Monday, June 24, 2013

At Last: The Making of Beau Coops - An Interview with Carrie Cooper

The Last Wall

Beau Coops designer Carrie Cooper recently relocated her design studio from Sydney to London, partly to be closer to the mecca of shoe-making, Marche, on the Adriatic Coast of Italy. Marche is where most "Italian-made' shoes come from - think Prada, Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs, Jil Sander and of course most of the shoes that are distributed in Australasia by Beau Coops' parent company, Nick Mascetelli Imports. Ms Cooper makes the trip often and it is surely the most rewarding part of the process, to see her designs come to fruition in the home of great shoemaking. Grant Fell caught up with her to find out more about making the collection, 'Future Retrospect' in The Marche. All photos by Carrie Cooper.

It's a hard job, but Carrie's gotta do it!

Grant Fell: Carrie Cooper, Beau Coops designer, you are now based in London. How has that been going and how has that affected the way you design, and produce Beau Coops? Carrie Cooper: Moving back to London feels like a homecoming of sorts, perhaps more heavily on the creative and business side. Like with any large movement/city/group of friends etc..the bigger the environment, the more content you absorb and more experiences you have equating to a richer 'library' you have to draw ideas from. Tell us about this collection. What is it called, what are the key design features, materials used, nuances…? This collection is called FUTURE RETROSPECT. Like the name implies, I have been retrospectively looking back to a time where 'future' in design was paramount, something I think our generation has lost (that, and I am a wee bit of a closest space geek). In saying that, what you will see in the collection are very linear cuts/shapes and clean lines. There is reference to Nasa space-station uniforms and the Shuttle in the colour palette - to the extent even where I have taken the pattern of the ceramic tiles (these are on the base of the Space Shuttle to absorb the heat on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere) and lazer cut out pieces of leather.

This photo essay details some of the processes in the creation of a Beau Coops line. Where are most of the photos taken? We make all of our shoes the the Marche, Italy, which is East coast, almost directly opposite from Rome. It's stunning, and I feel pretty lucky to work in these conditions. Tell us more about Marche? The Marche is where most 'Italian made' shoes are made, down the road from one of our factories you'll hit the PRADA factory, they make everything from Prada (of course) to Mui Mui, Marc Jacobs, Jill Sander (the list goes on). It's a shoemaker's paradise really… Not to mention you have the Adriatic sea five minutes down the hill; long white sandy beaches, and let's not forget this is the best region to drink Pecorino wine and enjoy the local seafood caught daily.

Adriatic sunshine
Is everything prepared before you arrive or is there a time where you work creatively on last minute changes, alterations...? The process is very hands on. I arrive with my designs, and first I visit my heel suppliers and find or make the new heel that I have in mind. After this I meet with Luca, my last maker. I brief him in the direction of what I want the last to look like (this is the hard structure shape of your foot that the leather is eventually wrapped around) and together over a few hours we work to carve and shape the model (my favourite part). After this, I meet with patternmakers, then tanneries to choose leather. Generally I go away for a couple of weeks, and come back to review 'first pull overs' which are the black shoes on mock heels you see in the images. 

"Pull Over' buddy

There are many artisans are involved in the actual production part of a Beau Coops collection. Talk us through the key people involved and their roles - from the time you walk in the door until the time you leave… From start to finish the shoe will pass through at least six to nine pairs of hands before they are boxed up and sealed ready to ship to our customers. The sole units of Beau 5, our most popular boot are finished by the same people that finish Prada boots. It takes five people to get the right finishing and high quality of look and feel of the sole unit alone, not even considering the upper/leather/metal trims etc.. A lot of people wonder why shoes can be so expensive - it's a lot harder than it appears to get a product looking and feeling right.

Artisanal process

Shoemaking 101 but…how are the lasts created and how are they used? Lasts are really the 'foundation' to making a shoe, they are the shape that defines the look and feel of the product and is the base upon which you wrap all of the leather over. My last maker Luca (the MichaelAngelo of last carving) works really closely with me to help me execute the vision and the shapes we want to create for the next season. It starts with my sketches and a large lump of wood, through carving / tweaking and reshaping (usually around 5 prototypes) we get the finished shape that’s then 3D rendered and digitally printed, ready for sampling. What happens to the lasts once the range is done, assuming they are kept for further production runs, how long are they kept for? Depends on how long we want to continue the shape for, I have had some lasts running for 3/4 years. There are wooden and plastic lasts in these pictures, what is the difference? The wooden is the prototype, the resin (green or white) means that its ready for sampling or production.

Ye olde prototype
Can you speak Italian? Noting that there are many instructions and templates not in English! According to all Italians very badly ;) - I can speak in shoe language, alas not so great at holding down a long-winded social conversation.

Very experienced hands
When you leave The Marche, is that the creative end of the collection for you? (I ask this question because the moment we have a mag in our hands we are onto the next one, we can hardly think about the last, 'scuse the pun!). Not at all, even though the collection development is over, we begin the process of communicating the collection to our global agencies and media. So at the moment I am working on the photo shoot (that we will do here in London) which is a really fulfulling way of giving the collection a life and visual identity that encapsulates the brand and the vision of the collection.

Leather and zippers

Five words to describe the collection?

Space orange
We are working on our 20th issue (BLK XX) - our landmark issue. Two things you are absolutely XX-ing at the moment… I am having a hard time not wearing menswear shirts/jumpers/jackets (sports  and/or oversized) especially the new Mr Start for ladies shirts, with my utilitarian Marapol shoe. Tom Boy at heart, through and through…

It's a wrap!