The Materiality of Luxury…

“Luxury is not consumerism. It is educating the eyes to see that special quality.” -Louboutin

Yesterday I received in the post samples of Hemp fibre sheets.  Fascinating stuff, all natural composites. These fibres sheets come from the German company J. Dittrich & Söhne Vliesstoffwerk GmbH.  I intend to form these sheets into the shoe structure and fit the wool felt sock inside.  I will explore the “soft hard” combo as I did in the felt shoes and add the Acrodur binder (resin substitute) to the structural parts.

On Monday this week I received my wool felt from Daimer. Wednesday further treats arrived with the Durapulp from Sodra (paper pulp), and Flax sheets from Norafin.

But these intriguing “industrial” materials raise a big issue such as boundaries of acceptable “luxury” materials.  We can now have “plastic” jewellery, heals and accessories but throw a natural, industrial composite and are we creating the equivalent to a burlap dress!?!

Left Norafin flax, Right J. Dittrich hemp matte, below Sodra paper pulp and centre Daimer wool felt all non woven

But is everything a bit back to front right now?  Cashmere from The GAP, plastic shoes from Gucci,

The shoes were designed by Frida Giannini and includes a range of ballet flats and sneakers molded from bio-plastic. The biodegradable material is sourced from compost, and is both durable and flexible. 2012

not to forget just about every major fashion brand is manufacturing in China, often at the same factories as mid level high street brands.  I think we have come to a point where there are way more factors than exclusivity by a limited material resources and hand craftsmanship to define Luxury. Kind of similar to the fact that money is no longer a direct representative to gold! Luxury for the big fashion brands is all about perception.

So with the big Brands changing perception of “luxury” especially in regards to materials  is there scope to do my favourite thing by subverting the expected norm? Remember I didn’t change the rules but I am sure going to enjoy playing with them!

I think globalisation, Brand marketing and fast fashion had us fooled for a while when we were so desperate to “own a piece of the brands” to give us an identity, a tribe, a community.  Then media exposure, internet transparency and social media demystified this and now a new emerging factor is pushing into the “definition” of luxury items and materials. Maybe luxury and sophistication is more about how things work in our lives.  There was a time when we used the properties and characteristics of materials to make our wears function better emotionally and in practical terms. Lucy Seigal writes in her book “To Die for” of how we have lost the ability to distinguish one material form another and how this has lead to a degrading of the qualities of the materials in our wardrobes.

But something else has happened since our new century began.  One of the hottest, refined must have personal items is you guessed it the Apple I Phone.  In fact this “product” works so well we take it for granted.  Plus the style is anonymous and goes with everything.  What happened is it’s presence has blended into our perception of what quality design is.  And as mentioned before fashion is all about perception.

So our “products” because fashion items or vice versa?  How do we define the pleasure of the smoothness of the interface on our Apple products? And how does this experiential usage influence our expectation in the qualities of Luxury items? I give people credit and once they have lived with great product design functions it alters their own definition of luxury.  At this same time we are in an age of questioning authority. We no longer trust our polititians, our bankers, we google our health concerns instead of taking verbatim everything our doctors tell us, and this includes the marketing of big fashion brands.

Apple retail structure has been so successful big fashion houses such as Prada are modelling themselves on it.  Apple can do this because they do have a good product and are leaders in innovation.

So how does this relate to our definition of “Luxury” materials?  Good news it means if it feels good and functions well in use and in relation to our wider community it is, Bingo!, luxury.

A review of the book Trading Up by Silverstein and Fiske covering the analysis of the changing luxury market  is interesting….

…merchants never underestimate their customer; they shatter the price-volume demand curve; they create a ladder of genuine benefits (i.e. technical, functional, and emotional benefits); they escalate innovation, elevate quality, and deliver a flawless experience; they extend the price range and positioning of the brand; they customize the customer’s value chain to deliver on the benefit ladder; they use influence marketing to “seed” success through brand apostles (i.e. “evangelism”); and finally, they continually attack the category like an outsider. What Silverstein and Fiske offer in this volume is a rigorous analysis of those companies which continue to be most successful in the New Luxury economy. They also explain in detail precisely HOW they achieve such success.

So back to using “non” luxury materials?  Yes I believe if you can offer the owner of footwear something innovate, forward and unique, based on a functional premise you can like Apple put the technology (materials in this case) out there to the market and consumers will change their behaviour and perception to accept previously deemed industrial materials into a luxury context.

