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Q&A April, 1 2011

Second Look | Band of Outsiders Q&A

As part of our ongoing second look series, we caught up with Scott Sternberg. Instead of asking him about Pitti, we thought we’d step to the left of the box and ask him about Band’s growing shoe collection.

Take a leap to see his answers.

Spring 2011: Nylon & Suede Boat Shoe; Tropical Wool Boat Shoe; Leather boots with Needlepoint strap; Gold canvas saddle oxfords and Reconstructed penny loafers (both girls)  – can you explain a little as to the choices of materials/fabrics/shoe styles?

Sure thing.  The Nylon/Suede combination has become the basic fabrication in the Sperry collaboration for the 3-eyes, which is the Band boat shoe (2 sets of eyelets + a speed lace on Sperry’s AO Last – AO stands for Authentic Original).  The materials remind me of an old gym shoe, and they take color well and distinctly so it’s nice to mix them.  I was looking for any way possible to integrate needlepoint into the Spring 11 collection, and the boots seemed like a cool way to do it, especially as the samples came out quite austere and needed a rough, less polished element to balance that feeling. We also tried an all-needlepoint Sperry slip on loafer with a Tromp L’Oeil buckle on the vamp, but they couldn’t quite get it right and the needlepoint panels were made by hand in Haiti (yes, Haiti) and thus very, very expensive.

For the women’s stuff, Boy is about re-looking at the menswear and having a little fun with it, so the shoes always fall in line with that approach.  I liked the gold painted finish for a women’s oxford because it reminded me of what wet concrete looks like when the sun hits it from the right angle, kind of blinding to the eye, which I thought was cool for a shoe and would be great for the show, as we were planning to wet the floors and create that effect with lighting already.

The penny loafer sandals are a little insane – the saddle of a men’s cordovan penny loafer kind of just stuck on a flat wood geisha wedge with heavy grommets, with a big fat hole in the sole for good measure – but surprisingly cute in the end.

Looking forward to Autumn 2011, what are the core footwear styles in the collection (looks like the boat shoe has a boot upgrade, and is that a round toe suede number?) and what was the reasoning behind going with them?

I wanted to riff on a climbing boot, as the men’s collection took inspiration from these hippie rock climbers from the 70s, so we made the chukka boot a bit higher and created a patchwork with 3 different shades of the same leather quality.  I was also interested in making a Moccasin type boot, something more minimal and spare, with very little hardware, as it also reminded me of that time period, and that area of California where these climbers were, and the commune references that were also all over my boards that season.  Sperry’s heritage is in moccasin construction, so it felt like a natural leap, and I put it on the 3 eye rubber outsole and added eyelets and a leather lace to maintain some familiar elements of the AO.

You have exercised quite a daring use of materials in the past – ie: Melton (daring for us UK wearers at least), cork and animal skins (Sperry Topsiders), ballistic nylon (Top-Sider High Top), inside out fabric (Reconstructed boat shoe) and Trompe L’oeil (rubber boat shoes). Is there any material still out there that you feel like you just have to make work for a shoe?

There are two materials we tried but weren’t able to pull off.  One was a Sperry 3 Eye made entirely from Velcro.  it was constructed so there were no laces, self closing.  All velcro, all the time.  They were way too crunchy when you tried to walk in them, though.  That same season, and the next, we tried to made render the boat shoe in rubber through Sperry’s Wellie factory but couldn’t get close to their production minimums.  My favorites were from Fall 09.  We printed 3 designs on the Rubber AO – a composition book pattern, a wood grain formica pattern, and a tromp l’oeil painted boat shoe.  I’d like to re-visit both and figure out how to bring them to market.

To pardon the pun, to what extent are you lead by the hand in terms of choosing your footwear fabrics?

If I’m focusing solely on wearable product, it’s a combination of hand, color, durability, and purpose/heritage.  But footwear tends to be where I take the most chances and explore ideas the furthest, and its not always about pure wearability.  The Sperry collection in particular is meant to be a full and rather free expression of the brand and each collection.  This was the first instance where I was creating some portion of the collection with the intent for it to only be a concept – prototypes, not products for mass consumption.   So, in many cases with them, I’m choosing materials to push an idea further or just to see if it will work, if it will look cool, if you can actually walk in it.  They’re down for all of it and so easy to work with – they really understand that the project is about paying homage to this classic, authentic product by picking at it from every possible angle.  Eventually they’re able to take these ideas and diffuse them into their main line.

