Designing a collection or designing a classic?

From when I was in school doing my Bsc in industrial design I was fascinated by design in which the engineering and the function were in equal balance.  In fact where the design was on the edge of “non-design” and the engineering was stretched to become foreign.  I first noticed this when an old boyfriend was looking to buy a motorcycle.  At the time fairings on a Japanese bike were it.  I wondered why as I looked at Harley Davidsons of the time circa late 89′ these were “naff”.  But when I looked at a 1909 Harley it was rather beautiful. But there was something about the idea of covering the guts of the bike with fairings that seemed not right.  Interestingly over the next couple years cafe racers were emerging as the IT bike but not Harley’s for the young hipsters.

1909 Harley

I think the reason is that we have an inherent need to understand things by looking at objects.  So it was ok that a classic Harley showed it’s “guts” as it was new at the time, made a lot of noise and was aggressive. So by showing us what it was made of it kind of demystified it and eased our minds whilst giving us a chance to explore it, learn it.

Bare with me a little longer I am getting there!


I also recently looked at some of the history of Olympic torches and in my opinion the London torch by Jay and Ed at Barber and Osgerby is fantastic.  See we had the need to separate out the parts to the torches historically because we kind of needed to understand  the workings of it. And while I am sure the current engineering of the mechanism of the London torch is probably so advanced we are no longer interested in understanding it.  We want the mystery and the gesture of primitive, iconic man running with flame.  We want poetry. This torch has a hierarchy of meaning. See in gross gesture the London torch is “man running with flame” but the three sides represent the landmark 3 times London has hosted the games, and the 8,000 perforations the 8,000 miles and people who carry it. The gross shape is also longer to elevate the flame especially since there is no change of material handle or heat protection ledge, the three sides keep it from rolling, and the perforations ventilate and cool the whole thing.  Maga thought gone into such a simple shape – respect your guys!


At the same time I am thinking about the absolute simplicity of the I phone with the attention to detail. Again iconic “man with wafer thin brick ti talk to and notepad to write on” but a treasure chest of mystery inside!

How do these designers do it and what does this has to do with Fashion.

Then I stumbled upon an article with Jonathen Ives…

He said: ‘I refute that design is important. Design is a prerequisite. Good design – innovation – is really hard.

‘Really great design is hard. Good is the enemy of great. Competent design is not too much of a stretch. But if you are trying to do something new, you have challenges on so many axes.

‘We say no to a lot of things that we want to do and are intrigued by so that we only work on a manageable amount of products and can invest an incredible amount of care on each of them.’

Read more:

So ok still bare with me… We have a bespoke mass produced iconic Olympic torch, a totally mass produced anonymous iconic (if that is possible) communication device. Then we turn to look at footwear… What is a classic? A brogue, stiletto? and why must we keep designing a brogue or a stiletto to make a classic. If we look at Converse why is this style still with us?  Is it “iconic” and why does the new takes on a classic seem to fall short of the mark?


Now we make the connection…How do we design a collection without just styling good designs not great designs?  Is the act of creating a collection in contrast to what it takes to create a great design?  Furniture designers create ranges but these items tend to have differing functions akin to a “range” of an I phone, mac powerbook and mac tower.

So in trying to expand a range I can’t help but feel I am creating a collections of good designs but not great.  Maybe it is just me, maybe it is the structure and nature of the fashion industry but I can’t help but feel elements of “fast fashion” creep into the design of any “range”.  Maybe it is just me as I have no answers but maybe it’s ok to think about these questions.

Flax material test…

flax shoe drawing idea

flax shoe drawing idea

Originally, was going to try to laminate up the flax fibres into the mould similar to the hemp fibres.  But as the hemp proved to not be working I had to  think in other ways.  Like the hemp, flax is used in composites for surfboards and bicycles.

flax fibre

Jess the CSM and LCF materials librarian showed me a bag made of flax.  The company Norafin produces the flax sheets in various thicknesses in either 100% flax or a combination of 65% flax and 35% viscous.

