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If Cinderella had been a rock n roll rebel, who left the prince at the ball and went out to a club with Debbie Harry instead, she’d have worn Modern Vice. And she’d have stayed out way past midnight.
She’d have been in good company. Modern Vice shoes are rocked by Luke Hemmings (of 5 Seconds of Summer), Julia Cumming (of Sunflower Bean), and Natasha Lyonne (currently starring in Netflix’s Russian Doll).
And at the helm of this style empire, working from a small factory on W38th St – their office crammed with leather samples and shoe molds (and fielding calls from stylists and buyers as we talk) – are Jordan Adoni and his business partner Kenneth Wolk.
“My father had a very popular brand in the 70s and 80s called LJ Simone,” says Jordan. “We had a shoe factory in Queens, and a lot of famous people in the shoe industry worked there (Steve Madden started out as a salesman before launching his $2.6 billion company). My mother owned a shoe store in Long Island. And my uncle was also in the shoe business.”
So it’s fair to say that footwear is in his DNA. Wasn’t he ever tempted to say goodbye to the family game and do his own thing?
“Every day!” he says. “Every day! The shoe business is not easy. You do this business because you love it and because you have passion for it. You have a vision. It’s creative. You have very, very good days and great years and you have very, very tough times, but you do it because you love it. Shoes become an obsession.”
The vibe – the look and feel of the brand – is “a hundred percent rock n roll. It’s very inspired by rock music, house music, all the great bands and the people we listen to while we’re designing the shoes.
“I’m a deadhead,” Jordan says. “But we have the Bowie boot and the lightning bolt and we’re big into the 70s and 80s – Talking Heads, Debbie Harry, the Clash.”
Am I talking to a frustrated rock star?
“Nah,” he says … then adds: “I mean, I do play music. I DJ and I love doing that stuff. If I could have done that, I would do that. One hundred percent, if I could have been a rock star, I’d be a rock star.” And, a little like the best rock songs, “a lot of pain, and a lot of joy” goes into each pair of shoes. “But that’s what it is with love, you know?”
Many pairs are made to order, with customized finishes or colors; others are made in small batches, but all are created right here in New York City. “It’s part of our DNA to do it here,” he says.
“Right now we have anywhere from five to seven people working on uppers. Finishing the shoes, we have another five people. And all of them have been making shoes for 30, 40 years, so they’re masters at this.
“And because they’re made in small batches, there’s a lot less waste. We’re very careful with how we cut our materials and where we get them from. We make sure that it’s all legitimate good stuff that’s not destroying the environment.”
The factory is filled with craftspeople bent over their work – cutting leather, hammering and gluing soles, painstakingly hand-sewing on details. And while Jordan himself is currently wearing sneakers – “If I wear shoes, I wear Modern Vice. If I wear boots, I wear Modern Vice. If I wear sneakers, I wear Yeezy’s” – he believes everyone has a little bit of rock n roll in them.
“Our customer is someone who is free-spirited and open-minded, and accepts everybody for who they are. You’d be surprised if you sat here and saw the variety of customers. I have women who are 60, 70 years old. They’re attorneys, they’re well-traveled. They shop in France and Europe and they find out about Modern Vice and they’re obsessed.
“I have lawyers who wear the boots in the courtroom. They tell me they’re the most comfortable boots they have.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of W42ST magazine. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you join our daily newsletter at w42st.com.