Eugène Riconneaus dives into his artistic creations.
If you walked a mile in Eugène Riconneaus's shoes, you'd come out on the other side with a newfound appreciation for purposeful artistic expression, niche bootmaking expertise, and probably the ability to do a few sick kickflips.
Coming from humble roots in a small French village, Riconneaus spent his early years as an imaginative skateboarder with an optimistic outlook ― and his resourceful nature combined with lack of wealth led him to the world of shoes with one primary purpose: to create long-lasting pairs with meaningful messages. Fast forward to today, and each of his pairs acts as an individual work of art, crafted from carefully sourced leather.
Bringing the rebellious, inventive attitude of his youth to his groundbreaking brand, Riconneaus designs premium quality shoes with the intention to empower independent women to change the rules around gender ― by infusing every creative endeavor of his from shoemaking to visual art with the underground Parisian culture of his upbringing.
Scroll down to get into our quick chat with this limitless creative mind.
Eugène Riconneaus in one tweet
"Enthusiasm." I always see everything positively was lucky to build what I have at a young age. At the end of the day, the most essential thing is to have an enthusiastic point of view. I'm always smiling, always happy, I think everything is quite interesting.
For about 10 years I've been living part-time in Paris and spend the other half traveling in nature. If I'm in a city, I want to be in a very busy city ― if I'm in nature I like to be alone or just with friends, in the middle of a mountain, able to experience the colors, the smell, the wind on my skin. On the contrary, in the city, I like to meet a lot of people, stay busy, travel around Paris skating. My days are filled with skating, friends, work, interviews, galleries ― very busy.
They're two extremes, but both are about being real with what's around you. Today Paris is more inspiring than before, because the city is so empty ― you can really experience the city, the architecture, the way it was built long ago, see private gardens and houses. You can look and think.
"Wow! I didn't create anything new, everything has already been done before ― I'm just the child of it. But it was already good before, so what can I create on top of it?"
It's more about the overall evolution. I like to say I was born into a very wild village, we were a bunch of skateboarders, so we all grew up with a board under us. I didn't have a rich family ― I mean in terms of money, because my family has a very rich mindset. We would skate every day, and I wouldn't have the money to buy a new pair of Nikes, so I broke my shoes. I was trying to figure out how to repair them, because I need to skate with them longer.
In my village, there was a guy who made hunting shoes for horse-hunting families, it's a very old traditional thing that royalty did, so this guy was making made-to-measure hunting shoes. I went to see that guy at 12 years old, very young and naïve, and say, "I want to repair my sneaker! What I can do to make these Nikes last longer?"
"I arrived to see a workshop with leather everywhere. The smell of leather was everywhere, and I fell in love with that, but I was still a very young boy discovering life. I started to learn how to make shoes with this guy."
The skate culture in France at the time wasn't like today. It's become a hype thing, but it wasn't very cool at the time. I wanted to have a pair of shoes that I could wear everywhere that actually represent who I am. I didn't want to have a pair of shoes that was too American, if you look at the popular skate shoes at the time, they were designed from a really American perspective of sneakers.
"So, I created my own shoe that I could skate with, and then I began to make more of my own shoes."
I also started to design women's shoes, I was a shy guy, and it was a way to get interest from the girls at school. At the time I was just messing around, trying to express myself like every young boy with paintings, writings, shoe designs, then boom! I grew up and submitted to a famous bootmaker called Raymond Massaro, who was the bootmaker of the Chanel house in France.
"It taught me how to not only make a pair of shoes, but to talk about the shoe's soul, not the sole, but the soul."
He gave me many tips to really understand shoe design, and in 2010 I got the idea to create my brand. I designed two pairs of sneakers and two pairs of high-heels, and the first store that carried the brand was Joyce, in Hong Kong. I was making the product in France at the time, so it was a big deal to be able to export the goods. I was building a shoe brand and I was also injecting the arts into my creations, it was a mix of everything I experienced brought into a shoe, and this is how everything started.
In my Doc collab, for example, the project was more about customization, so when we launched the project, at the same time I ran an exhibition with painting and videos, and added the crown design to the shoes.
I was asked to make a sneaker for the anniversary of Batman, and I told them, "Actually, I want to empower women, so I'd rather create batshoes for Catwoman." I proposed it and we went with it.
Behind everything I produce today, whether it be an exhibition, an artwork, shoes, or something else, there's always an art side connected with a brand aspect. I erase myself a little bit to really put the brand I'm collaborating with at the top of the pyramid, while I'm just here to narrate the story.
There were two big moments. The first being the first time I left France. France is a very small country, almost like a village. The first time I left and saw how things are elsewhere, I returned with fresh objectivity, another point of view.
Creatively, this changed my mindset and I'm so happy to have realized things that I wouldn't have been able to by staying here. The first time I went to Japan and saw my shoes there, I saw the surrounding culture, and then I realized, "Oh, I actually didn't realize that the shoes I love the least are actually the ones that everyone likes! For this, and this, and this reason."
Another turning point in my career was a particular pair of shoes, a very high sneakerboot that I designed when I was in LA. It was my first time in America, and I wanted to create a sneaker that represented my vision for women at the time. Women around me wanted to wear the over-the-knee length shoe, but it was always about high-heels, it was too much of a sexual vibe, the knee-high boots with high-heels, you have to dare to do it.
I was super young, and quite naïve in my vision of how to make shoes for women. I was in California and saw the girls longboarding with the baseball stockings, and I thought to myself, "Okay, this is it! I'm just going to take high-heel shoes, cut the over the knee, put a sneaker sole, and that's my answer." At the time in the market, no one was offering an over-the-knee sneaker, and after making the sample I realized that there are two ways to wear the shoes. It can be cute, and it can also be sexy, if you dare to wear it that way.
I presented the collection in a showroom and celebrities were immediately interested. We sold a lot of shoes in Asia, America, Europe, and this is really how I built my career as a shoe brand at the time. It was the golden ticket! It was also a good answer to my paradox of coming from skateboarding culture.
"I have a sneaker approach, but also my wish to empower women."
Humanity. I think we pull inspiration from the people around us, and that's important because they influence us a lot.
Whenever I'm creating anything, whether it's shoes, paintings, whatever, I do it first for my friends and then for the community. I'm more inspired by the practice and its impact in terms of job giving and preservation when I'm designing a collection, more so than a specific artist.
I love a lot of artists, filmmakers, books, and philosophers, but the main inspiration of today is the techniques, and their social impact on modern job creation. I started my career in France based on those values, at the time nobody was producing sneakers there, so we have to reteach the factory how to make shoes. We bought a special machine to make the stitching possible locally ― and today it's everywhere, nearly every country has this machine ― but nobody else in France has it, or even the know-how to use it. That's my main objective when I design a collection.
My next move is the official launch of the ER Souliers brand, which we are working on in two phases. Phase one is to rebuy our own shoes, if people send them back, they will get money in return. After we buy them all back, we're going to rebuild the brand and launch it officially. This is the big move for the coming year, along with my next exhibition as an artist.
One day I will...
One day, I will pass my expertise to someone. It's an opportunity I got very young, I was lucky to learn this specific know-how here in France. I'm able to make a shoe with my own hands, I'm a bootmaker more so than a designer. One day I will maybe open a school, or start a training workshop, to teach, to preserve the expertise I hold, in my own company.
We got our eyes at the turning point of a bomb brand heritage.
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