Marco Baitella, experimentally crafting shoes at the Royal College of Art
When we first met, it was Marco’s self-portrait on his desk which struck me: cross-armed with a fusilli mohican, it was a glimpse into his world of surreal yet personal design, laced with narratives and memories. Nature dominates his work, having grown up in a small village in northern Italy, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains. With the work in progress show opening this week, he reflects on his influences, processes and what pisses him most off about the industry.
In December, we spoke about shoes being an object which you can challenge. Tell me about some of the ways in which you are doing this?
I always start from an assumption. For instance, shoes are objects that play a core role in the relationship between an individual and the world. It is the layer in between two major dimensions; therefore shoes are key in the dialogue between the self and the ground. They can change the posture of a person and their perception of reality. They can make somebody dream, or dance, or fall down! When I design, I always think about an ideal person, his values and what this person wants to communicate and experience in the world. What if a person wanted to jump instead of walk? Or walk on an asphalt street in a big city as if it were a grass lawn in the countryside? The endless degrees of interpretation drives my personal challenge about what footwear design can be.
You mentioned that you studied footwear at a school in Venice, which largely focuses on architecture. How did this impact your outlook?
Both shoes and buildings are integral to our lives, and both need structure to function. Whilst studying the BA in Venice, we were constantly encouraged to consider this dialogue. We were analysing the concept of the house — the idea of homo nobilis, and shoes being the ultimate ‘wandering house’. I really love how architect Adolf Loos thinks about shoes in his essay “Why a Man Should be Well-dressed: Appearances Can be Revealing.”
What drew you to study fashion? Are you from an artistic background?
I grew up observing people and what they looked like: the old lady with thick ankles at my mother’s salon, my cousin and his nylon coat, my friends and their low waist pants. I developed a natural interest in fashion, drawing on everything that intrigued me. At school I studied maths and science, and my practice before uni was mainly theoretical and self-taught.
What drew you to focus on footwear?
It happened spontaneously. During the second year of my BA, I attended a course which introduced me to footwear and accessories design, and I absolutely enjoyed it! Then I went to Bremen (Germany) for a semester, challenging myself again with garments: it was at this moment that I realised I missed designing shoes. Equally important was my experience in Paris, where I interned in the accessories and footwear department of Balenciaga. I learnt to think more deeply about shoes. Ultimately, it is quite simple: if you ask me to create something, I will go straight to shoes.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently dissecting my identity. During the summer, I took a container and filled it with objects that represent what I am: my very first pair of shoes, leaves and flowers from my garden, some shapes of pasta; I put some water in it and then froze it. Afterwards, I started observing this crystallized conglomerate of information. I ended up applying the same techniques for cutting pasta to leather; working on transparency; the feeling of walking on grass, and considering water as an element to include in footwear.
Would you describe your design approach as experimental?
My design approach is based on experimentation, which I think is essential at this stage of my journey, and in general to be noticed. Nothing is new nowadays and you have to find new modes of interpretation. It requires a lot of work with intelligent risk-taking!
What are some of the techniques you’re most excited about?
At the moment I am really curious about new ways of connecting materials, and techniques of stitching them together. I am experimenting with heat, using different instruments, stitching together layers of transparent pvc and filling it with water. And then seeing what happens when I vary the temperature. I am also really fascinated by the traditional methodologies of shoemaking and reintroducing these to the process. I love working with resin and mixing it with different media, and I am passionate about embroidery, in all its variations: hand, digital, machine.
Who are you inspired by?
I love surrealism and I am particularly interested in the work of Hieronymus Bosch, Dorothea Tanning, Jacques Prévert. But I love finding inspiration directly in nature and the people that surround me.
Do you design with a particular gender in mind?
I think in terms of menswear. I never have been too excited about the idea of designing women’s shoes, but I am sure that my products are genderless.
What kind of shoes do you like to wear?
It mainly depends on the season. In warm months I wear Birkenstock clogs literally everywhere — they are old and the upper part is brown; full of marks and signs, memories from places and people I met. During other periods I go for sneakers: I am currently obsessed with a MMM confetti trainer, made in 2009 to celebrate the brand’s anniversary.
If you could travel for inspiration, where would you go?
For a couple of years I have been dreaming of Cape Town. I read so much about South Africa and really want to go!
How do you like to spend your time out of school?
When I’m not at school, I try to optimize my time, catching all the opportunities on offer from living in London. Recently I have been to Sadler’s Wells Theatre to see Gravity Fatigue, where all the costumes were designed by Hussein Chalayan. And I absolutely enjoyed Jeff Mills & BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in Light From The Outside World.
How would your friends describe you?
Hyperactive, bizarre, son of the Renaissance.
How important is it to get across your identity through your designs?
You can’t separate what you do and who you are. It is all about yourself, and it is crucial not to hide that while you are doing it: you are always learning. Honesty, authenticity and freedom: it is fundamental that you don’t try to satisfy somebody else’s expectations. You have to inform and force yourself to justify everything about your work, always looking back to who you are.
What annoys you most about the fashion system?
I am not happy about the rhythm that fashion is acquiring: everything moves so fast and it is simply too much. As an Italian, I am annoyed by the attitude of people towards fashion, the ignorance about what it was and what it is, and the lack of support for young people who want to invest in it. Fashion needs to be strongly recognized by institutions and everybody should realize its potential — culturally and economically.
In the future, would you like to establish your own brand or work for a designer?
At the moment, I am not planning so much in advance. Life is so unpredictable and I am open to everything that will come. My idea would be to work for a designer, more than to establish my own brand. Looking at many emerging designers as an example, I realized how important it is to experience the market as an employee for someone. The market is saturated with brands that pop up at the speed of light. I am always wondering if we need all of this, and I support Dieter Rams’ motto: less is better.
Words Lilah Francis
All images courtesy of Marco Baitella