Everything changes we just need to educate the eye on these special qualities….

Inspiring artist…Paul Squire

As a designer we are surrounded by creative people and it is in those relationships we have with people’s work we evolve our own selves.  In the posts I often mention other’s work but it is how I relate to their works which progresses my own.  There isn’t really a place to list some of the people who have made me stop and think in a more general sort of way.  So this post…

I have written about “iconic” design in objects. Why this area interest me so is that I believe it is through what we create as people we try to make sense of our relationship with the world.  Art is a way of communicating those things we can’t put into words.  Art captures something. At least that is what great art is to me. And the “rules” of what is contemporary art fall aside and really for deep longevity it needs something, well long lasting, something with relevance and meaning.

One artist who’s work does this for me is Paul Squire.

at the core - Paul Squire

at the core – Paul Squire

These images capture to me something about our times in such a penetrating way.  The images linger in meaning remaining fresh long after the first viewing.  His work to me seems to be an investigation to visualise the micro and macro “stuff” around us.  In a dream like way it leaves us to wonder.

atomic - Paul Squire

atomic – Paul Squire

My work is based on what happens when we manipulate natural materials and in doing so I feel the outcome of my work needs to be rather man-made in the forms I choose to use.  Maybe because it is the ideas which explore organic subjects. I think that is why I am drawn to Mr. Squire’s work because it is right that the visualisations in this conceptual stage are so fluid. And that is why I need to be surround by this in the thinking stages.

I guess my need to keep the 3D form outcome structured is because the objects we create are the second stage of the thinking that is much closer to our rational mind. We can never mimic nature with justice.  That is why a marble statue to me is regal whist a painted statue is cheap in some way.  I feel we need to respect we are man and we are part of nature but we have this brain which provides reflection and that means at points of analysis we are separate from our instinctual self.

bridge - Paul Squire

bridge – Paul Squire

Without getting too heavy I guess this is what Aldous Huxley wrote about in The Human Situation. But when it comes to 2D work, imagery it can be rich, fluid and emotive. because it is there where we find our inward relationship with the world around us.

union - Paul Squire

union – Paul Squire

The Construction…proposed

Using natural non wovens generally means sourcing sheet material. Mainly because it is very difficult to compress or tangle the non wovens into a uniform material without the use if industrial machines.  And since we are past the age of injection moulding and on the edge of a digital printable material, sheet material seems well, a bit “flat”. So in the design we need to express this “flatness” to our advantage. And “flat” material is used in conventional footwear so to use these natural materials as leather shoes are made seems inappropriate. So carrying on from the hollow heel/sole of the previous felt shoes in which the flat material becomes the structure seems right.

over lasted felt with hollow sole, the lasting is the structure photo: Panos Damaskinidis

As designers we often work intuitively and then later analyse why we have done something a certain way. I still can not clearly put into words why this hollow structure is intriguing. It has something to do do with the decorative upper becoming the structure of the heel. It is about simplicity maybe not in construction but to the eye and mind. And I guess that is what we do as designers.  We are the bridge between the engineering and people to hopefully make poetic artefacts.

So  evolving on there are some practical concerns about using various non wovens.  Some are rough next to the skin so came the idea of using a felt sock or bootie which is resined on the sole to form the insole structure. Then side walls are over lasted and wrapped around, undercut under the insole area to form a ledge that the bootie rest on.  The bootie is slipped in to this “over lasted shell”.

…explode view felt sock centre with resined sole and moulded sides with ledge that the resin sole sit on.

hemp sides, insert sock resined, sits on feather line ledge

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.

Utopian world without the stuff that makes the stuff we use!

The problem is that although I believe the analysis of the situation being basically we have this technology of rapid prototyping which is the “great white hope” of a seamless world where we can avoid the clanking of heavy machinery, glues, plastics and bonding of  components together to form our shoes.  Where we avoid the packing, packaging, storing, transporting, fuelling and then on the other side storing, heating the stores, and the list goes on…What a wonderful utopia of a world without the stuff that makes the stuff we use!

But there is the one problem… this technology is not quite there yet particually in the availability of the natural materials we love under our soles, next to skin and between our toes.  It never ceases to amaze me that one of the most sensitive parts of our body, our feet, is also one of the parts of out body which takes a pounding.

