Sports stars, stand aside: these new sneakers celebrate the creative

Ever thought you’d name a sneaker after yourself? If you’re creative, probably not. It generally tends to be sports stars who get this kind of honor, and even then, only if you’re at the top of your game. But artists? Designers? Poets? No way, you might think.

But surprisingly, you’d be wrong. Because that’s exactly what the new sports shoe brand Novella is all about.

Novella is a project that Two Things, the agency founded by ex-Wieden + Kennedy Paulo Ribeiro, has been quietly working on for four years, in partnership with Phil Marineau of private equity firm LNK Partners. This new premium sneaker brand is based on stories. In their own words: “It’s a shoe as beautiful as the story is deep; a verse in the chapter of an ever-evolving story.”

The stories in question are inspired by crafters and makers, and the series is titled as if it were a novel. “Each shoe is designed around an artist who is hand-picked based on their craftsmanship and true passion for their work,” explains Paulo.

In short, they’re unlike what’s featured in other shoe collaborations. “On the contrary, they are true craftsmen in their fields, whether they are barbers, comedians, poets, painters, photographers or sound artists,” says Paulo. “They were intentionally chosen creators who were atypical of the types of people that sneaker brands tend to work with, because Novella’s intention is to be a vehicle for a wider range of stories.”

Novella’s first offering, Chapter 01, takes its cue from spoken word poet Rudy Francisco, textile artist Katherine Entis, and sound artist Marcus Fischer. The designs map the stories of Novella’s artisans onto the sneaker through carefully curated elements. The sole of all Novella shoes includes an imprint of a mixture of the designer’s fingerprints, so the wearer “carries a piece of the artist with them”. Each design is limited to 2,020 pairs. once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.

The sneakers are unisex, inspired by classic skate and tennis profiles, made of premium materials and handcrafted. Each shoe comes with two pairs of laces, nicknamed “mild and wild.” The ‘soft’ pair of laces complements the aesthetic of the shoe and is a conventional color choice for the design. The “wild” pair often includes an anecdote, a story, or a nod to the craftsman himself.

Concept and strategy

“Two Things was about creating the brand in its infancy four years ago, in our pre-COVID world,” says Paulo. “Their work began with the initial strategy for the company and continued into defining the brand, structuring for releases, identifying the artisans and working to bring the product to life. The company is built to work with clients in moments of transformation , and this project allowed them to bring a strategy to life holistically through product and marketing.”

“It’s rare for a company to be able to build a brand from the product up, especially a company at this level of completeness, artistry and depth of storytelling,” he adds. “This has been a collaborative process in which strategists, creatives, artists and designers have worked together to build something beautiful and new. And as our company focuses on moments of transformation – where we can work to define strategy, developing the ideas that will bring that strategy to life and then oversee the creation of that project – that project was a perfect example of how we do it.”

Creative inspiration

So who are the creatives behind these unusual sneakers? First, Rudy Francisco is one of the most recognizable names in Spoken Word Poetry. Born, raised, and based in San Diego, California, he uses personal narratives to discuss the politics of race, class, gender, and religion while simultaneously identifying and amplifying the interconnected nature of human existence.

His sneaker, titled Verse 01 | Love Poem embodies Rudy’s belief that every poem is an act of love. That same love carries over to the design and craftsmanship of his shoe, evoking pages of a poet’s notebook with oiled leather overlays, woven tongue tags, embossed poems and new works.

Second, Katherine Entis (Verse 02 | Momotaro) grew up in California and British Columbia before studying textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her design studio, Soft Century, believes that quality products can inspire the spaces we tell our stories: rugs and cushions are made to be as exciting to touch as they are to look at.

Her shoe, titled Momotaro (Japanese for “peach boy”), draws inspiration directly from the folklore of the same name, a story her mom would often tell her growing up. Her vibrant color palette and mixed textures, integral to her textile work, complement the playful and childlike iconography woven throughout the shoe.

Finally, Marcus Fischer (Verse 03 | Two Worlds) is an acoustic and visual artist who creates, collects and transforms sound into immersive, multi-layered soundscapes to accompany performances/installations. While his catalog is as broad as it is deep, time and the history of the Two Worlds emerged as a recurring theme full of beautiful contrasts: digital and analogue, movement and stillness, intended use and creative use.

Inspired by the tools and materials Marcus uses in his work, his shoe is an ode to utilitarian craftsmanship and longevity. Every detail is a nod to Marcus’ audio equipment and photography, from polaroid-print soles to custom painted eyelets that patina to reveal the bronze underneath.

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