Designer-sculptor Jimmy Sugiura trained as a traditional shoemaker. Now, Sugiura asks: “what if shoes were living organisms in a symbiotic relationship with feet?”

By Mission.

As a collector of antique footwear, Jimmy Sugiura knows the rules of shoe-making. The challenge, he says, is progressing past those rules to create something new and surprising. In this installment of our Sarabande series, we chat with Sugiura about the role of storytelling in design, the artistic goals he’s drawn from Sarabande founder Alexander McQueen, and the question that lies at the epicenter of his exhibit: “what if shoes were living organisms in a symbiotic relationship with feet?”

How did you get into conceptual footwear design?

I learned traditional shoe-making from an independent bespoke shoemaker in London, so I knew there were hundreds of skilled and experienced craftsmen in the world, and I have to find my own niche to survive and not compete against my predecessors. Not satisfied to simply be a hand craftsman or mass-produced shoe designer, I tried to establish a unique role by taking my skill, knowledge, and advantage into consideration.

Can you talk to us about your Symbiosis Creature collection? What was your inspiration?

Usually my project starts with ambiguous questions or fantastical situations: “If shoes had legs, that would be interesting, wouldn’t it?” “If shoes were living organisms, what would they eat?” “What environment would they live in?” Starting from such questions I began gathering ideas and designing the imaginary relationship between male/female/neutral and larva/adult forms/models – creatures living and building symbiotic relationships with feet by exchanging protection/enhancement/signifier roles with the energy of stepping, etc. Ultimately, I found the last missing piece and it became a concept: “What if shoes were living organisms in a symbiotic relationship with feet which grew around the foot? How would they look?” It’s a work of fantasy and problem-solving.

You began your career as a collector of antique footwear. What’s your favorite piece from your collection?

Each piece has its own unique individual attraction, but my collection is, as a whole, a reflection of myself. Accumulated over the years, the collection creates an environment in which pieces interact with each other, and a new design has to pass trial and find its own niche to survive the environment. So, I just maintain my ever-growing collection by adding and removing pieces to keep it alive. One day I will write a book and create own my personal museum.

How has your time at Sarabande influenced your work?

I sought a place at Sarabande for both sustainability and development, because creativity needs to be open to the unexpected and work across domains with broad range of other artists and designers, who have different backgrounds and come from various disciplines. From that, it develops its own language. Collaboration can be the key to revealing unconscious assumptions and defying fixed definitions. My time at Sarabande strengthened my idea. It’s a good, diverse environment which supports connection, inspiration, and business.

Is it inspiring to have access to other artists and designers working under the same roof at Sarabande?

I didn’t like my supervisor at my college but I liked being in an environment where students from various courses could exchange ideas, knowledge, and skills freely. I have worked alongside various makers, spaces, and artist studios across the world. My collaborators were all professional and focused on various disciplines or were start-up entrepreneurs. Sarabande is different because it brings together designers and artists who share a glimpse of Alexander McQueen’s creative ethos. We are motivated, energized, and inspired by each other as a result.

Since joining Sarabande have you taken inspiration from McQueen himself?

As many do, I admire McQueen’s legendary works and shows, and dream to also create museum pieces of the future. Just as McQueen was the star designer for Nicholas Kirkwood, whereby he created statement shoes to match the level of his clothing creations, one day I want to make wearable art shoes for Iris Van Herpen and collaborate with her for a show.

What questions do you ask yourself when you’re creating?

I question myself a lot but the main question is “what story should I tell?” I think a designer is a storyteller, in the sense that creations are what we use to define ourselves, to signal who we are. A designer has to have a convincing story to tell, and to know how to use language fluently and efficiently, and to design works that represent their own identity, asking themselves, ”Where did I come from? Who am I? Where am I going?”

How have you found working away from the studio since lockdown?

Practically speaking, I took some tools and materials so I could work at home and noticed how important it is to arrange my surrounding environment so that I could work whenever I need to. Interruption kills motivation so easily. With regards to the business side of things, financial stability is important to sustain us as creators by keeping us productive. During lockdown, opportunities were largely halted, meaning that I found it.

Photos courtesy of Sarabande Foundation