I've long been a fan of the Spanish shoemaker Camper (I have two pairs, I'll confess) and in recent years their strong sense of design has translated off the foot and into the retail environment. I had a chance to chat with Miguel Fluxa, one of the head's of the brand that his father Lorenzo founded in 1975. I asked him about the various Camper shops that have sprung up around the world, how they sort out who designs what, and precisely why so damned many industrial designers have been engaged to make shoes for them. Read on.
Camper is a design driven company with several spiffy lines of shoes. But tell me why you've chosen to extend that from your product to your stores, whose designers include the Campana Brothers and Jaime Hayon.
In 1981, after seven years of successfully marketing products through multibrand stores, we realized that our shoes needed a dedicated setting that would allow customers to interact with the shoes and the brand and, as a consequence, opened our first Camper store in Barcelona where our creativity and philosophy imbue not only the shoes, but also the architecture and graphic elements. That shop was designed by Fernando Amat and already incorporated some innovative elements. In the early 1990s, with the international expansion, we decided that we didn’t want to look the same all over the world, as global doesn’t need to mean uniformity, and we decided to give each shop its own distinctive personality developing a creative network with designers, architects and artists. In 2006 we decided to further reinforce the collaborations and became the Together concept: identity and diversity hand in hand.
Do you have a sense that a retail environment is as important as the product being sold?
Product is definitivelly the most important for us but a retail environment is also very important. We consider that the retail environment transmits the true values and the essence of the brand to the clients as much as the shoes do. For us, creativity is in the core of our business and through our stores we want to express this creativity by creating spaces that are always different and always special.
In the Together line of Camper's shoes you've used industrial designers like Hella Jongerius and Alfredo Haberli. But why should industrial designers be any good at making footwear? Surely Haberli isn't an ace at designing everything.
We believe there are certain elements in common. Shoes are also objects, and functionality plays an essential in the design of a shoe. We like industrial designers and the way they are able to apply art to real-life things making them functional and creative at the same time. Of course, not all of them can or are interested in making footwear, but for those who decide to carry out the collaboration, our 130-year know-how in making shoes make up for their lack of experience in this industry. In fact, and based on our experience, every industrial designer works in a different way and their approach to Camper has never been the same. It is very enriching for us to observe how they immerse themselves in the shoe creation process which is new for most of them; then see how the collaboration evolves and finally the final result, which has always been unique and surprising. But we do not work exclusively with industrial designers; we have also worked with fashion designers such as Bernhard Willhelm, Veronique Branquinho or Romain Kremer.
Which of the industrial design collaborations have been the most successful in terms of shoes sold? Jaime Hayon?
Jaime Hayon has been one of the designers with whom the collaboration has been most fruitful not only in terms of sales but also in terms of continuity, as we have worked six seasons together. We always try to establish long-term relationships. With Bernhard Willhelm for example, we have already launched five collections and our plan is to continue as long as we both enjoy working together.
Describe the process of engaging an industrial designer. How do you choose who you collaborate with? How do you go through the process with the designer? Do they submit a sketch?
When we decide to work with a designer, we first decide the concept that we want to develop, a concept that fits both the designer and Camper. Then the designer works in a proposal and based on it we start working on the development of prototypes. The next step is working together on the selection of lasts, constructions, styles, materials, colors, etc. until we arrive to a collection that we both feel comfortable with. The design process is very enriching for both sides, the designers bring creativity and freshness and we contribute with our know-how of more than 130 years making shoes.
And how do you determine who you want to work with?
We work with people whose work we admire and think they can add something new to the brand and at the same time share some values. They can be very different in styles, but we like diversity.
How do you choose the retail designers? Do you try to choose someone local or perhaps someone very experienced?
It is basically the same as product designers. We work with people which we like their work. Sometimes the designers have never done an interior design project.
Could you say then how Camper broadly thinks about design?
Design is very important for us and has been at the DNA of the brand since its origins in 1975. When Camper was born, it united the heritage and know how of making shoes together with design. To make beautiful and comfortable shoes. But we also tried to innovate in other elements like the communication, graphic design, design of the shops, etc... We still think that these values are valid today and we try to update them with new people and new ideas.