Reebok : Emporio Armani Collaboration (SS 2012)
intro to the Reebok | Armani collaboration
In 2010 Reebok and Armani announced that they would partner to produce a collection of apparel and footwear. I was fortunate enough to be involved from the beginning, working with senior leadership from both brands to help to define and lead the direction of the collaboration, and ultimately was responsible for designing the majority of the footwear and overseeing the remaining shoes (working in close partnership with the Armani team).
The story of this shoe is one of approaching the design process in a different way and about learning to trust in both the vision for a product and the process of getting there.
Sometimes as a designer you have the chance to take a different path, challenge your own process and use it as an opportunity to learn and develop.
Despite being part of the final season of the collaboration, in many ways the story of this shoe began when we were first in discussions and strategically planning how the collaboration would unfold over four product seasons. We had the idea to build a lightweight EA7 product on a running platform, but we were planning to introduce three ZIG Tech training shoes in the second season, so we knew this shoe would have to wait for its slot in the range. Having seeded this thought, I was already imagining what this shoe could be, some 18 months before actually starting work on it.
A pivotal moment came after designing our third season, when we finally made the decision to make the shoe. I wanted to use the EA Eagle Mid as a starting point. This shoe had been well received, with its very simple design language, stripped-back construction, textural materials and the continued application of transparency and reflectivity through the use of TPU hotmelt film. I believed that these characteristics would translate well into this "racing flat" style product and I had three seasons worth of ideas ready to throw at it.
The goal was to make the simplest, most distilled version of our story so far.
hotmelt - a technique where a special type of plastic based material is bonded/melted onto a substrate - or base - material without the need to use stitching.
How was my process different from how I would typically work on this project?
The significant difference was that I designed the shoe completely digitally, using Adobe Illustrator.
I did not do any traditional sketches or work out any problems on paper.
I would normally go back and forth between mediums; sketching by hand, making models and working digitally, not this time though...
Adobe Illustrator - a vector based, digital design tool - more on vectors here.
I found that working digitally really suited the ideas I had for the construction and materials, it was more effective to visualize texture and translucency in Illustrator than it was with paper and pen. It was also easier to play with colour digitally, I like to experiment with colour blocking/balance as part of my design process and not treat it as an after thought. The simplicity of this shoe would mean that pattern and colour choices would be key, trusting in the impact they would have was an important part of the process. It is easy to see prototypes or samples where the pattern and colours are not correct, and immediately panic that the shoe is not executing the way you hoped. The need to avoid making rash changes and learning to trust in the next step of the process is a key skill for all designers and product managers - one that is not easily learned.
This was the final lineart.
Although simplified and stripped back, the toecap and vamp borrow key shapes and proportions from Reeboks Classic Leather, and the midsole/outsole would be a twist on that iconic shoes traditional die-cut EVA platform.
This would give the shoe the Reebok part of its character, and the material/colour choices, the aggressively simple construction and attention to detail would speak to Armani's design principles.
"die-cut" meaning a material cut using a metal die - for a midsole the EVA foam is cut from a large block and was the normal way to manufacture midsoles in the 70's and 80's - it has largely been replaced by injected EVA where pellets are injected into a mold allowing the creation of complex shapes and reducing waste.
Clearly this pullover does not look very good. I talked about the need to trust in the process and this first attempt at this shoe is a good example of why. We were on a tight schedule and knew that we had limited chances to get it right. Sometimes in these situations it is easy for the pressure to force a change in direction, to look for simpler or more familiar solutions. The key to avoiding these knee jerk reactions on this project was the team of developers and product managers I was working with. I was lucky enough to have built great relationships with them over the years and the trust we had in one another would enable us to stick with the original plan knowing that we would all do what was needed to get the product right.
The upper construction itself was actually a good start, everything was there and "put together" correctly, so the changes focused on getting the pattern lines to look like the original design.
However, it is nearly always the case that the simpler the pattern, the harder it is to make look good...
First shell pattern revision.
When you only have a few, simple elements, how they are placed and how they interact is critical to how the shoe will look when finished. As you can see in this revision, basically every line would be moved. This is where it is important to trust that your changes will have the desired effect.
The first pattern revision made a big difference and this final pullover was looking much better - despite still having substitute materials and colours. The main pattern and proportions needed only minor changes, with one exception, which was due to the upper being based on one large textile piece. This was causing the upper to deform as it tried in vain to wrap all the way around the complex curves of the last.
I had to take responsibility for this challenge, this was true to the way I had originally designed the shoe. I have designed and made enough shoes, and tried enough constructions that I should have known this would be a difficult pattern to execute. It was.
I will always advocate trying things, even if they have not worked in the past, but this was not the most important aspect of the design. It did not help the performance and it was obviously detrimental to the aesthetic, so changing the design of the heel/collar overlay to allow the base mesh to better take the shape of the last was the key change I would make.
Second and final shell pattern revision. This simple change to the heel/collar overlay means the mesh upper no longer needed to extend around the heel and would hopefully result in the shoe having a much better shape.
The final product would no doubt benefit from finding this improved unison of form and function.
Finally all the steps come together for the finished product; upper pattern and construction, outsole/midsole execution, colour and materials - the highly reflective base mesh and structural TPU hotmelt film.
This final shoe was
the simplest and most pure expression of what we had been trying to achieve with the collaboration.
The Ultralite outsole, allowing for an absence of rubber, meant that we had the aesthetic of a heritage running product, with much of the functionality of a modern performance product, including an extremely low weight.
Ultralite - an outsole grade midsole material normally used in technologies such as ZigTech
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check out Reebok | Armani press coverage here
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Copyright © 2013 Mike Kirtley.
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