I started this MA wanting to make rapid manufactured shoes.  I am not young and when I was a girl my father who was, in his youth, a tool and die maker, then a fighter pilot and for the bulk of his working life an aeronautical engineer spoke often that in my lifetime we would have consumer products coming out whole, perfect with out finishing. And I believed it!  It was part of my upbringing – I took it for granted, a given.  But when I learned of RP what a disappointment to realise we could not have the soft stuff.

Technology is evolutionary. And for it to work it needs to be driven by human needs.  And we are funny emotional creatures.  If you research the history of the gramophone for example Edison developed a playing device that looked like this.

Edison phonograph cylinder shape

The noise holder or “record” was a cylinder shape, hard to store and no place to highlight the artist in the packaging.

Emile Berliner with phonograph – a flat disc which could be stored and artist was important.

Then Berliner created the gramophone which used a flat disc being easy to store like a book and the artist and artwork was premier. Well we know which won out. See the gramophone took into account human emotional needs.  And that is exactly what I am saying is missing with the technology of rapid prototyping or manufacturing in the application to footwear.

Why do so many designers experimenting with RP use leather next to the foot?  Just google it and you will see. And for those who do not, does the lack of soft stuff next to our feet somehow lessen the value of the shoes even of the cost is still high?

So The problem with what I can do as a designer on a project like this for the MA is I am not an inventor of means and resources. I am a small cog in the big evolution of technological advancement in products particularly with footwear.  So the biggest thing I want to start scratching the surface is to highlight natural material options and to consider how these materials could be applied to footwear in modern ways.

Today we have Eco issues to consider and whilst it would be an insult to try to consider these issue in a project such as this one, I want to consider other disciplines where the exploration of natural materials are being used.  One of these area are in the application of natural fibres in bike frames.

hemp composite used in bike joins

Hemp composte on bike joint

And if it is strong enough for a bike the stresses of a high shoe are achievable.

These designers, inventors and mechanics are questioning the use of low tech verse high technologies. This stuff is easy to find in research.  It has the benefits of local verses global as it is the stuff of “shop” work. There is something intriguing to me about these eco naturalist warriors carving their own future their way by the means they have. Were self sufficient. So as RP potential matures we are seeing an emergence of low tech natural stuff.  How can this mix!

One natural material being tested wit RP is coconut.

R&D Coconut material for Rapid Protoyping

But I ask the question – at what point does the natural material lose it’s material qualities which touch our human emotions.

The wonderful Rob Thompson the product designer and materialologist (if that is a word) discusses these issues in his TED talk.  Please have a look it is so worth it!

I guess in my own way I am still raising the questions in this project.  My skill levels limit how I can address these things but I am sure of three things…

I can design some nice forms

I can research what is happening out there to a respectable, useful level

And I can think about connections, associations and applications – I can analyse!

So let’s get started….on a limited budget and timescale!

Major Project Proposal….

natural materials materialologist

Overview and introduction
The aim of this major project is to rethink how we can use natural materials in innovative ways and to showcase how beautiful these materials can be when applied to a footwear collection. I believe true innovation in footwear will come from biological development of materials and processes. My Unit 1 and 2 structures were feasible because of the properties of natural keratins in the wool. These tangled tubes soaked up the resin and created a bonded structure, which was strong and also elastic thus preventing cracking.

The project is to explore a selection of natural materials and develop low-tech construction methods using higher tech data communications. Mainly, one raw, natural colour material will be used per pair of shoes. The collection will be held together by using a similar design form applied to each pair of shoes in a differing material. By using a similar “design” the focus will be kept on the materials. This unconventional approach to the design of a collection is risky, but will produce an original challenge as it is in contrast to current collection unifying semantic codifiers, colour and materials. Where appropriate the soft/ hard combination structure used in Unit 1 and 2 will be applied.

Potentially new footwear constructions will result in this project because of the different use of natural materials in application to footwear. The collection is intended as research consultation work for the footwear design industry and could be used as advertising and PR.

