Dark Horse BrandBlack Issue 55

Dark Horse

Photo by Phil Stockbridge

A swoosh, a Jumpman, and three stripes. These figures cast a colossal shadow on the athletic shoe market, leaving all other brands to scuffle for sales percentage scraps. That daunting trifecta would be enough to steer most away from launching a sneaker company, but not Brandblack founder David Raysse.

The French-born, NYC-bred entrepreneur has design in his blood (his parents both worked for iconic fashion house Kenzo). David’s early gigs included a stint at FILA, where he designed the Grant Hill 2, now known as the “’96,” along with the Stack 2, Jerry Stackhouse’s signature shoe. Moving on to adidas, he held it down as Co-Head of the Basketball Division, and then Skechers’ Performance Division, where he guided the brand to a marathon victory. But these experiences left David wanting more, seeking to leave his mark on the industry and do it on his own terms.

This desire inspired the formation of Brandblack. Raysse joined forces with Scott Nelson—an old comrade from the basketball courts of NYC, and an alum of Pervert, Stüssy, and Clientele—to handle apparel design. He also tapped Billy Dill, a streetwear pioneer of sorts, to serve as Creative Director.

The three men share the same vision: providing stylish athletic apparel and footwear for the aesthetically inclined athlete. The name itself, Brandblack, implies a sense of luxury and mystery, remaining masculine without any whiff of jock machismo. However, the challenges of focusing on basketball as the brand’s hook sport are enormous. “There’s a certain brand that owns about 95% of the market and the other 5% is split amongst whoever is left,” says Creative Director Billy Dill.

Although the industry is difficult to break into, the minds behind Brandblack have strategically planned long-term while the brand is still in its infancy. “What happens is you create a movement with core fans who really believe in what you’re doing. As that grows, you begin to have something,” says Dill. “We’ve approached this with longevity in mind and a real sort of purity to what we’re trying to do.”

The biggest obstacle to realizing their vision is the sneakerhead tendency to endlessly throw shade at the new kid on the block. If a shoe isn’t all over the blogosphere and there’s no hype surrounding a company’s kicks, it can be doomed even before the release date is announced. “You’re talking about sneakerheads who basically live by Jordan and Kobe,” says Raysse. “And everything else is garbage, as far as they’re concerned.”

Although the behemoths cast a giant shadow over the athletic industry, Brandblack has all hands on deck and they’re fixing to steal some shine from the big guys. After all, David Raysse has already proven that it’s possible to revolutionize the technical design of footwear while achieving commercial success. With the designer’s archive of excellence, heads should find themselves checking for Brandblack when they’re shopping for a fresh pair of kicks.

While they produce on a smaller scale than their competition, the brand has quickly distinguished itself with pristine quality of construction and performance. “It’s the only way we’re going to succeed,” says Raysse. “We had a lot of discussions about it. I think the actual key to this brand is that it’s a combination of function and fashion. So if the stuff doesn’t perform at a very high level, that’s just fashion.”

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