There is no room for apathy in Safa Sahin’s world. Whether he’s strolling through a leafy Oregon forest, watching a cyberpunk dystopia on screen, or roughing out a sketch of a vertiginous dragon-shaped heel, nothing fuels the Turkish-born designer’s explosive creativity like a complete immersion into his surroundings. “A design is an end product, but there are so many ways to get to there. For me, creations can only be born out of experience and direct experimentation. Everything I do comes from a place of being in it. I absorb everything I see, I rarely let anything slide; not even the seemingly insignificant.
‘Always pay attention’ is Safa’s creative mantra ‒ and sure enough, his work oozes meticulousness. From cheese block soles to whimsical Björk-esque silhouettes or the avant-garde footwear he has been designing for Nike since 2016, no detail is left to chance, and no idea is too exuberant. “The crazier the stuff I make, the more I feel like myself,” he admits. Clearly, Safa didn’t get into shoe design to create your average nine-to-five kitten heel, so his interest in art forms that aren’t confined by functionality doesn’t really come as a surprise.
“I’m from a small town in the middle of Turkey, and I always had this burning desire to express my individuality,” he explains. Before setting his sights on fashion, Safa tried his hand at graffiti, fine art, and sculpture, which he still largely credits for informing both his technique and interest in shoemaking. “I do see my shoes as small-scale sculptures. In fact, I make physical clay sculptures of each design before any industrial manufacturing enters the picture. It’s the most challenging part of the technical process, but probably also the most rewarding.”
Look at Safa’s work, and you might initially sense a meeting of McQueen’s vivid conceptual limitlessness and Yohji Yamamoto’s exquisite attention to detail; but behind his fastidious craft lies a surprisingly primal, organic creative process. “My main source of inspiration is nature. I love observing the changing leaves, seasons, or colours. The transformative power of nature is a major influence on my aesthetic and creative identity,” he says. An intuitive designer, Safa is not one to overthink or wait around. “If an idea comes to me, I immediately start working on it. The design needs to come to life very quickly. Production usually starts a couple of days after I finish the digital sketches.” This highly alert style of working, coupled with a penchant for innovation and far-out artistry likely contributed to making Safa’s recent collaboration with Nike so fruitful. “I had been approached by a few big names already, but when Nike contacted me, about a year ago, it was a no-brainer. I love incorporating new technology into my work, revisiting iconic silhouettes, and blending fashion with high performance,” he argues.
Sportswear and couture may be radically different in terms of purpose, design and manufacture, but Safa doesn’t feel compelled to choose. “At the end of the day, I just love designing. It’s my language, it’s how I express myself. I’m usually a terrible speaker, but art allows me to speak without saying a word. It’s very freeing.” Just try and silence him.
Words Irina Baconsky