As a former professional skateboarder, senior designer Scott Johnston has not only the experience required to design skate footwear, but the highly informed design muscle that speaks to both form and function.
Years of designing and concepting skate-focused sneakers has given him an innate understanding of how to bring ideas to fruition. That synergy is central to his role in working with Dennis Busentiz. Busenitz is a tinkerer, known for taking a hands-on approach to his samples to see what makes them tick—even measuring piping to assure symmetry.
“It’s intense how close he is to the process,” Johnston says. “He’ll cut a shoe in half with a bandsaw and send back hand-drawn sketches with notes. To pass his test is a challenge.”
The conversation for his latest model began with Busentiz’ feedback and ideas, rather than the reimagining of a prior shoe. This is key in understanding how his silhouettes go from sketch to shelf. For this signature shoe, the aesthetics were driven by functionality. There’s a purposefulness to each design element, with feel, grip, durability, and support informs what the shoe actually looks like. The most obvious example is the omission of the Three-Stripe branding on the upper. It speaks to both the minimalism of the design, making it deceptively simple.
“The shape—the actual silhouette—is recognizable now,” says Johnston. “We aren’t altering that, but rather filling it in with new details, based on Dennis’ direction.”
In order to re-energize and celebrate the franchise, they quickly checked off the boxes of what would stay the same—namely the sole tooling—derived from an archival model Spezial, manifested as a rubber cup sole. For the upper, Johnston mentions that they worked to “knock it down to two pieces of suede that grab, but also hide, the seams.” This was achieved with the winged ‘cat’ tongue (a feature never before employed in the line), as well as utilizing a flexible pig suede.
To the layman, the design and sampling process is baffling, specifically the translation of a rendering or even a simple 2D drawing, into a physical object. Johnston likens the process to skateboarding itself, in that you’re always looking to hone your craft and your actual ability and level of comfort allows that progression to shine through. Still, he says, he’ll always revert to actually taping up a shoe during the design process to aid his drawing.
“When you have that 3D mask, you can draw on it and rotate it,” he explains. “You can actually see how the collar connects and how the details align.”
One of the more interesting features that revealed was the collar features. Reverting back to the concept of ‘addition by subtraction’, they worked together to reduce the bulk of the collar, while providing the support that skateboarding, and Busenitz himself, demands. The tongue is constructed with a soft neoprene, rather than traditional leather, to show a modernized aesthetic while still retaining its shape and offering a different feel.
The cat tongue inspired liner is another new feature, that provides a directional fit and offers a unique “heel grab that locks,” a nod to the shoe’s soccer heritage and foot sports roots. Johnson mentions that this last point is telling of the shift in skateboarding footwear in the early ‘90s. Many started digging around for deadstock footwear, specifical Sambas, Gazelles, or other soccer related silhouettes, quickly realizing that shoes designed specifically with the foot in mind offered performance that directly connected with skateboarders.
“The brand has so much heritage and immense archives,” he says. “So much has been done and innovated, that you can just look within for inspiration. You design something new and it feels like learning a new trick. When people actually get the shoe and appreciate the attention that goes into details, it really solidifies it.”
Aside from the new elements in what Johnston refers to as the “Stan Smith of skateboarding,” one other factor stands out and remains a constant in creating any Dennis Busenitz product.
“In all honesty, Dennis really cares about the customer,” he says. “He never loses sight of that and designs a shoe for the average kid, because he’s just designing for himself—he’s that picky.”