By Dominic Frost
At nine in the morning, a line of over a hundred people has already amassed outside Humidity, a skate shop in the New Orleans French Quarter. Some of them are collectors of rare shoes, while others are just proud New Orleanian skateboarders; regardless, they smile, joke, and drink Busch – the unofficial beer of the New Orleans skate scene – like old friends. What the crowd’s members do not share in affiliation, they share in sentiment: they cannot wait to get their hands on a sneaker set to release later that day. But this is no ordinary, hyped-up drop. New Orleans local Tanner Jacomine calls it “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The shoe itself, dubbed the “Trumpet Hi,” is a collaboration between the shop’s proprietor, Philip Santosuosso, and Nike’s skateboarding sub-brand, Nike SB. Built on the SB Dunk Hi model, the shoe shines gold like a newly polished brass instrument. The inside is reminiscent of the interior of instrument cases with its luxurious purple velour, while the black midsole and musical-note emblazoned outsole suggest sheet music on a stand. Perhaps as a nod to Louis Armstrong’s The Definitive Album, the shoe wears a red bowtie. The highly customized makeup comes in a shoe box made to imitate a vintage case – complete with metal clasps. The highly anticipated shoe was a knock-out hit, and quickly sold out; Lebron James even got himself a pair. For locals like Jacomine, the shoe carries a deep personal significance. In his words, “The shoes are super special – it’s the New Orleans Tricentennial, which is obviously a big deal – and I think it’s awesome that they are Brass and Jazz-themed, as I’m a music enthusiast myself. Now that I own them, I’m gonna keep them – hang them on my wall or something and not even wear them – just look at them over the years. They’re that special.”
Santosuosso, a West Bank native and dignitary of New Orleans skateboarding, spent over a year working with the design team at Nike SB to create what he and Jacomine believe to be a powerful representation of the city’s culture. It should come as no surprise that he chose to showcase Jazz, especially considering that Nike SB made a Louisiana-cuisine themed shoe in 2014 for Rukus Board Shop. While Jazz may be an obvious icon, Santosuosso’s intent was not to showcase the symphonic Jazz most often conflated with the reality of New Orleans music. Specifically, he wanted to highlight the culture of the street – a culture that the majority of Jazz musicians and skateboarders in New Orleans share, as the street provides the venue for both forms of expression.
To Santosuosso, Jazz represents more than just music – it represents hope. When thinking about his inspiration for the shoe, he remembers a man he knew growing up. “A friend of mine, Corey, who used to hang out at the shop back in the day played on the street. I remember watching him go from playing on the corner to travelling the country – all from music. He travelled the world – he’d been to more countries than i’ve been to states, within the first year. And this goes on every day. I just wanted to do something to show that aspect of New Orleans, which I think gets overlooked.”
Walking around the French Quarter, one quickly realizes the truth behind Santosuosso’s attitude; this really does go on every day. On any given corner, or parading down the street, brass musicians fill the air with their music. The players range vastly in age, but all share a commitment to the tradition that has kept folks romanticizing about New Orleans since the popularization of Jazz in the early 20th century. Seeing these musicians, one might wonder how many of their parents or grandparents knew Fats Domino, Buddy Bolden, or Louis Armstrong himself.
In keeping with his commitment to the culture of the street, Santosuosso chose to keep the price for the sneaker as low as production costs would allow. While similarly custom makeups have retailed in the $200 range, the shoes sold for $150 – online purchases, which shipped in regular SB boxes, went for only $110. The night of the release, Humidity also put an untold portion of the proceeds toward a party at R Bar on Royal Street. There, the crowd enjoyed a performance by Da Truth Brass Band, a contemporary brass ensemble. Like many of the audience members, the band wore Trumpet Hi Dunks: a detail that embodied the intimacy of the call-and-response music. Amid the singing along, the clapping, and the laughter, the street came to life in that celebrative, New Orleans way that inspired the shoes conception.
Sitting down at Orange Couch coffee shop with Phillip Santosuosso, around the corner from his home in the Marigny, I asked, “do you think that the shoe reflects New Orleans?” He paused for a moment, smiled, and said, “Of course! It’s Gold!” Remembering this moment, I can laugh at how the foiled leather literally reflects the city – but I see a metaphorical meaning as well. Phillip’s pride in New Orleans owes itself to the city’s spirit of creativity, defiance, and resilience. Like a piece of Gold, New Orleans’s small size does not deny its immense value to the world. Jazz today is an internationally celebrated and diverse genre, and has produced some of the most eminent artists of the last few generations. Lest we forget, it all started right here, on the street.