As the founder and creative director of Courser, Johnny Kraljevich has found his footing fashioning the most gorgeous high-end luxury sneakers. Upscale Living magazine spoke to him about disrupting the shoe world with The Uno, and why white sneakers go with absolutely everything.
Johnny, tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up as the youngest of five kids in Detroit where my father owned a small tool and die shop that made gauges for the Big Three automotive companies. I spent summers helping out at the shop and every other moment I could on a basketball court. After art school, I found myself designing sneakers and working in fashion, so I moved to NYC.
Did you have an influence in your youth that shaped your career path?
My siblings influenced me a lot. They worked in fashion, played a professional sport, were creative, and had amazing taste in music. I became a jock who loved art and creativity. I wanted to make things. When I was 4 years old, I glued springs to the bottom of my shoes, hoping they’d make me jump higher.
You are a seasoned industry veteran, with over 25 years of experience and having worked with many high-end brands. What was behind your decision to become the Founder and Creative Director of Courser?
I have been fortunate to work for some prominent and influential brands. Some felt more of a fit than others, but I was always learning how to execute someone else’s brand vision. At a certain point, I began to feel the need to execute my own.
Everybody needs and wears shoes. What, in your opinion, sets Courser, which is still a young brand, apart from the rest, and how do you compete with the market?
Our concept and our method. We are taking technology and innovation from the performance world and merging it with the quality and craftsmanship of high-end fashion brands to enhance the luxury experience. It’s an evolving pursuit to make a unique product that provides a benefit and is more than the sum of its parts. It’s not easy to do and it focuses more on the product than the bottom line, so most brands take a different approach.
Sneakers have become incredibly popular and are no longer just shoes for casualwear, but even paired with evening attire. Why do you think that is?
You could argue comfort, but I think it’s more about familiarity. At this point, most of us grew up with certain iconic sneaker styles that are still relevant to this day. It’s our culture more than formal footwear. We understand sneakers better. They’re old friends.
What color sneaker, in your opinion is a great choice to go with everyday wear?
It’s hard to beat an all-white sneaker.
It seems as though the days are long gone when your shoes have to match the hem of your outfit. Did I miss that memo – when did all that take place and why?
I don’t think there are rules anymore. You dress according to your own personal philosophy and what makes you feel good. We’ve been living in the information age. Nothing is forgotten, trends cycle faster, and we see what people are wearing all around the world. Everything is in play. Go ahead and wear white after Labor Day.
Why are white sneakers so popular? My assumption is that they probably won’t stay clean for very long.
They are extremely versatile. I remember thinking brand new white sneakers out of the box were too bright and needed to be worn for a while, so it didn’t look like you just bought them. Now I go crazy when my son steps on my white Monos, which he thinks is hilarious and has turned into a game. He’s grounded, by the way.
Is there a fashion no-no when it comes to sneakers?
Honestly, I think that’s up to personal style. Across the board, no. Trends change. Fashion eats itself. The shoes we joked about 10, 15 years ago are now the most popular. Everyone has their own opinion. Figure out what you love and wear it with confidence. You’ll be alright.
How would a Courser client maximize wardrobe versatility?
Buy more Coursers, of course.
Handcrafted in Italy in small batches … does that mean exclusivity?
It means exclusivity, but it also speaks to the consideration of the product and the production. We’re not cranking out simple or mindless products to reach an economy of scale. We aim to be special, and we really do believe in “Buy better, buy less.”
Please tell us more about The Uno.
It almost killed me. The Uno is Courser’s proof of concept. It’s the answer to the questions we asked ourselves when we first conceptualized this brand. “What if we used the best, most innovative materials with the best factories and tried to make a luxury sneaker with true performance capabilities?” The Uno is the beginning of that pursuit, and we’re excited about what comes after it.
What is your most popular seller?
Right now, it’s a toss-up between the Women’s Uno White/Gold and the Men’s Uno White Mono.
Courser seems to have style and durability. What research goes into designing a shoe?
As little or as much as you want. Some brands don’t research. They buy a popular shoe and tell the factory to copy it. For the Uno, we did massive amounts of research to find the most innovative materials and components we could utilize and then spent the better part of 4 years developing and improving the design. We fit, wear test, stress test … we tweak the pattern and improve elements until we feel confident in the product we’re putting out into the world. Even then, if we can continue to improve the shoe or the customer’s experience, we will.
You launched the monochrome collection earlier this year. How has it been received?
It’s been received really well. The monos are a nice compliment to the Uno styles and have more of a mix of materials and finishing. The monochrome collection is more subtle and tonal, even the colorful ones. They’re more versatile and I believe reach a different type of Courser consumer than the originals.
What is next for Courser?
We are going to continue to push ourselves and our partners to innovate in the luxury space with performance-enhanced products that fit people’s lifestyles. We know we’re not for everyone. We consider ourselves a connoisseur brand. That allows us to think a little differently about how we approach our designs and how we want to be a part of people’s lives.
| Photo of Johnny Kraljevich by Josh Wald