Designer Ron Louis’ dip-dye, glacier Air Force Ones are the quintessential Chicago shoe. While the ice blue colorway is a hat tip to the city’s tundra-like winters—particularly this year—the delicate, almost-white hue is a nod to the all-white G-Fazos (as G Herbo said on his 2015 song “Rollin’”: "Do your thing just don't step on these all-white G-Fazos") that Chicagoans don in the summertime.
Though Louis has become known for the dip-dye shoes, he’s recently made a return to garments and expanded his repertoire to include jewelry and furniture. Last fall, he released a women’s cropped bubble coat in black and orange colorways—a piece he had been sitting on for some time—followed by his collaboration with Chicago jeweller Joey Torresomar: a Gucci link chain with an enamel glacier gradient colorway. Around that time, Louis also sold a short run of dip-dyed, canary yellow Air Forces, and like most of his pieces, the chain and shoes sold out immediately.
A native of Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs, Louis’ introduction to fashion came in high school when he began writing for a music blog and interning for a brand called Angry Hero. But his love for design was cemented in a high school sewing class, which he took because a girl he liked was taking, too. His teacher quickly noticed he had a natural skill for sewing and pushed him to take it seriously.
“That was the first time somebody encouraged me to do something and I just stuck with it,” he says, adding that the first piece he made was a pair of pajama pants, which he gave to his best friend. “She was in love with them and I fell in love with that feeling—giving somebody something I made from scratch and they were so happy about.”
Louis’ next venture was making custom leather sleeves and pockets on t-shirts, later moving on to fake snakeskin and full leather t-shirts, dresses, and sweaters, followed by printing and embroidery. Through music blogging, he linked with Chicago rappers King Louie, Dreezy, and Z Money, and was able to give them product. Louis also worked closely with Chicago rapper Valee, creating a capsule exclusively for him, which included t-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with the word "Designer." That connection led Louis to a styling gig for Pusha T, the only person he’s ever styled.
Louis’ interests expanded once again when he learned how to dip dye at a Nike event in 2017, followed by a tutorial in shibori dying techniques from Korean designer JaJa in 2018. After trying some of those methods on denim, he started experimenting with Air Force Ones, a painstaking process that involves dipping each shoe and lace separately. While he originally wanted to create a Tiffany blue colorway, it came out in an ice blue instead—a happy accident.
Now, Louis is entering uncharted territory. He’s gearing up to launch the canary yellow shoe as a collab with Chicago designer Grch, for an installation in a new Nike Japan store. Louis is also looking to release a beanbag chair with his friend Brittany Simone. Below, we spoke about the inspiration behind his glacier colorway, learning how to dip dye, his collaborative work, and more.
The first time I saw one of your pieces was the "Designer" hoodie Valee wore in his “Miami” video with Pusha T. So that hoodie was made specifically for Valee?
Each thing that popped for me was inspired by the musicians I was working with at the time. During that time, it was Valee because he would customize everything—customize his entire career. We was chilling one time—we was actually building a pool table and he was recording somebody at the same time—and I looked at him jokingly like, “Man, you really, like, design everything. What if I start putting ‘Designer’ your clothes?” And I just went and did it.
The "Designer" hoodies also have the word Phera on them. What does that stand for?
That was my actual brand name then. I was trying to get that going. I think it started out as an insecurity of mine, where I was feeling like if it wasn't successful, I can rebrand it versus using my name. I had misspelled the word “fear” one time. I really enjoy how it looked—“Fera” and then I just put a “Ph” in front of it. But it didn't stick—I'm real intentional with my stuff. It didn't feel right after a while.
I did see that Fashion Nova ripped off your logo.
I mean, I took a page out of Virgil's book of him being so literal. When I seen the boots, “These Are For Walking,” or “Woman” on the back of the shirt in quotes, I thought that was funny. It started out as us being humorous. I actually wanted Virgil to flip it in my mind, so it was intentional. When Fashion Nova did it, I wasn't surprised. I was just like, “Damn, Fashion Nova.” That wasn't exactly the moment I wanted, but it's fine. I knew about it a few months before because Dreezy got a deal with them and she had sent me this and was very upset about it. And I was like, “It's fine.” I was expecting it.
"I fell in love with that feeling—giving somebody something I made from scratch and they were so happy about.”
How did you start dip dying?