What inspired the concept?
One of the BBC predicted trends for 2012 was the fast growth of rapid prototyping mainly in the area of laser sintering of consumer products. ( In this utopian vision consumers, after a £1200 investment in a home 3-D printer (the cube image below from site, can go online and buy downloadable files to make consumer goods at home. The great thing about this technology is that it enables a move to demand and supply for ready to wear fashion footwear. Rapid prototyping (RP) was pioneered in the early 1980’s, a time when the appeal of synthetic plastic materials was full of hope. RP is an additive process meaning waste material is greatly reduced. The development of the process was based on another additive process using synthetic thermoplastics, injection moulding. Having experience in the product and furniture industries dating back to the late 1980’s has given me time to understand not only the cost factors of why rapid prototyping is not already in our lives, but the human factors which may be delaying the manufacturing of these visionary production processes. It is the right technology for our times but the material is less desirable.

Innovation reflects our relationship with nature. For example, those who remember the horrors of cholera viewed the advent of pesticides as a great invention, a saviour, and along with this synthetic materials such as petroleum based plastics signified man’s triumph over disease, the shinier more synthetic the better. We owned plastic materials with liberation; and the world was lighter, fresher for this. Forward twenty-five, thirty years, to a new generation we see even the material name of “plastic” become slang for being artificial in one’s personality or cheap.

Today scientists are currently investigating the use of macromolecules to redefine potentially new and more robust natural polymers, which were first used in the earlier part of the 20th century, in the materials such as Bakelite and rubber. There are a growing group of scientists and designers rethinking and revisiting pre-oil based materials to see if from this starting point and we might create products more in harmony with the natural world around us. (

The Dutch based company Studio Formafantasma have been exploring the use of pre-oil based polymers in their collection Botanica, “Commissioned by Plart, an Italian Foundation dedicated to the scientific research and technological innovation in the recovery, restoration and conservation of works of art and design produced in plastic. The objects displayed in the Botanica collection are designed as if historians, Studio FormaFantasma investigated the pre-Bakelite period, discovering unexpected textures, feelings and technical possibilities offered by natural polymers extracted from plants or animal derivatives. The designers researched and hunted for information, digging into the 18th and 19th centuries, when scientist began experimenting draining plants and animals in search for plasticity.”

All images from website – above is shellac and sawdust and below the collection including Rosin, dammar, copal, natural rubber, shellac and bois durci a 19th century material composed of wood dust and animal blood

In a similar, maybe less sophisticated method to the work of Studio Formafantasma Israeli designer maker Yoav Avinoam’s Shavings furniture collection is experimenting with water based resins and sawdust and wood dust. Sawdust is combined with resin and placed in molds in order to create shapes that he then uses to make furniture. (Image and info

Closer to home at Central St. Martin’s Suzanne Lee has been growing her own material. The “kombocha” like stuff is fermented in bathtubs under a specific temperature. Then after a couple weeks is removed, dried out and used as leather. It can be conventionally stitched together. It dyes in one dip. Information and images ( Images below – mixture in the fermenting stage and on this page left – Suzanne’s material constructed in natural material, right – dip dyed once. I was hoping to collaborate with Suzanne on this project but it seems she is in talks with industry that want to develop her work. Proof that the this low tech biological approach has merit and is worth investment.

For footwear it would be ideal characteristics of a natural material without an additive so the support would be structural and the part surrounding the foot would be soft.

Canada is producing some innovative artist and designers. Molo design stumbled upon and developed solid felt rocks. “Felt rocks are formed by chance in the industrial manufacturing of large felt polishing wheels. These curious objects are a perfect medium for sharing the story of how felt is made – each wool fibre, a tiny hollow tube with burred sides, curls and entangles in the felting process, forming a strong bond without glues or binders.” (image, info )

In Vancouver the artist Deborah Loxam-Kohl has developed a 3-D felting machine. Although currently the material alone is not structural enough for shoes the machine can create molded shapes as in her Sound of Silence instillation. (Image and information

In the work of Werner Aisslinger Hemp chair we see further exploration into a refined modern treatment of natural materials. “The *hemp chair* has been designed for a lightweight manufacturing process stemming from the car industry: the renewable raw materials hemp and kenaf are compressed with a water-based thermoset binder to form an eco-friendly, lightweight and yet strong composite. The sustainable sheet material of the *hemp chair* allows the use of more than 70% natural fibers in combination with BASF’s water-based acrylic resin Acrodur. Unlike with classic reactive resins, this method releases no organic substances such as phenol or formaldehyde during the cross-linking process. The only by-product of the curing procedure is water. Furthermore, the industrial process of compression molding accounts for low-cost mass production of three-dimensional objects with high mechanical resistance and very low specific weight.”
Images left are of the material, the chairs and Werner showing how light the material is. (

