Fashion

Golden Goose Is Hard to Define, and They Like It That Way

A dispatch from a floating skate park in Venice, Italy with the brand that makes your favorite deliberately distressed sneakers.
IMAGE GOLDEN GOOSE

Venice, Italy is not the first place you’d think of for staging a skateboarding event. What dry ground there is consists of narrow, snaking lanes thronged (once again) with tourists from dawn to aperitivo in search of happy meals and fridge magnets. But a couple of weeks back, courtesy of Italian brand Golden Goose, I was in Venice for a skateboard party and one with a major difference.

On an almost cloudless, early September evening, a giant barge dropped anchor opposite St Mark’s Square. On it perched a modular, full-size purpose-built skate bowl. The guest of honor, amongst the GG-clad skaters ferried in from Italy and other parts of Europe, was San Diego native Cory Juneau, 22, bronze medal-winner in the inaugural Olympic skate competition in Tokyo back in August. Fittingly, Juneau had worn Golden Goose for his debut medal-winning bid. Billed as the climax of a Summer campaign called from Venice to Venice, the event brought a slice of California, via Tokyo, to La Serenissima. Guests downed Champagne on the decks around the bowl and crouched to nail iPhone shots of Juneau and pals mid-air with the unmistakable skyline of Venice shimmering in the sunset beneath their hovering boards.

It’s a relatively easy thing to track the growth of Golden Goose, from its early beginnings in 2000. The brand got its start in the Veneto region and it is still based there, in the town of Marghera. But it quickly built a following in multiple markets for its pricey but deliberately effed-up sneakers. Somehow, an unlikely blend of fashion luxury and anti-fashion cool, with an early and prescient whiff of vintage, struck a chord. It earned the brand a reputation across multiple markets. But it wasn’t until 2015 that the scale really started to ramp up.

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Much of Golden Goose’s explosion in the past five or six years can be credited to the infectiously positive energy of Silvio Campara, the brand’s CEO since 2018. Campara rose to the top after a stint as the brand’s Commercial Director. His first fashion job however—on graduating from Milan’s prestigious Luigi Bocconi University—was as a salesperson in the iconic Alexander McQueen boutique on a prominent corner in the Quadrilatero della Moda, the epicenter of Milan’s fashion retail scene. The space is now Golden Goose’s latest Milan flagship. It opened at the beginning of September. Though in its new guise it is much transformed, in a nod to its past—and his own—Campara kept the staircase to the basement just as it was in the McQueen years, marking it with a small golden plaque on the top step dedicated to Lee McQueen himself. “I must have run up and down those stairs a thousand times” he says.

At deliberate odds with the prevailing market view that brick and mortar stores are either dead (or soon will be), actual stores are central to Campara’s MO. In fact, he can’t get enough of them. By year’s end there will be 37 in the U.S. alone, each with multiple opportunities for customer experience front and center. It’s all about how you juggle the square footage. “The entire Golden collection is only eighty-seven pieces. Our sneakers make ninety percent of our revenue but only take up 15% of the retail space.” All of which gives Golden Goose plenty of wiggle room to amplify the user experience.

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Bits and bobs for personalizing your Golden Goose sneakers.

Photo by Golden Goose.

And there’s a lot of it. There’s Golden TV, the new Milan and Beijing store concept. It features a permanently rigged video camera set up for customers to record, well, whatever they please, and upload it into the GG-sphere. Much wall space, meanwhile, normally given over to racks of clothing is given over to giant interactive screens showing Golden TV instead of product. But pride of place goes to the personalization process for sneakers. In what GG calls its Lab, for an additional sum, you can pick and choose from a roster of laces, beads, tapes, badges, patches, metal doohickeys. You can also write all over yours as well with marker pen. A wall of tumble dryers on prominent display look onto work desks fitted with riveters, buffers and sanding machines to futz with them and mess them up still further should they still look just a little too pristine.

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The personalization Lab in the Milan flagship.

Photo by Golden Goose.