I got invited to a Nike influencer installation and that was one of the things they were doing, dip dying shoes. I did my first pair—they were pink. I had stuck some patches that was specifically for Don C, I didn't know. They still put them on the shoe for me. It was a patch with the letter R and an L. They like how I shot it so I got invited to the next one.
I was going to sell my last bit of Designer hoodies and I was like, “I have Air Force Ones at my job that was on sale for $10.” The day I was going to quit, my manager said—before I could put two weeks in—“Do you know we got Air Force Ones for $10?” I bought all of them, didn't even know what I was going to do with them yet.
I let them sit for a week and I was like, “I'm gonna give them away to the people that buy hoodies, but I want them a specific color. I want them to be different.” So I went through a bunch of different samples, trying to get the color consistent. Then I did that ice blue. Something about it was interesting to me. They still look white,but this is actually a blue tint. Let's freeze this moment in time. I'm gonna give them away for free. Boom.
The glacier color is so Chicago.
Yeah, and that's how I was thinking too. I wanted to keep it Chicago. I want to give this to my supporters in Chicago. I love Air Force Ones, and for some reason, I always get picked to make custom Air Force Ones. Let me just keep this thing going—I'm just gonna give them away. It just took off from there.
Did you dip dye the denim jackets that Vic Lloyd included in his Adidas All-Star collection last year?
Yeah, and I had a lot of fun with that. I was very honored for him to reach out. When I was doing my blogging in high school, Vic was the first person I seen wearing streetwear brands from Chicago. I didn't know what streetwear was and Vic was the first person I've seen in Leaders. I asked my friend, “What is this? Why is he dressed like that? This is new.” He's like, “That’s Vic Lloyd, that's streetwear.” So to come back full circle and do something with him was amazing for me.
Do you generally choose your colorways based on season?
No, I'm very moody. So, it might be a coincidence but I just do what I want. I'm one of those people. I haven't dropped a collection. I always say people been seeing me sample up until my collection when I finally do one, now, I just do what I feel. And it works, weirdly.
You carried that Glacier colorway into your chain collab with Joey Torresomar. Can you talk about how that happened?
I buy jewelry a lot from him. He was like, “Have you ever thought about releasing some chains?” I hadn't but I was interested in doing something like that. So I just drew up something because I was super inspired. I was thinking again, just the glacier—adding to that. What if I made a bunch of things that people can collect over time to go with their shoes? What if I did a gradient Gucci link chain that look like it's freezing from water in the glacier colorway, all the way to white?
"I love Air Force Ones, and for some reason, I always get picked to make custom Air Force Ones. Let me just keep this thing going—I'm just gonna give them away. It just took off, just that intent just took off from there."
We have to talk about the Telfar. What inspired that?
It was a girl that I'm currently dating. She posted a Telfar bag in pink and she was like, “I really want this bag.” I was like, “I can't find this shit nowhere. I'ma just buy a white one since I know how to dye and I'ma do the pink colorway and give it to her like ‘Yo, this is a custom pink.’”
So, long story short, I found a white one, the big one and I bought it. But right after I bought it, I was like, this might be too early. I just met her—this might freak her out. Let me slow down. And once it came I was like, “I’ma ice it. I'ma make it blue, add it to the collection, this a one-of-one.”
How do you think your designs have evolved over time?
Where I'm at design-wise now is more intentional. I feel like I was doing a bunch of things just to see if I could do them in sampling. Now I'm getting back to me and telling my story and figuring out what I'm actually trying to communicate through textiles and garments. So I want to say it’s going to be more personal pieces, more stories. Telling my truth and my perspective through art and design.
How does your work speak to Chicago specifically?
That's something I never thought about because I feel like I already have that Chicago in me. My perspective and my life experience are from Chicago. So something is going to resonate with Chicago just by me living here. That's why I haven't left and am just designing from this environment, from the seasons changing, from even the Air Force Ones. I feel like that’s something that was a part of Chicago culture, that would never leave me. I will always love Air Force Ones. Just the colors I choose, even that blue is almost like the Chicago blue, the flag. It's certain stuff that's subconscious just by being here.
I love Chicago. I got family that’s not as fortunate as where I’ve been, that keeps me grounded, and also where I draw my inspiration from. Trying to solve those problems and give back to my community and where I come from. I don't want to get away from that ‘cause when I do, I just feel like I lose a little bit of me and my edge, the chip on my shoulder that make me work really hard. Chicago makes me work. I feel like I have something to prove. I have a certain standard to keep up for my city and I like that pressure.