While 3D printed outfits and accessories have been revolutionizing fashion runways all over the world for a while now, we’ve heard surprisingly little from the world’s shoe designers. Of course that’s hardly surprising, as a good, durable fit is far more important in shoes than in clothing accessories. But it looks like all that’s about to change, as a new designer shoe exhibit has just opened in Milan, Italy, the shoe capital of the world.
There you can find pairs of sculptural shoes, developed for renowned Dutch-British shoe designers United Nude. For this exhibition, United Nude’s founder Rem D Koolhaas enlisted the assistance of five well-known architects and designers to 3D print highly original women’s shoes. These are architects Zaha Hadid, Ben van Berkel and Fernando Romero and designers Ross Lovegrove and Michael Young. While 3D printed fashion accessories are typically not entirely made with a 3D printer, the shoes included here have been made solely with 3D printing technology.
As Koolhaas explained to reporters, the goal behind this exhibition was to explore the boundaries of 3D printing technology while simultaneously produce something that would get people talking. ‘We want to push the technology but I also wanted to push the silhouettes. I also wanted to create conversational pieces and shoes that are not necessarily for everyday wearing but really are beautiful pieces and conversational pieces, almost like art,’ he says.
Of course 3D printing shoes isn’t something you easily do on a desktop FDM 3D printer. Instead, Koolhaas and company relied on a sPro 60 selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer of 3D Systems. In every case, the soles were 3D printed in hard nylon, while the upper portions of the shoe were made from the more flexible (and doubtlessly more comfortable TPU polyurethane. Every shoe took about 24 hours to completely 3D print.
As you can see in the photos, these different minds and backgrounds developed some highly original shoes. London-based designer Zaha Hadid, for one, designed the black ‘Flames’ shoes above. The designs for these had been laying around for a while, but she now finally had the technology to make them. These inspiring high-heeled shoes still resemble an originary shoe, but look to be bursting in flames or thorns. Ben van Berkel, who founded UNStudio, meanwhile likened his own UNX2 designs (below) to hooves due to their shape. ‘We started off by thinking about how we could work with the idea of verticality and how you can extend the length, especially if you see it from the back,’ he explained. Remarkably, these are actually easy to walk in. ‘We made a strong construction inside the shoe so that whenever you walk on it you feel stable.’
British designer Ross Lovegrove, meanwhile, has teamed up with 3D design expert Arturo Tedeschi to develop an intricate, curtain-like mesh shoes. ‘I've gone for extreme verticality’, Lovegrove said of his Ilabo shoes (below). ‘I'm interested in the idea of de-materialism and minimum material and I also wanted to see the foot, I wanted the ladies anatomy to participate in the design,’ he explained.
Hong Kong-based designer Michael Young meanwhile when for a very unusual shoe that looks impossible to wear. However, he immediately tells reporters that the Young Shoe (above) is actually very comfortable. ‘It's actually comfortable to wear although it doesn't look like it,’ Young says. ‘I just wanted to take a completely different approach to the way we normally work and just embrace that sculptural aspect.’ And 3D printing is obviously a wonderful option to do so.
Finally, there’s the Ammonite Shoes (above) by Mexican architect Fernando Romero. Inspired by fossilized remains, these surprisingly pentagonal shoes just need to be your thing. Together, all five pairs of shoes are displayed at the Teatro Arsenale in Milan until 19 April 2015. The exhibition itself is unusual, as all rooms are entirely black, with glass cases on podia beaming in light. ‘I really wanted to create something with a heavy impact and something that you remember,’ Koolhaas clarifies. Other shoes by United Nude will also be on display.