Sneaker review: Bon Iver’s ‘Ramos’ shoe by Keep

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One’s choice of footware, like music, is something we all share, but will never agree on. Melodies hit some people’s eardrums one way and it gives them pleasure, while those same frequencies, emitted, say, by a rugged Wisconsinite with a high falsetto and a ragged beard can cause others great disappointment or discomfort.

No two sneakers fit the same person the same way. What looks good on Rusty looks a little frou-frou on Randy. What Bonnie wears would look silly at the end of Emma’s long legs. And Bon Iver’s first pair of shoes, designed for the Keep shoe company in its Ramos style, while at times overflowing with universal grace, are an uneven attempt, hindered not only by a young upstart Justin Vernon’s challenged aesthetic, but by a central flaw that renders the rest of the design unworkable.


According to legend that floated in through an open window this morning, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon set out to work on his first shoe at an off-the-grid, rumored-to-be-mystical cobbler’s shop on Staten Island, N.Y., deciding first that the color salmon embodied the emotions he was feeling, unaware that a world away in the downtown New York style scene, shoe fashionistas had declared salmon as the new brown mere hours before. It was around dinner time, and the shop was located in the same block as Ruddy and Dean steakhouse, which was having a fish special. Vernon set out to capture the moment.

The first thing you notice about Vernon’s Ramos is the herringbone trim, which is a humble nod to the jacket the singer wore to the Grammy Awards in March and fits in with the shoe’s central themes. While everyone else at the ceremony was dressed in their flashiest rock star best, Vernon looked like a farmer applying for a bank loan in his beige wool jacket and blue tie. That tone is woven through the herringbone, and within it a world of emotional subtext.

That message is embodied within the salmon tone of the canvas uppers, which strive to capture the very essence of relaxed strolling -- of deciding to head into the forest on a whim just because. Vernon’s choice of shoelaces, it should be mentioned, will surely rile traditionalists. They’re black. And the herringbone is brown. Black mixed with brown -- something only a Midwesterner would attempt. This is a novice’s mistake.

And then there’s the bone. Yes, the fish bone that covers the entire toe, and makes it look as though you’re a messy grizzly bear without the manners or wherewithal to clean up after yourself. Who, it must be asked, walks around with fishbones on their toes? Fishermen? No right-minded man would take a single step without kicking that carcass back into the lake.

But, then, no right-minded man would go fishing in these, not even to get from the parking lot to the boat. They’re salmon, and they’ll get dirty. So you wear them when you drive into town on Saturday night. Perhaps, but, well, there are fish carcasses on your feet, and the minute you march into the bar you’ll be pegged as a folkie by the cowboy-booted drunks.

Vernon, who is currently working on a new style of galoshes that he believes will add ‘a little pizazz’ to morning wades through Wisconsin mud, should be admired for his first attempt at a shoe -- even if they’re nowhere near as experimental as No Age’s Ed Templeton-designed sneakers for Emerica. And set alongside Kanye West’s new NIke Air Yeezy 2, which came out on Saturday, well, the differences are obvious. West’s are brash. Vernon’s are pink.

Someone’s going to need a little help getting the word out if Bon Iver’s shoes are to be a success. If Vernon’s lucky, West will give the Bon Iver Keep shoes a co-sign by wearing them to his Air Yeezy 2 appearances.


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-- Randall Roberts Twitter: @liledit