For London Craft Week 2017, Maria Speak of Retrouvius and designer Tracey Neuls gave a talk at Retrouvius’ new space and architectural project on Ravenscroft Road (not normally open to the public) chaired by journalist and art critic Hettie Judah.
The two designers discussed parallels about their design processes and approach. Both engage with a more kinetic and sensory vision to their designing, exploring how things ‘feel’ and sit in space, while embracing the history and personality of materials and the stories and concepts behind them (rather than following trends or preconceived ideas of what to use because it's ‘in fashion.) The two designers treated us to an insight about their design backgrounds, inspirations and their play on / use of materials. Above the audience is a ceiling decorated with wooden panelling. The white circle polka dot pattern was created from their original purpose: Of being cheese boards. These hidden narratives from salvaging material, then to use them in different ways is a signature to Retrouvius and what incorporates much of Maria’s design. Adam Hills and Maria Speake met at Glasgow School of Art and set up Retrouvius over twenty years ago and since have been demonstrating how the use of reclaimed materials can be combined with modern techniques used in unexpected and unusual ways.
Tracey’s shoe designs are timeless yet contemporary, also using a combination of familiar and traditional materials.
Here are some soundbites from the talk...
"My background is in textiles and clothing design. I try to incorporate these techniques into my shoe designing. Hand stitching at the back counter, ruching at the toe, which is not common in shoe making and normally a sign of a badly made shoe, but made by hand, the result is very elegant! We insert textile into the sole unit, the way the material is left to fold, results in each pair being unique.
The top of the foot is an area that is very standardised in footwear making. I like to look at the void above the foot and how hand crafting can be worked into the process of making. Our signature Big Top has hand draped leather from the upper coming down over the heel in one piece of leather. This was a Tracey Neuls creation from 15 years ago and is now a standard construction within the footwear industry and the 3D wedges inserted into making a sculptural bow, takes such craftsmanship.
Burnt heels!? Well, in my driveway at our Marylebone shop there was a random piece of charred wood. Almost heel like in shape. Then a few weeks later, the actual shoe shaped piece of wood was sitting in my fireplace burning away. This was the basis of one of my favourite collections where I personally burnt and lacquered the heels for the collection.
I like the idea of women getting together and knitting whilst putting the world right. Through out the years, I have used knitting in many forms.The first use of it was quite literal, with wool and a tea cosy type of design. We got together a collective of women from London to Norfolk knitting our shoe uppers. Fun but also hugely challenging incorporating every day knitters into a world of delivery dates, quality control and passing on to another manufacturer to finalise the product.
The leather has been knit by men and knit by men. I quite liked the idea of men taking on the role that is traditionally held by women. The technique is interesting in that a hide is cut in circular lines to create the length of ‘yarn’ needed. I was once was beach combing and found a tangle of neon fishing line. We began knitting the fishing line, forming a fine netting over the shoe and foot.
I start any new form using plasticine. For me, the smell brings me back to a child like innocence where the inspirations go from the heart to the hands. I like the raw creation rather than a distillation of images or things that I have seen in the shoe world. My ideas come from a place other than fashion influences. Plasticine as a moulding keeps the inspiration very unique. We went through a stage of being knocked off a lot. From big brands to Chinese manufacturers. This spurred on a very hand made heel that could not be mass produced easily and had to have the touch of hand.
Just an example of one of the plasticine sole iterations that lead up to the latest rubber sole we launched last year. The ‘Heart15’ range like Dean etc.. My starting point is never a computer sketch or a design of another shoe. Working this way creates a timelessness that resonates through out the collections. Our longest standing GEEK in reflective has been around for over 10 years and never goes out of style. The ‘Heart15’ is a reincarnation of a shape that was designed in my college year and featured in my first ever collection in winter 2000.