Accessorising is the key to setting off the perfect look and this is true with your shoes – contrasting laces (5 Hole Saddle Shoe) for instance. What other ‘ADD’ twists appear in the Spring’11 and Autumn’11 collections?  For Spring 11, we made a very traditional  boot but added a handmade needlepoint strap in a few different patterns to try to make the boot feel new, even though all of the elements – the leather, the shape of the boot, the hardware, and even the needlepoint itself – were quite vintage and classic in nature.  For Fall 11, we added a wingtip pattern to the oxford dress shoe, but a very naive, simple design, which hopefully made this style that can be quite staid more approachable and not so serious.  Not an accessory, but a finishing technique.  Overall, I usually try to use somewhat raw, pure, almost basic elements for accessories in the more formal shoes to bring them down a notch, to take the edge off I guess – the laces are un-waxed cotton in a natural color, or the leather soles remain unfinished.

With footwear, is there any more/less of a trade-off between aesthetics and practicality than with any other garment – your use of white (WHITE!) suede and wool for boat shoes in the past suggests a certain, “damn the practicalities!” attitude?

Well, some of those fall into that “concept shoe” category for sure.  But those shoes definitely have a customer too, which is either a real fashion customer, a sneaker geek who collects and covets, or a guy in Japan who dresses and treats his clothes better than anyone we both know.  I own and have worn through pretty much every shoe we’ve brought to market – those white suede loafers still make their way out of the closet every summer, and the wool flannel 3-eyes are the best.  But I suppose I am the exception to the rule – if I ruin them, I know where to get another pair for free.

Is it any more difficult/demanding to experiment with the shape of classic shoes (turning a chukka into a high-top etc) and get it right, than it is with classic clothing pieces – eg shirting?  It’s really the same thing – finding balance between what feels new and interesting but also wearable and durable.  Its the same eye making that decision.  The big difference is cost – shoes are much more expensive to develop than apparel, and you have less attempts to get it right.  That being said, if you’re not changing the last or making a new mold for the outsole, changing the vamp is really quite similar to changing the pattern on a piece of apparel.

Who would be BOO’s top three style icons when it comes to footwear inspiration?

Oof, I’m bad at style icon questions.  Mind goes blank.  Sorry!

Does the fact that girls can wear more kinds of shoes (ie women often get a choice of ‘masculine’ shoes but men rarely, if ever, get any choice of feminine shoes) make innovation in men’s footwear more challenging – or, indeed, make designing girls’ shoes more fun?

Innovation and any sort of change at all in menswear is always challenging.  Period.  It’s a real trick and guys are incredibly tough customers when it comes to consistency, integrity, change, and quality.  For every guy who really connects to our product and understands the approach to innovation and craft, there are the haters who think it’s all overpriced vintage knock-offs that fit too small.  This is just how guys are and it’s kind of great because that transparency is so helpful in understanding what’s working and what’s not, where we can improve and make a better product. and where there’s room to innovate.  Women seem to be looking for very different attributes in a product.  Their buying decision is probably more about an emotional reaction to a color or shape or texture, or an association they have after seeing the product in a magazine or on a celebrity; it’s not so much about quality, heritage, or authenticity, or at least as much as it is for guys.   And they’re probably going to wear the shoes for much less time, so there has to be a lot of design in it for them to get their value out of it.  So there are more possibilities, and certainly less rules, but that presents its own challenges too!  Either way, both men’s and women’s shoes are really, really fun to design.

In the past you (Scott Sternberg) have said that you like the psychosexual tension between your three groupings: Men, Boy, Girl. So which Spring’11 and Autumn’11 shoes would they be desperate to wake up first for and swipe, after their inevitable ménage a trois?

Oh dear, keep in mind that I was merely responding to a feisty Tim Blanks in a crowded, hot room full of scary fashion people.  That being said, that odd, spare moccasin boot from Fall would probably be the ticket.

Words by Alex Jackson

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