For the past seven years Japanese designer Mihara Yasuhiro has been collaborating with Puma on a line of wildly inventive sneakers that has become knownâwith features like patterns, drips, fur, studs, stripes and metallicsâfor adding a true avant-garde edge to shoes.
The current Spring/Summer 2007 collection marks Mihara's fifth collection with Puma that includes limited edition re-issues of the MY-1 Peace, featuring a variation on stars and stripes, and MY-9 Love, a foral camo design. (Gold MY-24 pictured below.) Also new, a black satin-bound collectors book features full-bleed photos of the many models that Yasuhiro's designed for Puma, as well as work by fellow Japanese artists and an overview of and ad campaign. (See art and photography below.)
Last night, on the eve of his New York book launch, Cool Hunting sat down with Yasuhiro to talk about the essence of good design, working with Puma and the state of the sneaker.
Your designs are so unconventional, how do you balance innovation with good design?
When I work I try to reproduce ideas as faithfully as possible to the ideas in my mind.
To give you a specific example of good design, a pencil with an eraser has existed for a long time and will probably exist after I die. Maybe it's just superficial, but whoever designed the pencil had a good imagination. They thought about how maybe a child would lose an eraser. The design has two opposite actions in one, so it's not just a surface concern. To me, it represents something you have to keep in mind.
What I try to keep in mind is the pureness of design itself. If designers tried to redesign the pencil, Marc Jacobs or myself or Philippe Starck, it wouldn't change the essence of the design. So, to me it's important to keep the core of the idea of design.
So, what is the essence of a sneaker today? What do sneakers symbolize?
What it symbolizes to me, is that individuals have the opportunity to be more creative than before. For example, they can coordinate sneakers with what they wear, they can wear a suit with sneakers. People have more choices and more options for what they wear.
Before it was more limited. Though I'm relatively young, I used to feel uncomfortable wearing formal clothes with sneakers. Sneaker culture has made people more creative.
It seems that Puma as a brand has embraced that creativity, especially in collaborating with you. What's it like working with such a major brand?
They completely leave the work up to me. They don't suggest things. First I think of a theme, then I start drawing designs. The only thing they tell me is the deadline. Based on that deadline, I'll make a schedule.
After discussing the details in a video conference with Puma's London office, I bring the final designs to a production team in Taiwan. I try to solve problems with the design that come up in the the 3-D versions. Sometimes I ask them to make slight changes to the design, but we don't come up with negative statements. It's always, "it would be better if."
There are many challenges. I struggle every time, every collection. Sometimes it's almost impossible to put the details of the drawing in and the gaps between the 2-D version and the 3-D version become bigger. It takes an effort. Also, every time we try to introduce a new technique.
What is it you are trying to do to the sneaker?
My primary goal is to continue this kind of movement, continuing the trend of looking at the sneaker as fashion and I think i have succeeded. Before, you had to think of grips, cushions, spikes for soccer...and pursuing sports has come up with many technologies and now you can use them. The goal is to continue this since the sneaker is now accepted not just for sport but also for fashion.
We will keep having two legs. That fundamental thing won't change, but I would like to see it keep changing mentally.
The book Puma by Mihara Yasuhiro is available in North America, exclusively at the Puma Black store and Alife Rivington Club.
Also on Cool Hunting: Mihara Yasuhiro Sneakers