On a personal level I feel the need to play with materials so I can understand the properties and characteristics of a material. Maybe this is only my limitation but I think we might on mass feel the need to understand our world and the materials, which surround us. So this projects aim is not sustainability although that might be a by-product of the project but really the focus is on a more cognitive clarity of the materials we use in unexpected ways. Below is an image of a piece by the furniture designer Tanya Aguiniga and I think it communicates our curiosity on the subject. (Image

Rational for the contextualisation of the project in market terms
The way the current fashion industry is set up is that eastern manufacturers rely on low labour cost. The west cannot compete in this area. Understanding trends in culture and applying these to innovation is where we can lead.

Below is a story recently viral on social media. The cape was created by 1.5 million golden orb female spiders who had to be collected each day in Madagascar, harnessed (as they have cannibalistic tendencies!) and “milked” of their exceeded silk to create the world largest piece of woven silk garment from this type of spider. The colour is the natural colour of the silk excreted. What is so interesting about the artefact is not the amazing man and spider hours used to create it but the world interest in the garment and the way social media can replace advertising. “The spider silk textile was first shown at the Natural History Museum in new York where it broke all records for visitor numbers to a single exhibit.” Does this interest reflect our fascination in understanding the direct line of material creation from nature to a man made object? Can natural materials in low-tech processes be the innovation the Luxury Market needs?

In market terms it is better for conceptual or flagship items to be low investment but can be higher in cost for the good. The project or collection would fit into the market in this way. The collection could then be used for advertising PR for a company choosing to invest in research and development. The collection has a story around it and the potential to go “viral”.

(Images and information’s

Aims for the concept – as a project in itself, academic, who are the stakeholders and markets, what is the personal professional benefit
The Stakeholders are companies who want to promote themselves as research and development in the area of natural materials. This work is aimed to be as a consultation project for designers and to be a beloved object for consumers. In a personal professional level this is where I want to position my work in the industry. Marloes Ten Bhomer works this way and I had the opportunity to interview her last year. Example of her moulded veg tan shoes 2010 are shown below (Image – 2011 Her work is mostly consultation and she gets funding from organisations such as the Jerwood Prize and Nesta. Then she showcases her work as potential processes to be applied to footwear in Museums.

Marloes is a Dutch designer who studied her MA in Product Design at the Royal College of Art. She applies Product and Furniture industry manufacturing methods to footwear.

Evidence of subject knowledge, experimentation, technical competence and skills to be developed Methodology – systems, approaches
My MA proposal work builds on the work produced in Units 1 and 2 where I took the natural material 100% wool felt and formed the work around last and moulds then resin the “insole and heel” to create structure. (Image below photo: Karoliina Barlund). The heel was hollow. At the end of Unit 2 I started to use Rhino with an aim to develop the data for CNC or RP moulds. The moulds will be developed this way. It is feasible to develop these skills in Rhino as I have previous experience in Autocad and Pro Engineer. The manipulation methods of the material will be based on data created in Rhino to make two half moulds. Most of the nominated materials work on a mould based manipulation method as used in Unit 1 and Unit 2 with the felt. The materials are to be keep in as natural a state as possible but finished cleanly. Because a “Line Up” will be based on the material behaviour an early soft mould will need to be created to test various materials out to inform potential shapes.

A diary will be kept to chart progress in both the form of a sketch diary and an edited blog. This is important because systems to manipulate materials will be kept. This will help the rigour, reliability, professionalism and systemization needed to maintain critical reflection to ensue research is conducted in as open and transparent a way as possible in terms of it’s intentions, methodology, analysis and findings. Below is a record of the Unit 1 and 2 methodologies. The major project methodology will use more sophisticated internal and external moulds as Marloes Ten Bhomer’s work previous page.

Suggested selection of natural materials to work with
In Unit 1 and 2 I worked with Resin, 100% wool Felt, Shellac and Fiberglass formed around moulds I made. The MA Major Project is to build on these materials adding natural rubber, veg tan leather, moulded paper, Acrodur, copal resin, and flax to name a few.
Initially I hope to collaborate with designers who have already put in the work to develop various natural materials and then apply and develop these materials in the design and construction of footwear. I am not sure how feasible this will be. However this will not interfere with the progress of the work. After a short consultation and analysis period the selected materials will be chosen.

