Interview with shoe designer Kevin Martel, Harry’s of London
“I am a self confessed loafer guy”
Harrys of London is a luxury shoemaker and accessories house known for combining traditional craftsmanship with the latest footwear technology. The brand mission is to create innovative footwear and accessories defined by exceptional quality, design and technology. Based in London’s Belgravia district, the company operates seven freestanding flagship boutiques globally and two shop-in-shops in Japan. Harrys of London shoes are sold in the most prestigious luxury department stores and specialty retailers in over 20 countries worldwide.
In 2005 American designer Kevin Martel was recruited by the Harrys of London Board of Directors from the design offices of Giorgio Armani in Milan and appointed Creative Director. Martel contributes nearly 20 years of knowledge and experience designing men’s footwear for iconic menswear designers. Martel’s unique design aesthetic and global sensibility is a result of a career formed in his native USA and followed by numerous years living and working in Italy and the UK.
The interview below with Sophie was conducted by Ellen Sampson, Cinderella project Curator. For more information on the groundbreaking Cinderella project go to http://www.northampton.gov.uk/thecinderellasyndrome
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Where are you based and what is your workspace like?
My home and office are in Belgravia – exactly 12 minutes on foot.
We work in a large, contemporary open-plan office. My workspace is strangely neat and tidy. I am the most anally retentive designer I know. I like a spotless desk, neatly organised pens, paper and a simple laptop. I clean the desktop and organise my supplies before making any new sketch. It’s kind of a cleansing process.
How does your company’s design or development process work?
For a company based on research and technology, our design process is still quite traditional. I draw every design by hand first – in pencil – and then we digitise the sketch to create the actual design specification.
We work with small English and Italian workshops and make the prototypes directly with the factory. I work very closely with all my factories and suppliers. It’s all about managing the details. The sketch takes 5 minutes, but the actual shoe often takes months to perfect.
What inspires the Shoes you produce?
I am (selfishly) inspired by my own needs but more importantly the needs of my customers. I am fascinated by the feedback I get directly from the consumer, because ultimately, they are the final judge of our success as designers
How do historic/vintage shoes relate to your current Collection? Do you use them for inspiration? Is there a continuity or evolution of a vintage style throughout your brands history?
Like most all men – our style does not really change much over the years. We continue to replace the same items in our wardrobes, but with only minor evolutions or design changes.
I am a self confessed loafer guy. I have been wearing variations on the same shoes since I was a kid growing up in New England in the 1970’s.
My mother received a pair of tiny native American fur-lined moccasins as a baby gift for me, which I have always found very charming. The ironic part is that this most traditional historic footwear is still the most comfortable when made correctly. It inspires everything that I find chic, from the classic Gucci bit loafer to my own designs today for Harrys of London.
Describe the historic/vintage shoe you picked.
I have chosen a Native American Indian moccasin that is similar in design to my baby shoes. The way a moccasin is constructed, with the leather wrapping around your foot from below with a handsewn vamp has not changed for thousand of years.
Why did you pick it? What do you love about it?
There is something so charming and chic about the construction and design that reminds me of my childhood, very preppy and sort of ‘cowboys and indians’ from American film culture of that period, but also still influences me today.
The loafers I design today are injected with more technological advances and modern production methods, but the idea, construction and comfort is still the same.
I am constantly designing hand sewn moccasins. I love the simplicity, comfort and ease of a good loafer – worn with no socks…of course.