After years of wild experimentation, shoe designer and recent ITS competition winner Marco Baitella came to realise the importance of simplifying design. Throughout his collection, he worked towards making his ideas not only stronger but also easier to comprehend. His graduate pieces give us an insight into his perspective on beauty and impermanence — and, understanding the impact he has on people that interact with his designs, Marco recognises it as a form of communication. Rather than creating design for design’s sake, he creates beautiful objects that offer a moment of reflection.
“It is not about formulaically ticking boxes for a satisfactory result, but rather about challenging the different ways of thinking.”
How much do you consider your work to be a part of who you are?
My work progressively became an extension of my identity — gathering more depth and power alongside my personal growth. It is a philosophical and physical dimension where I am able to represent myself: what I was, what I am, and how I imagine myself in both the imminent and the distant future. My primary inspiration is an unconscious network of information that belongs to my memories. A precise moment of the past that crosses my mind while I am walking in Hyde Park, the constant and subtle feeling of the Renaissance in Italian cities, the element of nature that converses with technological materials discovered just five minutes ago.
The approach to design and research at the RCA is very liberal and individual. How has this affected the way you interpret a concept?
The method of teaching at the RCA really encourages its students to develop their own processes and ways of thinking, which is supported by endless facilities that everybody has access to. It is not about formulaically ticking boxes for a satisfactory result, but rather about challenging the different ways of thinking. I personally struggled in my first year, before I was able to exclude all the frivolous input and concentrate on true motivations. The period between the first and second year was fundamental: to look back at previous work and to research in order to understand how to further develop my work. From the start of the second year I was already unconsciously aware of what I wanted. My developmental approach was immediate and spontaneous, as I began to manipulate materials and shapes that ultimately became the main elements of my final collection.
Prior to studying at the RCA did you gain industry experience?
Before applying to the RCA I had some experiences inside and outside my country, within different sectors of the industry. My very first experience was an internship at Balenciaga for six months in 2013, right when the creative direction passed from Nicolas Ghesquière to Alexander Wang. This experience was essential for me to consolidate my aesthetic, in understanding its effective relevance within the industry. I was lucky enough to assist the designers on a visit to factories in Florence during a collection’s development. From this experience I began to understand the importance of creating desirable, high-quality products for a specific target of customer within a market. At the RCA I experimented a lot with conceptual ideas, but at the same time I had the chance to practice my process commercially with various projects sponsored by the industry. I do not believe that conceptual and commercial design are two worlds that walk along two irreconcilable binaries. I personally experienced how high conceptual ideas can be translated into an object that is commercially valuable while maintaining its spirit.
“One aspect that may differentiate design from art is practicality and the idea of everyday life: wearing, using, washing, and throwing away. However, a pair of anonymous shoes after three years of constant use can become a manifesto, an object full of memories and meaning – a piece of art.”
Further thinking about marketing your work, do you aspire to launch your own brand or work for someone else?
At the moment I am interested in giving practical life to everything I have learned from the beginning of my journey within education. I am determined to look for the appropriate context to do that, and I would love to start this chapter from some dimensions that has truly inspired my life, as a giving back. In parallel I will be continuing to develop my work into new landscapes and forms, as design has become an unstoppable instinct.
When developing and transforming your collection, how important was working with different creative forms and materials as opposed to what we may think of as traditional footwear?
Creating new channels of communication, processes, and ways of designing footwear have been some personal goals since the beginning of my studies at the RCA. The freedom in these past two years has allowed me to experiment with all types of materials in any form and composition. In my collection I included some traditional designs, because I strongly believe that classic shoes are still powerful and will always be relevant: they are the starting point. I began by using the pattern of the classic derby as a base to develop the entire collection by variating construction, materials, and details to fix a new vision.
“It is necessary to eliminate waste, think sustainably, help diversity be respected, let beauty live, and slow down the system.”
Thinking in a broader sense when approaching design – do you understand your work as design or as art? Where do these entities separate and where do they meet?
The relationship between art and design is something I keep reflecting on since my very first steps into higher education. When I started my BA in Venice, our tutor asked us to fill in a survey during the first design course, and one of the questions was about this matter of conversation. I personally believe that art influences design and vice versa. There are no specific and definable limits between them. I consider my work as design, even though I can clearly recognize art in it, and my peers repeatedly emphasise that my vision is artistic. One aspect that may differentiate design from art is practicality and the idea of everyday life: wearing, using, washing, and throwing away. However, a pair of anonymous shoes after three years of constant use can become a manifesto, an object full of memories and meaning – a piece of art.
For my final collection at the RCA I designed some shoes with the idea of making them vulnerable not only within the environment they are worn in, but also the world around them. The petals of roses painted and foiled on leather started to fall apart after a while — the same for the leaves framed in between layers of pvc. One moment they would be vibrant in colour and then the next moment they wouldn’t even be alive.
We are living in an historical moment where we are able to push what design can do and how it should be considered. It is necessary to eliminate waste, think sustainably, help diversity be respected, let beauty live, and slow down the system.
In what way would you like the fashion industry to change?
I don’t really agree with the rhythm of fashion and would like to work towards a more reasonable perception of products outside the seasons. It is necessary to constantly challenge people’s perceptions about the industry, because everybody needs to be more aware about what they are wearing and what they are saying through fashion. “You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.” I opened my BA thesis with this quote from Diana Vreeland, because it captures the perfect significance of what I believe fashion is. It is all about a non-verbal communication that digs deeply behind the construction of a bag and the provenance of a material. People need to both be aware and be responsible about what they wear.
Words by Grace Ahn
All images courtesy of Marco Baitella