We met at your show in Paris, March 3, 2014. Fast forward 8 years and you are spending the month of March at my studio as our first artist-in-residence. Although we've had many conversations since 2014, there are a few questions that I've always wanted to ask you...
What does being a classicist mean to you, do you consider yourself a classicist?
To me a classicist is someone who refers his preferences to standards that have manifested over time and have proven their relevance in terms of form and quality. I am definitely a classicist in that sense.
Agnes Martin famously said that she paints with her back to the world. How does this quote resonate for you and does it speak to your creative process? If so how?
This Agnes Martin quote always resonated for me after having read her highly inspirational writings. First on a very subconscious level, before realizing through the process of auto analysis that my work and creative process are evolving around archetypes. Painting with the back to the world means being in a state of mind unaffected by the fleeting and temporary tendencies of society. The ability to work without being influenced by anything else but our personal conviction. It also means cultivating resistance to nurture and maintain that state of mind. I aim for my creative process to be that way in order to always keep an objective view on form and to create things that are pure and "simple" in their form. And that with time the term "classic"or "iconic" may be applied to them.
A lot of designers have never been makers; you started your career as a maker of finely tailored clothing. How do you think this has impacted the way your career has manifested over the years? Do you think it's made you a better designer?
I think my tailoring apprenticeship was essential to my career and also encouraged that study of "the classic". I always wanted to know precisely how things are done. Tailoring and pattern cutting are extremely elaborate processes that have been standardized in the best possible way overtime. To study tailoring in a traditional way is learning about the art of "haute couture". Certain things can only be done in one possible way. There is no fantasy involved, just pure methodic process and learning the gestures to execute these methods in the most perfect manner. This kind of restriction always inspired me because I believe they can act as a base for constructing ideas that "make sense". Like graphic designers use grids, I always have to create my grid first before I design. I don't know if it made me a better designer; I work in a very specific way but there are many different ways that can also produce good results, but that not necessarily work for me. I designed my own system in which I can act free without restrictions.
Did you always want to design shoes, what lead you to make that shift? Did you ever think about returning to clothing?
I never initially thought about designing shoes, but I definitely always was obsessed with shoes. I started to collect vintage shoes and bags on markets I visited with my grandmother since I was 12 years old. That's also the age I started to sew my own garments. I feel like I have studied fashion my whole life. My first memory is about the dress I wore to my baptism when I was 1 year old. It was so uncomfortable and I remember clearly that sensation. I think I just have a very strong physical sensitivity about everything that interferes with my body. So yes, I can imagine to work with garments again. But I shifted to shoes because no other product in fashion can be as dense in meaning and attitude. But garments also inspire my ideas for shoes, since the two have to interact in the end.
Throughout your career as a shoe designer your design vernacular has been deeply rooted in material diversity often transforming industrial materials into high fashion. It's as if you think in terms of material first, design later.. can you speak to this?
This is also something that may be an influence from my tailoring apprenticeship where the material determines everything from the beginning. Material is one of my main sources of inspiration. Looking at a material immediately produces ideas about shape. You could also say that a material is a grid; it sets certain parameters within you can move. The beautiful thing with rubber is that you can actually create your own compound. Like making a pasta dough using the ingredients you like. For the iconic Bottega Veneta "Puddle boots" a bio degradable rubber was created especially for that product. This kind of inventive approach is something I really push in my work to modernize traditional shoe manufacturing. And I love industrial material because it is standardized and has a high recognizability. As humans we always look to find elements which are familiar to us and give us a certain comfort. The combination of innovative and new versus classic is one of the aesthetic pillars of my work.
If you could have dinner with any 6 people, living or dead, who would they be?
My father: He had a very artistic spirit which he was never able to express due to life circumstances. I would love to have an exchange about creativity and life with him.
My uncle: He recognized my talent from a very early stage. Unfortunately he also passed away at a very young age and I would love to be able to share with him what his encouragement created.
Steve Jobs: I admire Steve Jobs for his work and his avant-garde and unbound spirit which enabled him to create an empire
Vladimir Nabokov: In his unique sensitivity in writing I can find a part of myself.
Nikola Tesla: Because it seems that he had a very unique kind of visual thinking which I am very curious about. And shoes sometimes appear to be small machines.
Azadeh Shladovsky: Ongoing creative exchange is crucial for my work and development as a designer and person and I feel privileged to have the possibility of cultivating it with Azadeh.