A suggested line up is below…

sketch study line up

Critical theory and rational – what is the potential originality in the work and how will the work be analysed and assessed

The Critical theory in this project is observing the emerging rise of the biologically based materials work of scientist, artist and designers in juxtaposition to the synthetic materials offered in the innovative manufacturing methods rapid prototyping machines.

The Rational…
In the framework of the MA project I have limited time and resources. Given these constraints the strategy is to explore the behaviour of a selection of natural materials applied to footwear using low tech methods of mouldings but with the polish of high tech communications i.e. Rhino. The rational for 3-D computation is the forms need to be clean and elegant, in short “modern”. Otherwise the work will appear too craft based and not be taken seriously in the industry. The work needs to be taken seriously so it can be showcased, because the rational for this collection in market terms is to promote and bring awareness to the critical theory issues. Further rational to the project in the context of fashion is that as fashion designers we can produce desirable objects. So if the projects are desirable it will strengthen the attention to a showcase of work using the college as a platform of attention to the industry. Then hopefully people and organizations with funding might start to invest in theses issues.

The originality of the work is in using materials tried and tested in other disciplines and applying them in a way to footwear to produce original footwear constructions. The proposal is imaginative in the revival of unexpected natural materials applied to footwear, and how this approach might impart on forms and constructions, which emerge. It is also conceptual in using the general form to hold together a footwear collection. There is a covert rational for this choice because it is a move away from the fast fashion business model of colour, material and choice details to hold together a collection.

How the work is to be analysed and assessed
The project is experimental and a risk, ultimately, we cannot predict if material innovation will come out of the project. So the project should be assessed on…
• A consistent of methodology – This will be evidenced in the diary blog
• If the material properties and characteristics are respected but pushed to produce a well reasoned structure
• If it can be the manufactured low tech but the data to produce the work is computer technology driven enabling a clean professional finish, i.e. where the finish is clean in the moulded areas.
• If it “feels” to use mostly one type material per pair of shoes so the solutions are more elegant and focused
• If the general form holds the collection together as textures and colours vary
• If the shoes are “desirable” objects
• If the concept can be clearly showcased to a professional level

Ultimately the project is successful if it leaves people a bit more open to the possibility of testing in research and development the use of natural materials in the application of the footwear industry.

Bibliography and resource list of both primary and secondary sources list on collaborations contacted
Blaxter, L. et al. (2006) How to Research. Maidenhead: Open Press University

Farmer, J. (1999) Green Shift: Changing Attitudes in Architecture to the Natural World. Oxford: Architectural Press



Collaborations contacted
Suzanne Lee – bio culture (response – no)
Studio Formafantasma – natural resins (awaiting response)
FormFeltLab – 3-D felting machine (yes but unsure how)
Aisslinger – hemp materials (awaiting response)
Basfe – Acrodur supplier (yes)
Diego Vencato – wooden mesh (yes but he no longer has a manufacturer)

Molo design
Freedom of creation
Marloes Ten Bhomer

Further meeting for advice
Marloes Ten Bhomer – meeting 31 January
Jess Lertvilai – CSM materials Librarian – meeting 31 January
Rebecca Shawcross – curator Northampton Museum – to visit archives 6th Feb – research natural materials

Shoots of series 2 felt shoes and Other ideas…

The Series 2 Felt Resin Shoes – photos (proofs) from Panos Damaskinidis…

felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF

Manchu shoes…
felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF

felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF
felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF
felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF

But theses were not the only ideas played with…

A sandle and boot were explored but not prototyped…
I thought the sandal had milage in a good idea as the base becomes the only element or platform.

But the resolutions proved to be problematic to fit into the collections.

