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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Q&A with Shoe Architect Chris Francis

FN PLATFORM is just around the corner and the organizers have some exciting new happenings on the show floor this year! One example is first-time exhibitor, shoe designer Chris Francis. Unlike other brands on-site, he won’t simply showcase next season’s styles (though he will showcase a few already made styles); instead he plans to bring a portion of his L.A. workshop onto the show floor and will be designing and creating shoes on-site! Known for his avant-garde style, Chris Francis’ designs have been seen on the likes of rock stars such as Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, and former Runaways guitarist Lita Ford.
Chris Francis Shoes

FN Platfrom had a chance to chat with the carpenter turned shoe artist about his upcoming exhibit and how his journey began. 

Q&A with Shoe Designer, Chris Francis:

Your creations are seen as not only a fashion statement, but amazing works of art. How did you start designing shoes in the first place?

I started making shoes in 2011 after attending a party at Louis Vuitton where a guest maker from France was hand sewing men’s shoe soles.  I had always been very fascinated by shoes and seeing that they could be made by hand really inspired me. I attempted to make shoes the next day and had a wearable pair made by the end of the week. I was making all of the shoes in the kitchen back then and rapidly progressed; by the end of that year I had outgrown the kitchen and began making shoes professionally. It was hard in the beginning, shoemaking schools were seemingly nonexistent and internships were not offered, so I taught myself. I met with the few old shoe makers and repairmen left in Los Angeles, while searching for tools and machines. While none of them had time to give me an internship, everyone was able to answer one or two questions. I ended up learning tricks-of-the-trae from all over the world.

For me that experience was amazing, it was so well rounded! One day I was learning a glue recipe from Russia, maybe the next I was learning how to cut a ladies shoe sole the way it is done in Iran. I even worked for a great maker where all day I made and repaired shoes for Hollywood stars and at night I could sometimes see my shoes on TV!   I think that a big part of the reason that I succeeded as a self-taught maker is that I had no inhibition or any reason to believe that I couldn't make shoes. I also think the lack of formal training is part of the reason that I don't adhere to one specific style of shoemaking. Instead, I make all styles and I have always been an artist, so the shoe naturally became a means of artistic expression for me.

Where do you get your inspiration for the next design?

Inspiration can come from anywhere, I have a very broad range of interests and a very open mind to developing more interests! The last three collections have been quite architectural but at any moment I could shift the aesthetic towards something completely opposite. I don't like to limit myself to any one style or idea so it's not uncommon for me to make a design one day that looks like it came from out of the Bauhaus while the next pair I'm making a 70's style Platform boot for a customer. I like to have fun and be creative, the shoe is no different for me than a canvas is to a painter or a block of marble is to a sculptor. Shoes are my chosen mode of expression. Inspiration could be from a song, a moment in life, a building – my designs are whatever I feel like making.

Do you have any favorites brands or artists that particularly inspire you?

My favorite living artist right now is Thomas Heatherwick. I attended his exhibition six times at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles! I'd like to meet Tom Ford one day, I have always found him inspiring. My favorite designers are the ones that offer something new, something original to design that reflects who they are, and also the ones that can pull off simplicity while still arriving at iconic design! On one end of the spectrum my taste is very avant-garde
but there is big part of me that loves simplicity and ultimate wearability accompanied by sophisticated design. 

Tell us a bit about what you’ll be doing at FN PLATFORM this August 2016?

I'll be relocating a portion of my Los Angeles workshop to FN PLATFORM along with some of my designs. My shoes are made entirely in my workshop. Almost all of my heels are hand-carved and most of my leather is hand-painted and hand-dyed. All of my shoes are made from scratch, mostly by hand or on postwar and prewar 20th Century machines. I'll be making shoes during the convention, which will be a lot of fun!

How did you get involved with FN PLATFORM? Why?

