Yong Bae Seok, a South Korean fashion and industrial designer now based in Europe, has created the capsule collection Pony by Yong Bae Seok that debuted at June 2018 Pitti Uomo.
The designer, who earned a degree in industrial design at Hansung University in Seoul and continued his education at the IED (Istituto Europeo del Design) in Turin, today works with various footwear brands. He explained his new projects and his vision about the sneaker’s future.
What do you like about Pony and why did you start this collaboration?
Pony is a symbol of a heritage US sneaker brand that was successful in past decades. I liked and admired it when I was younger. I liked this opportunity as this brand sums up various components including the basketball world and today’s ’80s and ’90s comeback. Through this collaboration, which will continue beyond s/s 2019, I would like to give its heritage and roots a new face thanks to my modern touch.
What are the distinguishing elements of this exclusive capsule collection?
In order to work with a longtime existing company you have to study how to make a historic model as the basketball shoe City Wings and take a new twist by adding my own design touch. In this case I took its iconic side band, made it look even more geometric and made it run from its sole to the upper, and replaced its laces with an elastic band.
Where did you find your inspiration for it?
My background includes past collaborations in architecture, interior design, industrial design, mobile phone and automotive sectors. I took inspiration from the Vitra Fire Station, a building in Weil Am Rhein, designed by Zaha Hadid. Different from many of her works which often play with curvy lines, this one is characterized by diagonal and parallel lines. I thought it was a different, new way for reinterpreting it making it appear clean with well-balanced spaces while adding a strong visual impact.
You have collaborated for many sneakers and footwear brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Diesel and Bally and now you are head of design of Tod’s men’s sport division. What are the aspects you always start from when designing for a brand?
When approaching a longtime existing brand I always first learn about its history and the culture it originates from. I visit its archive and, whenever possible, I meet its founder. Then I add my interpretation while keeping an eye on what are the current trends influencing that brand’s specific market.
How do you conjugate your creative aspect with commercial needs?
There has to be an adequate balance between these two aspects as companies’ main aim is to sell. As my background is the industrial and design worlds, you cannot simply create an impressive product but also have to make sure it will sell. When big car companies develop a fantastic “show car” model they will also develop a more regular model inspired by it to be sold in the market. What they launch is not made for dreaming but for being sold.
What counts is creating products that are particular and new, though also easy to sell. I feel like a surfer who has to choose the right wave, in order to ride it as long as possible. I have to find the right trend in order to create products that can be worn for long.
You are also designing and producing your own brand. What is it like?
It is called Seok and I added to it “Individual” as its slogan. I like to stress the importance of being different. I chose to call it with my name as it reflects my own style and personality.
I launched it in s/s 2018 and it is successful. It offers the Decon model, a reinterpreted concept of the vulcanized sneaker. Its sole is made up of two rubber parts. Its crepe rubber part also covers a part of the upper of the shoe. It is made up by nine different components carefully hand-assembled. It is Made in Vietnam as this country is highly specialized in vulcanized shoes. In addition its design is modern and captivating and its price point is very competitive at about €130. I have also created a more expensive Made in Italy Golden collection to be sold in Korea for retail prices at about €300-350.
My aim is to reach the coolest ad most sophisticated stores in about 40 top boutiques in Italy plus grow in top stores in Europe starting from France, Spain, Germany and Benelux through our Italian and European distributor Alessandro Squarzi Showroom. We presented Seok within two events held at Gerard Loft in Florence during the same days of Pitti Uomo in January and June 2018.
Through our Korean agent we have already opened our first shop-in-shop in February 2018 inside the Hyundai Department Store in Seoul. We also want to expand in Korea and reach about 50 stores there.
We are also looking at new business opportunities including our launch in the US.
What will be the next project you will work on?
In 2014, when I collaborated with Geox, I created Camotartan, a special colorful graphic mix of tartan and camouflage patterns I still own. My aim is to offer various projects like accessories, bags, glasses and similar pieces. This relaunch will start by s/s 2019, even if it will debut officially by f/w 2019-20.
What will the next big trend for sneakers be?
If in the past smart shoes were synonyms of classic 100% cuir shoes, today sneakers are synonymous with modern as the new cool is feeling comfy. I think that consumers have to feel at ease above all as it is not respectful from the industry to make them wear rigid and uncomfortable shoes. On the contrary, they have to feel fine when playing sports, and enjoying their leisure time, though also when they go to work and hang out.
For this reason the future of sneakers and footwear lies in innovative materials, lightweight soles and mesh sneakers–that are the new slip-on. Uppers shall be no longer necessarily in leather but made with different technological materials assembled together and eventually added with a few leather details.
Also consider that the sneaker is what is now heading many brands’ relaunch and rejuvenating process. Take Valentino, for instance. When it changed owners and went to Qatar’s Mayhoola Group its new course started from a camouflage sneaker.