How Studio Hagel Designs Sci-Fi Footwear

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When Mathieu Hagelaars starts on one of his designs, it could go anywhere. Whether he’s making sandals from an Air Max 95 or using packing peanuts to form outsoles, he approaches sneaker design with a ‘no limits’ attitude. Through Studio Hagel and the experimental Makers Monday project, Hagelaars’ unashamedly DIY approach is paying off big time. Did we mention he also designs footwear with Virgil Abloh?

Your designs are amazing! How did you make your start in footwear design?
Thank you. I’ve always worked in the footwear industry, but not in design. I was intrigued by the creation of footwear, so every step I took was to get closer to footwear design. At first nobody wanted to hire me as a designer; I had to have more experience. That’s why I started Studio Hagel.

Can you tell us what Studio Hagel does?
Studio Hagel is a footwear design and consultancy studio. I work with brands to design their footwear collections, bring in a new direction, and shake things up to come up with new ideas. I also have my Makers Monday project on Instagram. These are experiments with sneakers where I approach design in different ways and use materials that aren’t related to sneakers.

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How do you go about creating each shoe? What does your design process involve?
It’s different for each design. Sometimes I have a clear idea what to make, and other times I start with an idea that evolves into something different. The most important thing is to have fun and just play around. At first it feels like it’s useless and like I’ll probably end up with nothing, but that’s how great ideas are born.

Where do you look for inspiration?
I like when people repair or improve their own shoes in their own way. It’s a very ‘low-fi’ kind of way to solve a problem, but to me that’s where it starts. On the other end of that spectrum, there’s science fiction. In science fiction nobody says ‘it’s not possible’, because it’s science fiction — there are no boundaries or rules. Approaching the status quo in a new way, making people look at things differently — that way of thinking is how I approach my designs.,

Your creations really push the boundaries of sneaker design. How important is wearability in your work?
I’m a designer and not a shoemaker. There should be no limitations for me. This way, I don’t need to look at wearability at first. A design or experiment could end up becoming something extreme and be toned down afterwards to become a reality.

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Your Ikea Frakta shoes caught us by surprise. Never thought we’d see so much hype for a pair of sneakers made from a shopping bag! Why do you think this one exploded?
Zeitgeist! And a dose of humour, of course. Balenciaga’s Speed Trainer was a hyped sneaker at the time when they came out with their luxury version of Frakta bag. I thought about how they would look together, the Speed Trainer in the Frakta’s material. It went viral instantly. I got a lot of requests from people to buy it, but I never had the intention to produce it.

Why do you choose to take your work in an avant-garde direction?
That’s how you get new things in the world. I’m always looking for new things and trying to push a design. It doesn’t have to mean that all my experiments are the final product. It can be that the experiments have to be toned down a bit to become reality. Sometimes it’s just one detail that I like about my experiments that I use for future designs. In a way, you can say that I make my own inspiration. Some people say that what I make is art. To me, that’s a big compliment.

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Footwear from designers such as Raf Simons and Yohji Yamamoto are hot property these days. Why do you think people are becoming more interested in boundary-pushing sneaker designs?
Sneakers are everywhere and big brands like Nike, adidas and PUMA are mainly sports and performance driven. Fashion always has been there to provoke, to raise questions, and to show what’s happening in the world. Designers like Raf and Yohji are there to react to global sneaker trends with their vision and create sneakers that push boundaries. In turn, the sports brands will react to that in their own way. It creates an interesting field of tension. Avant-garde design isn’t just about the exterior.

What new materials are you working with?
Everywhere I am and everything I see, I’m always asking myself: how can I use this in a shoe? It doesn’t matter if I’m at a DIY store or in a toy shop, I keep my eyes open. I’ve used plastic spoons and vacuum cleaner hoses for some of my Makers Monday projects. At the moment I’m experimenting with all sorts of liquid rubbers.

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Outside of Studio Hagel, you also work with Virgil Abloh as a design consultant for Off-White’s footwear range. How did that come about?
Virgil reached out to me on Instagram. He invited me to work on a sneaker together, which ended up as the Off-Court and the Off-Court Hi. After that we worked on Off-White’s men’s footwear collections.

What is it like working with Virgil?
He’s great to work with. Virgil is a perfectionist pur sang. He elevates your skills by pushing boundaries.

What is the future of sneaker design?

I think there will be big steps made in materials. adidas already introduced Futurecraft. They can print a functional and comfortable outsole within an hour. Imagine where that will be in five years! Maybe we will have a subscription to a brand’s designs — you buy cartridges with the design’s specs and you can print it at home. Sounds like science fiction, but a 3D-printed outsole was science fiction 10 years ago. I will keep on experimenting, keep looking for new techniques, materials and keep on triggering myself to bring new ideas and designs. I’ll also be working to bring my Makers Monday projects into reality and available. Let’s see how that will go. Stay tuned.,

Originally published in Sneaker Freaker Issue 40. Grab you copy here.

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