So Norafin kindly send me a selection of weight sheets to test.

from left 4 layers 100% flax moulded in one go after 2 days wrapped in inner tubes , 2 layers 100% flax wet laminate after 6 days wrapped in cloth mesh, 400 gsm flax and viscose combo 1 layer wrapped in cloth mesh

flax test

350 gsm with felt boot

350 gsm flax moulded

flax 350 gsm wetted and moulded then felt sock inserted

Acrodur was tested on the flax and flash heat in the oven several times…Again this was too high heat too fast and the result whilst strong was brittle.  The 100% flax absorbs the binder better and would need to be layered up and dried slowly over a period of time. The reaction again of passersby was that they wanted to touch the the moulded materials.



Hemp shoe material test…

Originally, I thought about using raw hemp stick which is the long, tough, coarse fiber of the cannabis plant, used to make cordage.

I through a bunch into my crude plaster test mould and added point shoe shellac and came up with a promising potential. But the feedback I go was the hemp looked a bit messy all tangled.  The problem was the messy tangles were what gave the hemp it’s strength.

hemp and shellac

I wanted to layer the hemp up in one direction and then cross the direction.  I layered up the hemp wet and let it dry around the one side of the last.  However, this whilst potential beautiful and a bit subversive was propbematic in the sense that the fibres even if place and proper moulds were hard to control.  Gravity pull these fibres down in clumps.  I tried holding it with PU glue but I was worried this would interfere with the resin application.

I also tried with dry hemp resined but found whilst strong it could thin in areas and these areas were weak.

hemp and resin

I revisited the information and realised I missed the matte suppliers of hemp.  These are the mattes Werner Aisslinger used with his hemp chair. The company J. DITTRICH & SÖHNE sent me a selection of hemp mattes, some pre preg with the acrodur.  This meant the mattes only needed to be moistened once delivered, however these mattes usually come with moisture still in and waterproof sealed.

So we created a rig to test the material of clay and ply

clay rig for testing moulding material

Then clapped the material through and pressed around the last

clamped clay rig for testing moulding material

The result was a surprisingly strong form

hemp matte pre preg moulded

hemp and acrodur

The design is to use the hemp shrouded around the felt sock

pre preg hemp matte 1450 and 3mm felt sock

pre preg hemp matte and 3mm felt sock

But this was just the start.  This matte is a combination of hemp and kenaf another natural fibre.  So I tested the 100% hemp and it moulded really nice.

100% hemp matte moulded with water and left to dry

100% hemp matte moulded with water and left to dry front

100% hemp matte moulded with water and left to dry back

See I want to mould in this way so working with the material is a challenge. J. DITTRICH & SÖHNE the material supply have been great, a designers dream.  These people are so helpful.  They contacted BASAF the acrodur suppliers and sought further advice for me. I emailed images of my test and they were not put off by the fact I am trying to recreate compression moulding and resin transfer moulding in a workshop, non industrial environment.  They picked up that my wall thickness should be less on the upper so suggested I use the 600 gsm weigh sheets but realised I will need thicker in the heel area and double checked I could fuse the two sheets together via heat and compression. They suggested with the consultation of BASAF to use a glove iron the heat thus curing the acrodur whilst on the form.

So the mould is for compression and once open and the material still around the last and the heel, insole blank I can run the iron over it.  Brilliant! They are so cleaver!

Then once pat cured I can further cure in the oven at anywhere over 160-200 degrees. The lower the tempature the longer curing time.

But that is not all…They recognised I will need to potentially add binder to stiffen the heel areas of stress and I can either spray or brush on the acrodur BEFORE it cures in stress areas.

In my test using the flash oven I realised two things…if any water is still in the fabric the binder bubbles and becomes brittle.  It really is using the sensitivity of a chef in these workshop conditions.

Thing I realised in this process were that for some reason people respond more to the 100% hemp moulding. The kenaf hemp combo is apparently 90% with a 10% polyester fibre.  I am not sure if it is that 10% which is somewhat of a deterrent, or the 100% of a natural material which seduces us with it’s elegance or if the thinness of the material moulded over the last is so seductive, but something is happening which makes this material notable for a passer by.