An Interview With Sneaker Artist & Collector Roman Custom
The constant pursuit of individuality is one of the driving forces in the digital world we currently live in. Algorithms that serve us just the content that speaks to us. Targeted ads that promote stuff we didn’t even know we needed. And of course, social platforms that provide the stage for anyone to get their five seconds of online-fame. But luckily, there’s also a bright side to it. A mechanism which allows for anyone to get creative. To express themselves. And add their own touches to pieces that are cornerstones of cultures like the worldwide sneaker community.
Personalizing the look of your kicks has been a cherished tradition among sneakerheads ever since OGs replaced the factory laces of their PUMA Suedes back in the 80s. But as the culture evolved, sneaker customization become more and more sophisticated. Nowadays, there are people like Roman Custom from Avignon, France – who gained not only a notable online following but also built a nice side hustle by reworking existing silhouettes with their own ideas. But how does one go from being an avid Air Max 1 collector to becoming a sought-for customizer? What are the inspirations behind his designs and what are people asking for that order a bespoke pair from him? We talked to Roman to find out more.
Who is Roman Custom?
First up, can you introduce yourself and tell us a few things about you?
Hello. My name is Roman, I am a little over 30 years old. I live in the south of France near the city of Avignon but I am originally from Limoges. I am an Air Max 1 & Patta collector and I personalize the sneakers on demand.
How did you get into collecting sneakers? Was there a particular moment that started your passion?
I’ve always loved shoes and fashion since I can remember, but I started collecting quite late, 4/5 years ago. My girlfriend @Nina.swoosh was already collecting Air Max 90s when I met her, and little by little she made me want to look for new models mainly to match my different outfits. But it all really started when I bought my first Air Max 1, I fell in love with it. It was an OG Red – I found it incredible, whether by its shape or by its history. For me it is an essential model to know and to have if you collect sneakers.
How would you describe your taste in sneakers? Is there something a model or a colorway needs to have for you?
I’m very focused on the Air Max 1 (if you still haven’t figured it out), and it’s very rare when I really like other models. I think the basis of a pair is that it should be qualitative, which unfortunately is not always the case! Then I like all the colorways as long as they are harmonious and coherent. For example, I found the CW of the Jordan 1 Maison Chateau Rouge perfectly successful, and when a friend asked me to adapt it to an [Air Max] 1, I was immediately won over because I think it adapts to all forms.
Before Roman Custom, your IG handle was “Roman Patta” and you also a member of a French Patta community. What’s your relationship with the Dutch shop?
Yes, I am also a collector of the Patta brand, which I started to buy at the same time as the sneakers. Today I have more than 200 pieces in my collection, some of which are F&F, or from pop-ups that took place on the other side of the world, and I’m pretty happy with it. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to go to the Amsterdam store yet. But I have been to the London store on my trip with Nina. For the record, we went to the store every day. And every day I left with an article when there had been no new releases since. I had trouble closing my suitcase on the way back, and these are the only items I bought there. I just changed my nickname because custom is now my activity, so I wanted to highlight it. And some thought that I was the founder of Patta, it was sometimes annoying.
Air Max Love – Finding The 1
Looking at your online profiles, the Air Max 1 is obviously a shoe that you’ve got some love for. What makes this model so special to you?
First by its history, let’s not forget that it is the first pair with an air bull visible from the outside. Then I simply like the model. In France we have an expression that says: “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know”.
There definitely is some thruth to that! Can you give us your five all-time favorite Air Max 1s?
It really is a difficult ordeal for me. I love all the pairs I have, although I do have some preferences for sure. But to select only 5, as it evolves over time and new drops, what you ask me is almost like torture! If I have to make a choice it will be the “Master” for its concept and its quality, the “Corduroy” for its work of materials as well as the collaboration with Patta, the “Elephant” (Atmos) because the CW is quite simply the most iconic and the most efficient that I have never seen. The “Safari” exclusive for size? (the shop) – the quality is there and the CW is very perfect. And finally, I would say the “Denham” which for me is THE pair of 2020, I really like denim and the packaging is neat. I specify that I managed to select only 5, but there is no precise order. They are for me all number one
For many sneakerheads, Paris is a special city. That’s due to its inspiration for the Air Max 1 (Centre Pompidou) or events like the Quai 54 tournament by Jordan Brand in Paris. You being from the Southern city of Avignon, how would you describe the sneaker community there? Is there something that sets the Avignon scene apart from other parts of France?
Avignon is not a city that stands out for its sneaker and street culture. We are very bored here, the community is almost invisible or inactive. I’m lucky my partner Nina is also a sneakerhead, otherwise it would be very sad. Luckily, we have some interesting stores like The Next Door, Act 2, Circle and the great classics like Foot Locker and Courir, but of course Paris has nothing to envy us.
Customizer is King
How did the transition from being a collector to starting to customize sneakers happen?
