kid. Maybe there was a variation, but even when I was buying Dior for Australia, they said, ‘You were always the kid in the showroom in the Nike sneakers.’ It never really changed. I saw a picture of myself ten years ago, and it could have been what I’m wearing now.
RU: What’s the most you’ve spent on sneakers?
CK: Probably about $1500, for a pair of Fragment designed Air Jordan 1s, from Flight Club in New York. They sold out and then skyrocketed on the resale market. I’ve worn them once.
RU: What’s your most memorable celebrity encounter?
CK: I dressed Kanye West once for the Grammy Awards, when he was in Sydney. He’s as meticulous as I’d heard. It took him an hour to decide between two belts, and I couldn’t see the difference between the two.
He was that particular on every detail. I’ve got to really admire that. And it didn’t feel like I was dealing with that celebrity I’d known since I was a kid; he had a way of being very personable.
RU: Future plans?
CK: We’re working on making Sneakerboy independent as a brand. And I love travelling to South-East Asia. I go to a little yoga retreat in the far north of Bali, and that’s on the radar in the next few weeks. I love the disconnect. I’m normally in Paris and New York and Milan, but when I get to Bali, none of that exists. I really like that.
RU: How do you stay grounded?
CK: The amount of work that goes into doing something like running any business should be enough to keep anyone grounded. I don’t have the opportunity to get my feet off the ground.
Photographed exclusively for D’Marge by Tintin Hedberg @ HELL STUDIOS – No reproduction without written permission.