Shoemaker to the Stars Steps Into the Spotlight

SAN DIEGO ( TheStreet) -- Antonio Brown says he prefers to remain in the shadows.

But these days he's learning to walk the red carpet like a rock star.

And really, once you've walked a Los Angeles red carpet with a celebrity dangling from your arm, you might as well.

Brown is a 28-year-old fashion designer in the midst of launching a fashion empire. His goal is to eventually offer a one-stop luxury brand for men -- his LVL XIII (pronounced Level 13) -- selling everything from belts to wallets to jackets and clothing.

He's starting that empire by designing luxury sneakers so unique and stylish they're being snatched up by actors, athletes and rappers. Celebrities who've been spotted in Brown's pricey sneakers include model Tyson Beckford, rappers Nas and Jim Jones and actors Tracy Morgan, Jason Sudeikis, Chris Tucker and Tristan Wilds.

"When singer Jason Derulo wore my shoes on Good Morning America it was a wake-up call. It was an exciting moment. It really defined for me that I was moving in the right direction and that this was definitely a journey for me to take and not give up on," recalls Brown, fresh off the Los Angeles launch of the sneaker line where he walked the red carpet with Danity Kane singer Dawn Richard.

Brown has been making appearances on red carpets around the country lately to promote his sneakers. Before the glitzy Los Angeles party a few weeks ago at Hollywood's Supperclub, there was New York and Atlanta.

It's been rapid rise for the native New Yorker, who left his day job in corporate America as an accountant just a year ago to transition into fashion design.

LVL XIII sneakers cost between $500 and $600 a pair and are made of leather and exotic furs. There are 13 designs in Brown's sneaker collection, with names such as Levticus, Retribution, Spartacus and Dark Rising.

They're not so much an athletic shoe to be worn on the court as much as a fashion statement to be worn on the town. The Levticus design, for instance, is made of black pebbled snakeskin with suede panels and metallic upper straps. Retribution is a combination of black distressed leather and red embossed snakeskin. Spartacus includes natural fox hair, and the Dark Rising sneakers are made with black pony hair, black leather and gold studs.

"Luxury sneakers, especially for men, have really expanded from years ago," Brown says. "It used to be that just women were noted for what they were wearing. Now designer brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, a lot of these brands are releasing their own luxury sneakers for men."

Understanding the inspiration behind Brown's sneaker line, however, requires taking a few steps back.

Brown grew up loving fashion and amassing shoes. Even now, Brown estimates he owns at least 50 pairs of sneakers. That may not sound like a lot to women. But how many men do you know with 50 pairs of sneakers in their closet?

"I've always had a passion for sneakers, even when sneakers were just Jordans," Brown says.

He also would not think twice about dropping $1,200 on a pair of shoes.

Brown has no formal fashion training, but finds inspiration in the trend-setting designs of Alexander McQueen.

It may be that luxury sneakers for men are an idea whose time has truly arrived, as Brown suggests, thanks to well-known designers increasingly offering in their collections.

Brown is doing his part.

"So many times, I will be walking down the street and a female will stop me and say 'Oh my god, I love your shoes,'" he continues. "It's evident in our society how far men have come in terms of their fashion sense and style and in terms of what they are wearing on their feet. There was a time when men didn't care, and they looked at what women were wearing. But now females are looking at males the same way, and are expecting males to be nicely dressed."

Brown's sneaker designs are aimed at fashion-conscious men 18 to 35 who make more then $80,000 annually. They're available online through the LVL XIII website, and Brown has signed deals with boutiques such as Georgio's, which has stores in Atlanta, Miami and Houston.

He is in talks with other retailers to sell the shoes, has just added jewelry to his website and is in talks with E! Entertainment Television for a reality show about his business.

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