10 Questions with Sneaker Mastermind Helen Kirkum As She Designs A Super-Hybrid of Melissa’s Jelly Shoes
In the pursuit of a perfect pair of trainers, our society has gone far and wide while looking for the one. As the latest super-limited-edition-extra-rare releases drop like flies every hour of every day, the competition for the top spot continues, with an unclear set of rules and an impossible task of finding the right answer. But like Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, artist Helen Kirkum is trying to crack the code in her own unique way. The RCA-graduate first came to prominence in 2016 when the hypebeast generation caught onto her collaging ways of merging the worlds of formal and sports shoes in her Masters collection. By utilising craftsmanship and techniques used in traditional shoemaking, Kirkum explored the potential of trainers becoming refined design objects – deconstructing, inverting and putting them back together as hybrids. Her goal was for the audience to reconsider the value of design of individual elements as much as the final product, by mish-mashing ideas into a super-collaborative outcome. “I don’t really focus on the identity of the sneaker in particular – it’s more about the shapes and materiality of the pieces,” Kirkum explains. She’s currently working on a special commission basis (a pair of her trainers made the poster of the Sneaker Collabs exhibition in Lausanne) as well as offering her skillset and point-of-view to megabrands and creating neo-hybrids representing the collaborative nature of fashion today.
One of those brands is Melissa, best known for their vegan jelly shoes which don’t only look divine but also smell divine. The Melissa life is plastic and absolutely fantastic, and they have been celebrating their 40th birthday this year. To finish off the jubilee year, the Brazilian brand asked Helen Kirkum to create a hybrid of five of their most iconic archival designs into a single pair of super-Melissas. “Those guidelines allowed me to focus and elevate the specific elements of each shoe in a way that they could work with each other,” the designer tells us. The selection included: Melissa Com Pochete twinset of a ballet flat and a matching bag; a black heeled sandal from a collaboration with Claudia Schiffer in 1996 Model; rainbow-heeled Star in Love, cut-out hi-top trainer Speed and heeled gladiator platform sandal Galaxia. “It was a great mix of silhouettes, so I could explore shapes I don’t usually work with as well as twist in some Helen Kirkum traits that people recognise.” The final product is a rubber platform ballet pump with elements of trainers accented in contrasting hues; available in three different hues. In celebration of the launch, we got in touch with Kirkum in order to ask her 10 sneaker-heavy questions.
Dino Bonacic: Is there a pair of trainers you would never cut up?
Helen Kirkum: Nope, happy to cut them all.
DB: The most valuable trainers you’ve ever deconstructed?
HK: A friend sent me some Kanye West x Louis Vuitton Jasper’s in grey and pink to cut up. He had already tried to cut one side but then sent it to me to save.
DB: A dream pair of trainers you would love to get your hands on?
HK: I’d love some Adidas x Raf Simons Ozweego Bunnys to cut up, as there are so many interesting construction pieces and little details, it would be amazing to rework. But I also love the randomness of collecting shoes from recycling centres. You get so many unusual trainers, especially the lesser know brands – the intricacy of the patterns always surprises me.
DB: Who are the most inspiring creatives for you?
HK: Right now I am inspired by designers like Bethany Williams and Mathew Needham, who are building alternative fashion systems and finding beauty in found or abandoned objects. Or artists such as Tennant of Culture making incredible though provoking sculptures of everyday objects.
DB: What’s the most important thing you learned at Royal College of Art?
HK: To trust myself and listen to my gut – still hard to do, but trying…
DB: If you were not an artist, you would be…
HK: …working on marine conservation or be a roadie for my partner’s band.
DB: What’s the first pair of shoes you collaged?
HK: As a kid, I always drew all over my Converse and wore mismatched pairs – I guess that was the start.
DB: If you had to wear one pair of shoes for the rest of your life, which ones would you choose?
HK: Probably my Doc Martens.
DB: What’s on your playlist while working in the studio?
HK: Either a true crime podcast or a grunge pop/ blues rock sort of feeling, I love listening to my Gals playlist which is made up of mostly bands with incredible female vocalists like The Dead Weather, Gay Girl, Projector, Deap Vally, Lazybones… The list goes on!
DB: Who is your dream collaborator?
HK: Vivienne Westwood. It would be amazing to combine planet-saving forces and create something incredible.
Helen Kirkum x Melissa Core hybrid shoes are available to buy online and in selected stores.
@helenkirkumstudio // shopmelissa.uk