Alongside the sneakers are collections of clothing, each with different touch points. None of them are enormous. On one end there’s the Star collection—relatively accessibly priced sportswear and sneakers with a clean sporty aesthetic and Golden Goose’s emblem—a star minus one of its five points—to signify for the brand that nothing good is ever entirely perfect or complete. But at the other end are customized, one-off leather biker jackets costing thousands of Euros and up. In the middle there’s the newly minted Golden Collection, a core of high-end separates which mixes classic and simple pieces, with a refusal to be boxed into any conventional definition. Instead of total looks, the line is based on covetable pieces you can dress up or down according to your mood—an apparently moth-eaten cashmere sweater, a navy, ankle-grazing swagger coat with gold buttons, oxford cotton button downs, tailored shorts. And, of course, those sneakers. But as a result, against all conventional fashion logic, Golden Goose manages to appeal equally to skater kids like Cory Juneau, grown-up party animals and chichi moms, none of whom seem unduly phased by the others’ presence. Part of that formula means having subtle differences in the Golden Goose selection you can buy in different places, like on Farfetch, Nordstrom or the brand’s own stores. Connecting to the customer, for Campara, is everything.

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“You know, with high fashion, the ego of the designer can sometimes get in-between the customer and the product,” he says. “For us it’s all about getting to the product itself. When we started, it was a huge work to imagine sneakers made with the same hand-made attention to detail of formal shoes. It takes four and a half hours for us to make a pair of sneakers; at other sneaker brands, it takes ten minutes and they do it with robots. So, it’s a huge, amount of material research to develop and protect our craftsmanship.”

The sneaker wall at Golden TV Golden Goose’s Milan flagship store.

Photo by Golden Goose.

Success and recognition has brought the brand the wherewithal to create state-of-the art offices—a new Milan HQ—in a fast-developing area of Milan’s suburbs, once a post-industrial wasteland but now being developed to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. The Marelli 10 building, opened a few months ago, just down the road from Bottega Veneta and round the corner from the Fondazione Prada, is lavish in execution and planned out to the nth degree. The offices are modern and minimal, in black and grey (but with liberal helpings of—you guessed it—gold). But they are playful, too. Up top, a rooftop outdoor relaxation space is kitted out with gold swings and benches. On the same floor, an indoor hydroponic garden grows herbs and salad leaves for the restaurant next door catered in conjunction with the triple Michelin starred da Vittorio, where staff eat daily for free.

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The showroom at Golden Goose’s Marelli 10 Headquarters in Milan.

Photo by Golden Goose.

If it’s oddly tricky to define Golden Goose, that may be because while it’s clearly a 21st-century creature, there’s also something refreshingly old-school about it. Focus on customer and product? Who’d have thought it? And just as he has his own distinct view on the purpose of his stores as places of entertainment and inspiration rather than simply being shops, Campara is not fully sold on the current mantras of fashion marketing: hype, drops, collabs, even fashion shows. Instead, for him, the moments where Golden Goose best communicates its message are the one-off events that transcend clothing to ambitious but accessible cultural moments—like, say, floating a skate park across the lagoon of Venice. “I don’t have anything against runway shows per se,” he says. “I understand them of course. When you come from the past, you have to elevate and evolve it so it makes sense for many brands to use shows. But if you come from the future like Golden Goose, there’s no need to go to the past. As a company we are very young. Ok I'm not, but 70% of the staff here are millennials and 18 percent are Gen Z. The opportunity we have is to really grow with our customers.”

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Evolving from a niche brand to household name without losing sight of your original identity takes a combination of vision and a rock-solid point of view. “We are not fashionistas, we are icon makers,” says Campara. “The most important thing, if you really want something to become an icon, is to spend a lot of time researching. The only thing I can do is to be consistent and believe in it. The people will make it an icon because they love it and they are wearing it every day.”

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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About The Author
Nick Sullivan
Nick Sullivan is Creative Director at Esquire, where he served as Fashion Director from 2004 until 2019. Prior to that, he relocated from London with his young family to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He has styled and art directed countless fashion and cover stories for both Esquire and Big Black Book (which he helped found in 2006) in exotic, uncomfortable, and occasionally unfeasibly cold locations. He also writes extensively about men's style, accessories, and watches. He describes his style as elegantly disheveled.
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