10 Minutes with Footwear Designer Marko Baković

Marko Baković is a go-getter. He’ll tell you so himself. The footwear maven – and founder of Amsterdam-based creative hub Studio Baković – is usually the first person London’s network of designers call if they’re after a killer shoe. Just ask KNWLS, who tapped Baković to sculpt its signature Raptor boots. Or Stefan Cooke, who worked with the designer to create corseted derbies for SS20.

Do you blame em’? Baković is one of the most innovative footwear designers working today, with his designs being worn by everyone from Kylie Jenner and Caroline Polachek, to Beyoncé herself.

The designer has kept some of his most technically advanced work for his own label. Titled Channels, the studio’s SS22 collection features architectural heels, boxy mules and sugary pink knee-high boots. Capturing the collection on the streets of London, the campaign sees a diverse cast of models posing as if they were caught in a moment of passing by a documentary photographer. “We did this to place the collection in the context of daily life, and its daily commute, which was one of the key inspirations for the collection,” says Baković. 

With the click-clack of our heels, we managed to grab Baković for a quick chat in the midst of his busy schedule to chat all things on feet.

Where did your interest in footwear stem from?

“Recently I was sorting through my things at home, and found a thick folder of drawings of shoes and dresses I made between my 4th and 12th year. My mum had saved all drawings and creative expressions from when I was child, and gave me these drawings a couple of years ago. The interest was always there. It was only during my BA Product design that I revisited this interest.”

What is the creative scene like in Amsterdam?

“It is small, but intense. Most of the creatives in Amsterdam that are doing good stuff in my opinion I met at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. It’s cool to see how everybody evolves over the years.”

You studied your MA here in London at London College of Fashion, how was your experience there?

“I was a total overachiever during my MA. I was pretty much the first to get in, in the morning, and the last one to leave. There were a few occasions where I would get in before the technicians would arrive to prepare for the day, and get reprimanded. I really wanted to get the most out of the wealth of knowledge that resides at the Cordwainers college, and I think I could not have done anything else to obtain more information from the amazing technicians. In that sense it was great.”

Talk me a bit through how the collaborations with London based labels started happening.

“Being the overachiever as described, I was constantly on the lookout for extracurricular work. I was working on multiple projects constantly during my time in London, next to my MA work. I met people from Central Saint Martins and RCA, and collaborated with them for their end-project. These collaborations were noticed by Charles Jeffrey and Stefan Cooke, with whom I started working right after my graduation.”

Out of all the collaborations you’ve done with these brands, which shoes have been your favourite?

“All of the shoes are developed with different concepts and objectives in mind, and therefore, interesting in their own right. The knit Kepler shoes for example we made completely out of knitted material in raw silk. We needed to figure out how to have the knit stretch in some points and be rigid in others. My favourite projects are those which require quite of a lot in-depth research and experimentation.”

Which artists have you been particularly excited to have worked with?

“Recently Caroline Polachek wore a pair of boots for her tour, in London. We have listened to her work a lot over the last year, so it was a full-circle moment to be part of her performing the music.”

How would you describe your design process when working with other people compared to creating shoes for your own studio?

“Designing shoes for established brands is much more straightforward to do for me, as there is something there to work with. There is loads of information in the garments, the styling and overall mood that gives me handles to start with. With my autonomous line, the shoes exist in their own world, and don’t have anything relating to them. This makes the editing somewhat more challenging.”

The pillar to your business is the hybridisation of handcraft with high tech: what interests you about each aspect?

“I have studied product design, with a strong focus on CADCAM prototyping and development. The course was not geared towards footwear at all, but was quite open to developing individual interests, and the assignments lent themselves for any type of outcomes and products. I started exploring footwear without any real guidance or knowledge within the means that I had in the Academy. Later, I did an extensive course in handmaking shoes, and finally an MA in footwear design which was also very orientated toward experimental making. When I started my practice, I kept the experimental approach towards the development of footwear from my years in BA, but had the knowledge to back it up with the quite rigid technicalities and rules of making wearable shoes.”

In terms of fabric innovation with your designs, how do you go about sourcing/creating these fabrics?

“I try to approach every project with an open attitude. If the starting brief describes a classic leather shoe, I will try to find the innovation in the shape, and construction. The way the upper is constructed, and which existing materials are combined and layered can give surprising innovative results, without inventing a new material altogether. In other cases, I really dive into the development of the material if that is the main focus of the project. For this, I first define the characteristics and properties I am after in the material, and look at any examples which already exist. From here on it is a matter of trial and error. Doing a lot of experiments, and keeping note of all ingredients and processes for each sample.”

You’re launching your second collection for your own label in the new year: what sort of things can we expect from the brand?

“Since the beginning, my brand collaborations have always functioned in one of two ways. I either designed the shoes, and prepared technical packs for the factories, or I designed and crafted the shoe samples by hand, from start to finish in our atelier. Working in these ways, it has become clear to me that the true distinguishing factor of my studio is the ability to both conceptualise and design for industrialisation, as well as craft products on an intimate small scale, completely by hand.

For the new collection, I intend to blend these two modes of working. Instead of being either the detached designer or sole producer of the product, I intend to view my studio through the lens of a supplier and instructor. Some of the new styles will be semi produced in Italy and hand-finished in our studio. It will be a new way of working which will bring forth artisanal, individually crafted products, which still bear the made in Italy stamp, maintaining the highest of quality.”

Photography by Corentin Leroux, styling by Tati Cotliar.