It was very, very fast. At first, I was mainly looking for good deals, like many I think, and sometimes the pairs were not in perfect condition, so we had to try to give them a facelift. Quickly Nina challenged me to personalize some of her pairs, and as I went, I made some for family and friends. I worked like this for almost 4 years before officially launching and setting up my business last year. I wanted to be sure that I would deliver to clients and that my work was flawless, so I took my time.
Do you remember working on your first custom sneaker ever? What model was it and what kind of work did you do on it?
I’m not sure what I’m going to say because I did a lot from the start. But the first one that really marked me was a pair of Jordan 1 Lows that I had bought for 1 € at a flea market, that I personalized in the colors of the Chicago Bulls, and on the toe box on one side I had made their logo (the head of torro) and on the other the name of the team.
Al-time classic design! Are there any people that inspired you when you started to get into customizing sneakers?
I couldn’t say if it’s really inspiration, but I watch and appreciate the work of some like @staniflou, @Julien.custom31 or @theoze – who on top of that are my friends.
Did your approach to customizing change over the course of time?
Yes of course, and I sincerely hope that I will continue to evolve. I started by wishing to make drawings on the pairs, then I had a period where I was doing camouflages, after I just made creation and at the moment I like to adapt a CW of a different silhouette on an AM1. So I guess the future holds other surprises and other openings for me.
What does a typical Roman Custom sneaker look like? Any features or a certain design language?
It’s hard to give an outside perspective on your own work. But there are some things that are representative like the slanted mini Swoosh and the signature on the left foot. Now I try to bring a complete packaging, that the customer does not receive only a personalized pair but a set worked and studied. I develop this as I go, and I can’t say too much about it because I also like that the customer has an additional surprise when opening their package. I say extra because I never send a photo to the client, he discovers his pair when he receives it, I have always worked like this.
What kind of equipment do you use for your customs?
I work with all the tools at my disposal, from the brush to the airbrush, paint and dye. We are lucky to have a very wide range of equipment, you have to know how to use it and take advantage of it!
Reaching a Higher Level
Is designing sneakers something you’d also want to do in a professional way, like working for a brand or doing an official collaboration? If so, what’s something you’d want to do in that field?
Yes of course, it would even be a real personal and professional achievement for me. The ideal would be to let me do what I want, choosing the materials and colors of the pair myself, being able to bring more advanced packaging than a simple red box and add some accessories. Actually, doing a little bit of what I’m doing now, but on a higher level.
That would be dope to see! You’re also doing customs by demand. What do people that order bespoke sneakers from you usually ask for?
It’s very variable, and that’s what is fun. Some come with a very precise idea of the pair they want, while others don’t know what they want. Sometimes I orient them according to their tastes or they tell me “Do what you want.” There are those who want a model that I have already made, if it is an inspiration like the “MCR” or the “Master F&F” I agree to do it again, but if it is a unique creation I will keep the same base but change details like inverting the colors depending on the location for example. Because let’s face it, what I like the most is to create and not to redo the same pair several times!
Do you only customize Air Max 1s or would you also get creative on a different Nike silhouette – or even from another brand?
No, I agree to customize all silhouettes. You can see on my feed 90s, 95s, Jordan 1s, 97s, Air Force 1s, Sacais etc. In fact, I just think that I am known for the Air Max 1, so when a person wants to personalize his AM1 he simply addresses me. Like when someone wants a personalized Sacai he will address his priority to my friend @staniflou.
What are some of your favorite sneaker releases from 2020?
As I mentioned above, the release of the year for me is “Denham”. But the City Pack (Amsterdam / London) is also something that I really liked! And the two that pleasantly surprised me are the “Strawberry” and the “SNKRS Day” (brown). To be honest I bought some more, but I won’t list them all either.
What The Future Holds
Any shoes you’re looking forward to drop in 2021?
I don’t have any special expectations, why not a Viotech (Atmos) because mine is tired. Otherwise the brands work a little more on quality rather than quantity, and they take care of the packaging as they have done with the Denham, the Susan or the Sean Wotherspoon.
What’s on your personal agenda for the new year? Any projects you can already tell us more about?
I would just like our lives to get back to normal, and for us to get out of this virus that is ruining our existence. I need to see my family and friends who I haven’t been able to see for a while. Then I would like to travel, as I said above, spend a few days in Amsterdam, but also come back to Barcelona or London. And above all I would like to visit Japan, this country and this culture attracts me enormously.
That sounds great – let’s hope we’ll all be able to do things like that soon! Any last words?
It was a real pleasure for me to answer all your questions, so a big thank you to the entire Sneakers Mag team. Then I want to thank my girlfriend @nina.swoosh who supports me on a daily basis (and it’s not necessarily easy) and who also supports me in all my projects and helps me a lot. Thank you to my mom @mpc_lafee with whom I create projects and who has always supported me. And of course all my family, my friends and my community who give me incredible strength and without whom it would not be possible. I wish you all the best, and wins to come!