Innovating with Craftsmanship

Bespoke Shoemaker Alexander Fielden

What do you get when you mix a medieval-inspired bespoke shoemaker with an international footwear company, unashamedly driven by technology? An unexpected amount of common ground. We speak to shoe couturier Alexander Fielden about his work and a somewhat unlikely collaboration with ECCO.

"I started off not knowing what I was doing at the art academy," Alexander says. "I knew I was on the right track to somehow becoming a creative person, but at that time, I didn't understand a whole lot about the world, but doing creative things, that gave it sense."

"When I first started designing, there was a lot of handwork," he says. "At that time, there were no computers for 3D design, you made everything by hand, and I think it really shaped me."

But while he spent his daytime studying at the Utrecht School of Arts, it was actually his job in a shoe store that helped define his career the most.

"I was working in a shoe store, and then I started to draw theh2 shoes that we had in the store," he says, "And I thought, 'Hey, there's something with this, I like this!' So, I did some research and I fell in love."

That love saw him spend the next three years making shoes from scratch in a course that included everything from measuring techniques of the foot, to final construction. Eventually there came a time when he couldn't do both, so he parted ways with the art academy and went out on his own instead.

"I got help from a teacher — one of the best bespoke shoemakers in the world, Rene van den Berg," he says. "He was a teacher at the shoe course, and he gave me the confidence to execute all the ideas that I had thought were impossible to make. Within a year I made a group of shoes, applied for a fund, and could set up a studio."

"I got grounded physically when I found shoes. It's the metaphor I still use every day — that the shoe is the first contact on Mother Earth, that it's where we stand. Shoes have the ability to express how men walks through life. It's always been a red thread through my life."

From 2005, Alexander made one-off, bespoke shoes, mostly for female clients, from about €1500 a pair, until another job at a clothing store saw him fall in love again — this time with men's shoes.

"With women's shoes you can go crazy," he says. "You can do a lot of things, but with men's shoes, it's different. For me, I always found it very daunting to play with the fact that the boundaries are much stronger."

In 2010 he launched his first men's shoes and leather goods range: 'The Wanderers Collection' and grew a name in the 'darkwear fashion' world, bringing his designs to stores like Darklands Berlin, ISETAN and Lift Ecru in Tokyo, Hotoveli in New York, and Antonioli in Milan.

I got grounded physically when I found shoes. It's the metaphor I still use every day — that the shoe is the first contact on Mother Earth, that it's where we stand. Shoes have the ability to express how men walks through life. It's always been a red thread through my life.

It was on this journey that Alexander developed a relationship with ECCO Leather, using their leathers to make his modern, medieval-inspired silhouettes, and also attending their annual 3-day "Hot Shop" leather innovation workshop. "I didn't realise it at the time, but they had been setting up an artisanal 'stealth artisan' project as a rough sketch, and they invited me to come and play."

Describing his own style as something "in between — a medieval untraveled Future" Alexander says he finds inspiration in many things, in everyday objects like curbs and pavement.

"It's a bit crazy," he says, "But I can be very excited about a piece of metal that's been bumping around for two years on the street. You cannot recognise it anymore, but somehow it has a reference to what it was, its 'deformation' brings the freedom of looking at something from a new perspective."

"The essence I've found within my work has an alter ego — the Wanderer," Alexander says. "He is a time traveler — he can move deeply into the past, and the untraveled future or parallel worlds. It's all about having an open mind to anything that he finds interesting."

And while his ideas might seem to belong in a somewhat parallel world, his design sensibility is very pragmatic.

"I don't like to fake things. If it's there, it needs to have a function," he says. "I've never thought it before, but I really like all these technical boundaries that you have to push against. That was the exciting thing about working with ECCO — being part of a new process for them."