I have Gene Burten to thank, he believed in my work enough to put it to the attention of FN PLATFORM! I am very honored to be featured this year, I think it's a rare opportunity for a maker on the custom scale. FN PLATFORM is something I have always aspired to attend but lacked the production means to justify, so it’s an amazing opportunity for me to be invited as a guest artist!  We came up with the concept of moving the shop to Las Vegas for the convention to celebrate the small shoe shop and the importance of production on the small scale as well as on the large scale.  I think it's important in an age of high volume mass production to also preserve the small in-house designers and makers.  So many samples that lead to mass production are made in shops like mine. Ideas are capable of happening on my scale that can't always happen on the large production scale. One of a kind runway pieces are made by hand, couture pieces, museum pieces and art pieces are all happening in garage shops and workshop studios that are even more humble than mine.  It's amazing to be able to take the garage workshop and move it to FN PLATFORM to greet a new audience and hopefully this will open the door for other artists in the future! 

You don’t follow the traditional wholesale model – so how will that translate onto the FN PLATFORM show floor which typically has brands wholesaling to retailers?

I think it will be something new and fun! I'm not wholesale but I am absolutely part of the market. I make shoes professionally every day and my shoes are in the same price points as the high fashion houses which puts me in a very niche market. I had to create my own market because as a custom maker, I couldn't compete with mass production. It didn't make sense for me to make shoes that looked like ones already available in the market because those designs were so attached to the economy and the price point that mass production can offer. My designs had to stand out in order to justify their existence and their price.

I think that the fact that I make everything in house and by hand might translate really well and also that I am not opposed to selling to retailers will somewhat eliminate any idea of separation. I plan to continue attending FN PLATFORM and in the future have a body of designs available for retailers, that production level just hasn't been within my reach yet. The shop has never had an outside investor, it’s been built by dedication to a vision, but there is no shortage of designs or the ability to create them and there is no inhibition to grow!  I think relocating the shop translates in a very positive way even outside of FN PLATFORM because it shows that by hard work and dedication, one can still start in a kitchen and see their vision realized on a much broader scale.

Can you tell us a bit about your 6-month residency at the Miracle Mile Craft & Folk Art Museum?

I had a solo exhibition at the Craft & Folk Art Museum which featured over forty pairs of my shoes, each pair being a unique design. We couldn't get any of my shoes on loan due to them being owned by performers, so I created the entire body of work for the CAFAM exhibition in one year!  I asked the museum if we could move the shoe shop in to the front window during the exhibition as an installation and functioning shoe shop, and the museum was all for it!  Having the shop in the museum went over so well that the original three month duration was extended to six months! I made shoes every day in the museum while people watched and engaged with the craft and art of shoemaking, it was a lot of fun!  After the CAFAM exhibition I moved a portion of the shop to the Palm Springs Art Museum where I made shoes during the Killer Heels Exhibition and exhibited designs in conjunction with Killer Heels. Most recently I exhibited my Brutalist collection at the Architecture + Design museum in Los Angeles and moved a portion of the shop in for a residency, during which I made boots.  I'll be displaying select pairs from all three exhibitions at FN PLATFORM this August!

You’ve often described your approach to making shoes like a carpenter. What is it about that approach that elevates your pieces as opposed to other designers who may be using technology?  

I was a carpenter for years and even worked as a carpenter in the high fashion house stores. My final job as a carpenter ironically was at Louis Vuitton and I was able to keep pieces of the marble floor where I had first seen the maker from France sewing shoes! I make shoes quite architecturally due to this background. My pieces are very unique because they reflect my personality and my interests and they are made by my own hands, which in my opinion makes the shoes stand out over some technology but technology has the production advantage over me! I find that there are designers out there turning technology into a mode of art and expression that is in no fundamental way different than my way of using my hands and machines as tools to aid my expression.  Art and design have no boundaries and there are no right or wrong ways to arrive at creative expression therefore I respect and admire technology, and value it as a valid medium in which to create beautiful art in the 21st century. I don't have access to technology yet, but when I do I will use it to its full artistic potential and I believe that mass production can be a beautiful art form when done with artistic intention! I am modern, my mind and imagination are both modern, it is only my machines that are old!    

For additional information on the upcoming show and Chris Francis’ exhibit, please visit www.fnplatform.com

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