INTERVIEW | MEET CHRIS VAN DEN ELZEN

9.11.14


 First image by Fanny van Poppel, second and third image by JadePillar.com

Remember me wearing those amazing shoes last Sunday? During the Dutch Design Week, I got the chance to interview the constructor of these shoes: upcoming shoe and accessories designer Chris van den Elzen. Let me take you through part of our conversation.

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DESIGN ACADEMY, FASHION WEEK AND UNITED NUDE 
Chris | The reason I find shoes so interesting to design is that they complete an outfit. They can either make or break it and are a defining feature for a look. When I showed my Excidium collection – in collaboration with Judith van Vliet – at the Fashionclash festival, I met designers Bregje Cox and Joelle Boers. They were planning their show for the Amsterdam Fashion Week and found that my designs fitted perfectly with their IINUA collection. Together we showed at the Amsterdam Fashion Week a few weeks later, something that was a great experience for me.

Floor | Let me take you back to the beginning of your career.  I read you went to the Design Academy here in Eindhoven. Did you go there to become a shoe designer or did you discover that passion later in your studies?

Chris | It actually all started with an assignment for Piet Paris at school. We were asked to design a shoe, made out of wood, foam and a fabric of choice. The design had to be due in a week, but it all worked out really well and in the process of designing that shoe I found out that this might well be what I wanted to become as a designer. It was like everything came together at once.

Floor | Cool! But that also means that your work before that assignment consisted of other kinds of designs.

Chris | Yes it did! I studied Identity at the Design Academy and was educated in designing materials for fashion and interior designs. That means that you are asked to develop material for tables as well as creating new ways of stitching for example. But I soon realized that I not only wanted to develop new materials, I also wanted to design a product. Funny fact is that I actually graduated with a line of leather tiles and a material research, as there was not an option to graduate with shoes. After the Piet Paris assignment I knew that I wanted to design shoes though.

Floor | And therefore you applied for an internship at United Nude. Such a cool place to work. How did you get in?

Chris |  Well, I just applied and after an interview on Skype with Rem Koolhaas, I was hired. An amazing turn of events since architecture is one of my all-time inspirations, as well as that of the brand. 

Floor | You worked on the 90 degrees shoe at United Nude, a really innovative design. Did you like working in a team or would you rather design for your own label?

Chris | No, I really liked working in team, but would of course like to design for my own brand too. If I can combine those two in the future, that would be a dream.

CHINA AND THE LOVE FOR MINIMALIST DESIGN
Floor | How important is decoration in relation to your love for minimalist design?

Chris | Every element of the shoe has to be functional. Decoration just for the sake of decoration is not my style. Sometimes though, a design needs a little decoration in order to emphasize its distinguishing features. My rule in decorating though, is that it has to be as minimalistic as possible.

That means that the decoration in my shoes is often in the use of materials. For the Excidium collection, I used the 3D printing technique. As I find the look and feel of 3D printed objects a little too plastic most of the time, I decided to team up with colorFabb and use an emulsion of timber and PLA. Combined with using a larger than usual nozzle when printing, it created the wood like feel that the sole has. The little Perspex plates that I used in the heels are also functional. They actually make sure that the heel does not collapse under pressure.

Floor | So they are actually architectural little masterpieces! Where does your love for architecture come from?

Chris | I guess my stay in China has influenced me a lot. Those huge buildings and skyscrapers are overwhelming and stand out in their repetitive design. What I found was cool to see though, is that life breaks through that repetitiveness. People decorate their homes differently and dry their laundry on a rack outside of their window at 400 meters high for example. It is just crazy – especially when they are hanging out of the window to get that laundry at such height - but inspiring to see. It really changes your perspective on life, both aesthetically as socially.

ABOUT THE FUTURE...
Floor | How much do you love shoes and accessories? I mean, how much are you willing to give to pursue a successful career in designing those?

Chris | Where do I begin…Is it enough to say that I also have a pretty boring daytime job on the side, in order to pay for the production of my designs? That job allows me to really stay focussed on designing, instead of on the financial side of things. Every euro that I do not spend on rent or food goes into my label. I really hope that soon, my designs will earn me enough money to pay for the life basics though.

Floor | And I am pretty sure that will happen soon. Trust me, I have an eye for talent. ;-)

Chris | Well, if business will do as well as the critiques are lately I guess I will be fine. Recently, I was mentioned in an article alongside Iris van Herpen and Winde Rienstra. Such an honour. Those two are really an inspiration to me.

Floor | I guess that is because all three of you have this innovative use of materials, don’t you?

Chris | Yeah, that might probably be it. Those mentions are so important though, especially in the career of young designers. It gives me the confidence to approach investors for example. Something that I am working on currently. I cannot tell you too much about that yet, but I can say that great things are coming...

Floor | To conclude this interview, tell me about your dreams!


Chris | I really hope to show two more collections at the Amsterdam fashion week and after that we will see what happens. I would love to work on a commercial collection for a brand and combine it with designing for my own label. But who knows what will happen in the future?!

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So for all of you who had not heard from Chris' work before, check out his website a.s.a.p. And for Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. It really was so much fun meeting you and I wish you all the best in your future career.

Happy Sunday!
-xoxo-
JP


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