It’s hard to get any more understated than Common Projects. With a rigorous line in monotone classics, they have still managed to turn heads, precisely by being So perfectly anonymous in an overblown world. The brand is a partnership between Prathan Poopat and Flavio Girolami, who have professed a desire to create the perfect sneaker. Is it possible? Are they even sneakers? We did our best to get Prathan to come clean... behold the GREY power of Common Projects!
Common Projects is actually a partnership with Flavio Girolami, how do you two work together?
Flavio and I are long time friends. He lives in Italy and I am in New York. Our partnership came sort of naturally. We work virtually on the day-to-day via the Internet and meet either in Italy or New York when working on collections.
My assumption is that you both have very strong ideas about the way you should do things... How do you resolve your differences on subjective matters?
Yes, we both have very clear ideas of the brand image and design. We collaborate on everything. We really see eye-to-eye on most things and trust each other. Although we’re very in-line with the vision of the brand, we approach it differently. It’s funny, most of the time we find we’re thinking the exact same thing. We rarely have differences and if we do, it only inspires us to look at it in a new light. I think we complement each other.
Are there particular elements in design and construction that make a CP model different from other similar brands out there?
Well, firstly, everything we produce is currently made in Italy using the finest leathers and materials. Our shoes are hand stitched to the sole as opposed to vulcanized. Most sneakers are made in either China or Vietnam and I think you can tell the difference. Our shoes last much, much longer than most sneakers and only get better over time.
I’m intrigued as to whether your shoes also represent your broader aesthetics in fashion, industrial design and architecture? In other words, do you apply the same rigorous minimalist approach to your life?
Very much so. Common Projects embodies our appreciation of finer aesthetics and design.
What is so compelling about being ‘anonymous’ in this day and age where logos and information are coming at you faster and bigger and every consumer item screams for attention?
I think people try to form their own identity through brands these days. I think what we do is sort of the opposite. We provide a blank canvas. Also I just don't like the idea of being labeled. Do you?
Well that depends which label... I read someplace that you wanted to create ‘the perfect sneaker’. Are you close to fulfilling that aim or is that more of an unattainable intellectual pursuit?
Haha. Yeah, we did say that, didn’t we? What is the ‘perfect sneaker’? The perfect sneaker to me might not be the perfect sneaker to you. We did want to do something that was stripped down and iconic and basic. I think we’ve realized this. Our first style, the Achilles, is still one of our biggest sellers and I think it’s for this reason. Every season we try to improve it with subtle production changes etc. I think they’re perfect for us.
Are there ‘performance’ elements built into the production that we can’t see in the external images?
Performance is sort of subjective, no? They perform very well in fashionable activities. I wouldn’t use them every day for the gym. Comfort is definitely a consideration, but not the driving force. No, there are no air pellets or anything like that hidden in the sole. I think the folks that wear CP are not often on the basketball court. I could be wrong.
You can buy CP in any hue as long as it’s white, grey or black... Is intense color too emotionally laden? What restrains you from using red or green or blue for example?
In some progressive pre-school teaching, they only allow kids to use one color for the first couple of years. The thinking being that you get an understanding of how to use the tool and not get overloaded. I think we were happy with the palette and were more interested in developing styles. You know, when we first started CP it was really hard to find something in these ‘basic’ colors. Now it’s much easier. Since then, we have graduated from basic and you will see more color in SS09.
What are your commercial aims? With such a relatively high sticker price ($200 and up – which befits the quality inherent in the construction) is your potential for growth capped by the very nature of what you create?
We take it day by day. We’re not trying to expand too quickly. We like forming partnerships with retailers and customers and I think we’re able to do this using our current model.
What are your feelings about advertising and marketing CP? With such an inherent understated manner, it almost seems uncouth to advertise such pure products. How do you view this friction between the need for promotion and playing it cool?
We don’t advertise, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t. I think there’s always a way to do something. I think if we ever did, we would definitely approach it in a different way. Not just the traditional pack shot on a page with a snappy slogan. I think we really look to our customers for endorsement and this is, in my opinion, stronger than any advertising.
The reaction seems very positive... as trends arise and the market moves, are you finding that more traditional sports sneaker retailers are enquiring about CP?
We haven’t been contacted by Foot Locker quite yet but, we seem to be attracting a lot more of the sneaker head shops though.
And finally... tell us about the future. What do you see?
We’ll just keep doing what we do. This might branch out to other things. We’ll keep you posted.
This article appeared in Issue 13 of Sneaker Freaker. Buy it here