Unpicking deeper trends into 3D ideas…

Trends are interesting, trends are like a collective expression of thoughts, words, actions and artefacts. Trends can be engineered and imposed or can emerge. The latter proves to be lasting or significant. I long ago stopped “seeing” things I liked and now see things which are “fresh”. Then I spend time trying to unpick the relevance…

manchu shoes Northampton Shoe Archive -photo Liz Ciokajlo

manchu shoes Northampton Shoe Archive -photo Liz Ciokajlo

Going back to May 2011 I visited the Northampton Shoe Museum Archive whilst researching primitive footwear.  The place is wonderful and Rebecca Shawcross the curator is a lovely woman with a real understanding and knowledge of what shoes mean to people. On that trip I became fascinated by the Chinese Manchu shoes.  When the shoes were worn in China, farmers had to pay a significant amount of taxes to the government on their crops. However the sewing/ embroidery work of the woman was not taxed so in my cynical mind it is no wonder the softer sex’s feet were bound rendering them stationary to keep stitching! But in the Manchu region foot binding was outlawed.  The Manchu woman were independent and even road horses however they still wanted their feet to appear small and delicate so shoes with smaller “pedestal” soled heels poking out under the long clothing evolved.  To me I see connections with modern woman and the Manchu ladies.  And to me when I see something like this it signifies a deeper trend that makes a statment about people and design and is worth exploring….   As woman we all know walking on heels is in direct contrast to comfort but are driven by the image and identity projected. The feeling of elevation for the generally shorter sex is empowering. Wedges are more comfortable but still don’t get us to the same place.  We have worn Uggs, Birkenstocks, DM’s and trainers and know how good a flatter step can be. A flatter step with elevation and elegance just what the felt shoes needed.  The material of the felt shoes signified comfort, it was subversive and unexpected to raise up the shoe and the narrow base would further refine the appearance. Also during this time we were seeing the rise of the flat platform or “flatforms”. So maybe there was something in the Manchu shape which related to my work…

Derek Lam Stacked Wedge Platform Pumps

Derek Lam Stacked Wedge Platform PumSo maybe there was something in this trend that related to what I was doing.

  • The wedge shape complemented my hollow heel structure.
  • The flatter sole was what inspired me to buy the last in Italy.
  • The undercut of the heel further refined the form.
  • The comfort of the felt was always in contrast to the shoe having height and the height was rather subversive, something I always like to play with as it produces the kind of questions worthy of artefacts.
  • And the overall feel was rather 1940’s giving rise to the ideas of peep toes construction.
  • Peep toe on a practical level helped to remove the extra material in this area.
  • In keeping with a seamless future the overlasting could heighten the shadows of the form.

So the cogs turned…

manchu sketch

manchu sketch

Always good that the felt material needs differing “fit” points on the foot than a court shoe.  So this creates a more unique look.

And this turned into this…

Steam… then…

then stitch in insole…

And Resin…

But there were problems with the Bio Resin and the felt as it is highly sensitive to any moisture. It bubbles even when degassed.  And the resin line was still too strong for Arena’s collection.

So in the end I learned the priority was the look for the catwalk and the collection photography. This project was not about developing the construction in industry.  So armed with pointe shoe shellac I coated the outside of the shoe where the heel structure and heel and the toe stiffening would be to create a semi structure and barrier to the inside coating of polyester resin and fiberglass! Well sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Things would be different in production!

Collaborating and applying the concept to a collection…

In August 2011 Arena Page from LCF MA Fashion Technology Womanswear contacted me after the suggestion from talented and intelligent Directors Darren Coban (MA Womanswear) and Dai Rees (MA Fashion Footwear and Artefact) to collaborate on her Major project.  I was working on my Unit 2 project of my Ma Footwear which focuses on industry.  The collaboration was very good in the end but challenged me in ways I had not expected.  I assumed the Unit 2 project would be about expanding with the contacts in the footwear industry. In collaborating with a graduating student for her Collection and Catwalk show I realised the aims of a show is to create a drama, a story.  As long as the shoes could be walked down a catwalk and add to the narration of the collection the work would be deemed a success in industry terms.

There were some quite specific challenges, mainly Arena wanted a clean look to the shoes meaning no change of colour in the resin line.  She also wanted to have low heels or flats.  Luckily I had been thinking the same heel height.  But let’s start from the end and work backwards….

In February 2012 Arena Page was on of twenty-two students from MA Menswear, Womanswear and Digital Fashion to show her collection at the MA LCF show Poemtry at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The event was lovely and quality and Darren Coban, Dai Rees and staff should be proud as I image supporting and nurturing the talent and making a cohesive show for the event is a tall order.

Well Arena’s collection contained my felt shoes.

shoes backstage at V&A show

shoes backstage at V&A show

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