What defines Undun footwear?
Undun is like a publishing house, but instead of editing and republishing books we edit, publish and republish chapters in the history of street culture. It’s actually quite a fun concept. Skateboarding led me to footwear, and I started by designing women’s footwear. But I live in a parallel universe; when I was younger I dreamed about being a pro skater, not a footwear designer, which came after that.
You have said you want to use your footwear to retrace the history of skating. Could you explain the concept?
The Brooklyn Banks 1989 model tells a story, for example. There was a movement in street culture that year, inspired by the release of the film Back to the Future. The resulting shoe featured highly modern, futuristic soles and uppers. There was a strong culture of breakdancing and hip hop at the Brooklyn Banks skate spot in New York at the time. Young people back then wore baggie trousers and thin-soled sneakers, and the models were reworked to include different variants and other materials.
You first launched a line for women, followed by Undun. Why did you decide to move into streetwear and skate shoes?
I came full circle, right back to where I started. Skating led me to find out how to repair skate shoes and understand more generally how I could repair and make trainers. I was obsessed by it at the time; I was just 14. At that age, you’re only interested in your friends, the latest fads, and all the rest. I first developed my creative identity in the studio through my fixation on sneakers, but slowly began to discover women and the concept of femininity. I also developed my artistic side through the arts. I was part of the graffiti scene and everything we now refer to as street art, as well as cultivating an interest in all forms of artistic expression linked to skating. I ended up realising that designing footwear for women was both exciting and subtle. It also enabled me to get over my shyness and be able to talk to girls at school. At the age of 17 I had already created my first pair of heels.
Why did you choose to design “timeless, unisex” footwear, while refusing to follow the fashion calendar and its seasons?
The collections do follow the seasons, but they also don’t. The brand has to align itself with the seasons because that’s when we have access to buyers and the press from all over the world during the presentation periods. But I’m not looking to produce a given number of models per season, nor attend trade fairs. If I did that I would have to retire in two years (laughs). The Undun concept is all about not designing too much. I take something that already exists and adapt it by adding new elements to the shoe itself. I edit, and rerelease.
What do you mean by “edit”?
I edit a lot of footwear that remains rooted in Europe and the United States. But who knows? Next year I might create new edits for Tokyo, Shanghai or Seoul, which are major cities in the world of street culture. For now, I’m focusing on what brought me to footwear in the first place, such as skateboarding, breakdancing and graffiti. Undun is not really a brand, but more of a footwear line that edits pieces. As a result, in the future Undun could edit, create and release footwear with other brands, such as football boots but paired with the Undun vision.
You have already collaborated with Anne Valérie Hash, Paraboot and Harvey Nichols. Do you have any collaborations planned for Undun?
I have done a lot of collaborations as an artist and as a footwear designer. For example, I rereleased 12 reworked models for Dr. Martens, and created a pair of driving shoes for BMW. These collaborations unite several different worlds but are underpinned by the same structures. I also have a photography project in which I use overlap images of skating spots such as in front of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. And my latest collaboration was with Larry Clark, who gave me access to his whole body of work. I then overlapped his work with my own. I have something of a dual career as both an artist and shoe designer.
Your products are available in secret outlets. Why did you choose such an original distribution model?
Undun is looking to retain an exclusive distribution model. At the moment in Paris, for example, you can get an Undun edition that no one knows about by booking an appointment. We then tell you the surprise place to meet, and you will have the edition that corresponds to that meeting. But you don’t know what it is before you arrive. The idea is to give it all a bit of meaning.
The fashion industry has changed enormously and today branding is the name of the game. Do you think it is important to be a part of the big fashion circus?
The less you try to be a part of it, the more you become a part of it – from the moment you have something new that astonishes and attracts people. I don’t see myself as particularly involved in fashion, and I don’t feel I have a point of view to offer. Fashion is very much associated with shows, brands and all the rest. But all the inspirations behind Undun have nothing to do with fashion, or at least not in the way it is defined today. And yet, it is also a form of fashion in itself. For example, there are several different clothing trends – or fashions – in skating, along with varying ways of wearing them, and different types of music.
You also have a Eugène Riconneaus line for authentic women, which is a far cry from the codes and clichés generally imposed on them. Do you think the image of women is actually changing in fashion?
The Eugène Riconneaus woman doesn’t smile in photos when asked to. She is herself, she doesn’t wear what people tell her to. She isn’t trapped in clichés or traditional codes. She has that power. My footwear features subtle details that will be noticed by just a handful of people.
How do you manage to live in two such distinct creative universes?
I was born in 1989, so I am technically an 80s kid. But I did most of my growing up during the digital era, which is when I started learning about culture. However, my education meant that I also learned about culture through something physical and visual. Now there is a whole generation who can learn about culture exclusively through the digital world, which means there is nothing real any more. I find it interesting to exist between these two periods, having a two-tiered identity caught between a more traditional approach and a more transgressive, destructive culture, and being able to combine them both together.
by Aurore Hennion