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Civilist Interview

Date: July 17 2014

By: Sneaker Freaker

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Berlin's Civilist store is the skateboarding hub of the German capital. For their latest colab with Vans Syndicate, the Civilist crew has bottled up a fine batch of shoes. Hesse, one of the founders of Civilist, gave us some answers on this beautifully boozy pack of Vans.

Civilist and Nike, Pointer, Chocolate – and now Vans. How did it all happen?
We've been friends with Rian and Jon from the Syndicate ever since Lodown times – even before we opened Civilist four years ago. Besides their current colabs with, for example, Golfwang, Vans Syndicate offers many 90s skateboard references. We can absolutely identify with that, we have the same background. This is also how the first work with Vans Syndicate came about three years ago. Also, for two years we had a suitable story for a launch with them. But during a visit to LA last year we threw that overboard completely. Rian, Julia and Juss were down with that, and so we were able to tell the current story within a year.

You've been in the business for a long time now and have had some experience with colabs. What's the challenge?
This time it was important to surprise ourselves as well as the customers. Therefore the decision to tell a story that is not so serious and filled with references. We wanted a colourful melting pot. Summer. Fun. Rampage. Party. By our standards we didn't go out on a limb. We did not want to go the way of subtle detailing – these are more about bold colors and patterns.

Stories are important, right?
Yes and no. Stories make things smoother. But a shit product cannot be saved by the story. We are having more fun putting the shoes together with accompanying textiles or accessories to bring out the context of a story, allowing us to also completely redecorate the store.

You are known for not just taking a product, but also for telling a credible story. Let us now a little bit about the background and the idea behind these shoes.
We wanted the product to be as simple and rampage-y as possible. Therefore, as a plug: party, drinking, club nights – everything that makes Berlin attractive. And this includes the effects afterwards: the hangover. And the recovery from it. The bottle pattern is a total party thing, it's all about rampage. With the Era the binge begins with a colourful beer bottle print. The Slip-On is for the hangover, keeping it simple with no origami laces. The third shoe of the pack is a skateboarding staple. A subtle black, with the pattern on the heel: the aftermath of the previous party programme.

Coming along are extras such as the t-shirt with a bottle print in the Berlin outline, a canvas bag and the boonie hat for when the bulb still hurts. We have cleared out our store so it looks a bit like the former club WMF. Krsn and Codec from the visual artist crew Pfadfinderei beamed the visuals up on the ceiling. Those guys usually do the visual programming for Modeselektor and such. Luckily they know their stuff. On the release day it all culminated at the Watergate club, where the whole subject came full circle. With the guys and Monja of Berlin music crew Keinemusik we continued where we started at the store with some Schultheiss beers. The Keinemusik crew took the Watergate apart. Also, there was a T-Shirt with the infamous Hangover (which is called 'Kater' in German) print: 'The Kater Is Over'. Everything was in tune with the whole theme. The next day we were hungover for sure. A few people from our camp and Keinemusik went directly from the Watergate to the store. That fit the mood.

Others make one pair of shoes, you make three. Was one not enough?
We already tried to foist two models on Nike SB with our last colab. That did not work out. With the Vans Syndicate collaboration it was clear that we wanted to tell a bigger story. It wouldn't work without several shoes.

We figure the guys at Vans gave you total control?
Completely. Rian from the US and Juss, Jean and Steffi for Europe once again offered perfect support. Incredible, because otherwise we wouldn't have been able to do this – also because the schedule was so tight and the actual implementation in the shop ate up a lot of time and work next to the long development of the shoe.

How is it to work with the big ones: Vans, Nike SB ...?
You learn so much. You get a glimpse of how each decision is made in the development of products and packaging. With the Vans Syndicate production for example, we left out a special box because we did not want to make the package even more expensive. But through the power of Vans' own production plants we were able to experiment with different materials and prints. And it was great to go over several ideas with the folks from Vans Syndicate while doing so. The same applies to Nike SB, it's also a good cooperation with both sides developing new ideas and approaches.

Hardly a week passes without another colab being announced. Good or bad?
Actually, the market seems flooded. But as long as the interest is still there and not only uninspired cheese is put out, further colabs will appear and find buyers. This should not be overestimated from a pessimist perspective. Eventually, it will fade out and something else will come.

Why are so few colabs happening with German stores – after all, the scene is bigger than ever and the number of stores is growing?
Maybe it's because the brands wish for more international appeal of the German stores? I hope there will be many more collaborations, unexpected connections and funny results. I would really like to see a shoe from SooHotRightNow from Munich. Esel, Robinson and Mixen probably have some zany ideas too.

Finally, which product would you most like to design in your style?
An air cushion vehicle. With a hovercraft through the Spreewald woods near Berlin. Duts Deluxe!

– Interview by Sneaker Freaker Germany.

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