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Behind the Shoes

Footwear designer Max Kibardin collaborated with artist Iké Udé exploring in an installation the secret message behind men’s shoes.

Nigerian-born but New York-based artist Iké Udé has accustomed us throughout the years to his explorations of a world made out of many dichotomies and ambiguities, tackling issues such as style and fashion in intriguingly unusual ways. Yet Udé the artist, photographer, editor, dandy and aesthete had never collaborated before with a fashion designer until a conversation about the power of shoes with footwear designer Max Kibardin sparked an analysis of the message behind men’s shoes.

Born in Siberia, Kibardin studied architecture in Moscow before moving first to Paris and then to Milan, where he worked for different brands and designers, such as Alberto Biani and Pollini. In 2004 Kibardin launched his first signature collection, focusing on sophisticated and timeless women’s footwear and developing later on men’s shoes in the finest materials, such as suede, ostrich hide and crocodile. The recipient of the “Who Is On Next?” award (accessory category), Kibardin showcased at the latest Pitti event an installation entitled Behind the Shoes in collaboration with Udé.

Inspired by Udé’s 2000 seminal work Beyond Decorum, the installation featured two contradicting images of Kibardin posing in a classic grey suit and six pairs of men’s shoes in see-through PVC featuring on the internal sole sensual embroidered motifs of a couple sharing intimate moments. While the techniques employed to make the embroideries and the footwear are conceived in this installation as a sort of hymn to craftsmanship, the shoes themselves are used to break the stereotype that sees men’s footwear as smart and elegant but not necessarily sexy. Ordinary shoes are therefore turned into fragile and theatrical art pieces that suggest an outward/inward dichotomy and eventually reveal the wearer’s most secret and genuine essence.

Dazed Digital: When did you have the idea for such an unusual collaboration with Iké?
Max Kibardin: I usually go twice a year to New York and meet with Iké. We usually have long conversations and I keep him updated with my work and projects. During one of these chats we were having I was explaining him the main points of my collection, that is quality and craftsmanship, and he suggested me from his artist’s point of view that, though beautiful, it can be difficult for men’s shoes to communicate something. This statement sparked a long conversation about what lies behind shoes and how to communicate certain feelings. I had already seen Iké’s work from Behind Decorum before our conversation and I thought it was very exciting, so I started thinking about how to make shoes speak about themselves and about the people who wear them. We had further talks and Iké asked me ‘Can men’s shoes be sexy?’ and we realised by looking at women’s shoes that they can communicate a lot while men’s footwear is usually safe, so we tried to think about how we could make men’s shoes look fragile and how we could make people see inside a pair of shoes.

DD: This project was presented during the Pitti trade show: do you feel it is still possible to talk about art in such a commercial environment?
Iké Udé: Of course it is. In fact I think that art should be everywhere, it should be part of our daily conversation and the artistic message should be as ubiquitous and varied as possible. I simply loved this project and I don’t see it as compromising myself. When somebody buys a print or a painting, that person can be a husband, a wife, a Protestant, Catholic or Jew, a young or a middle-aged person. We are indeed many things and not just one thing. That’s why I see this segregation between art, fashion and commerce as a sort of apartheid, and I feel that these walls between such fields will son collapse and generate a very fluid conversation.

DD: What does this project represent for you as a designer?
Max Kibardin: It’s a dream come true since it represents the chance to finally develop a project that is just not about fashion, but involves different topics and issues. As a fashion designer you can obviously create wonderful art pieces, but, at the end of the day, you still have to put things on the market and sell them to survive. This project allowed me instead to start a unique dialogue with Iké, something very special that, through subtle elements and unusual materials, can provoke people into thinking and finally break the boundaries between craftsmanship and art, showing how the former is a form of art as well.