It seems as though Paris-based designer Raphael Young‘s fame has skyrocketed overnight. While that fame is not undeserved, Mr. Young somehow maintains a simple character. He writes with a sense of humor and never expresses anything but gratitude. He is a man of many words offering as much detail about his footwear as the footwear itself features, yet at the same time he also lets his work speak for itself. Having studied math and physics prior to becoming a shoe designer, Mr. Young applies his knowledge in those subjects to his design of footwear. One can say that his genes might also play a role in his incredible talent. His uncle, Alexandre Narcy designed footwear for Yves Saint Laurent before mentoring Mr. Young. Despite this, I feel that he is just an incredible craftsman with a true gift and I predict that Mr. Young’s recent collaboration with English designer Louise Goldin will be one of many.
I have had the absolute privilege of asking Mr. Young the 10 questions below. Also featured are my favorite Raphael Young designs for his Fall 2009 Collection. Take a look:
1. You have had a career in the Navy and you have studied psychics. Your father wanted you to be a mathematician but you decided to follow you heart and design footwear instead. Did your father support you or did he meet you with opposition? If so, was it hard to follow your heart and rebel against your father’s wishes? And what advice do you have to young adults who feel pressure from their parents to pursue careers in which they do not have passion for?
I studied maths and physics because my father wanted me to do so. He was a brilliant engineer and wanted me to follow the same path than him. When I dropped out of college, I realized that all I wanted was to become a designer. I wanted to travel, to study History of Art in London, Milan or Paris. My very own vision of what the words “freedom” and “passion” meant. How can you feel emotion when you only have a binary vision of the world, made of 1’s and 0’s, or X’s, Y’s and Z’s and other mathematical figures…?
I remember passing in front of the Navy offices one day, and seeing these officers with their perfectly-tailored suits and white gloves, and a poster showing the pilots with their aircrafts.
The day after, I went to the recruitment center and oddly I passed all the exams. A few months later I joined the Navy as “Student Officer-Pilot”.
But I didn’t really have what it takes to become a real soldier. I liked flying planes but I didn’t want to kill people.
Finally the Navy gave me two options : become a non-flying officer, or go back to back to civil life, which I eventually did.
My father was so mad I when I called to say that I was coming back home… That day our relationship changed forever. I would never become what he wanted me to. Actually my father never accepted my choice and he simply stopped talking me since then.
I was at the same time determinated and sad, and alone. but I knew that now I’d be happy, following MY path.
I have no advice to give to young adults but I think that you have to listen to yourself and do what you really feel like doing deep inside of you. That’s the only way to be sincere with your Karma.
Some gonna say that it was my destiny, I don’t know if I chose my destiny or if destiny chose for me. The most important is to have no regrets later, and if i hadn’t done it I would have had regrets for all my life.
2. Your uncle, Alexandre Narcy, designed footwear for Yves Saint Laurent and he taught you how to create and design shoes. Was it easy working with someone who was not only a relative but also someone who shared the same amount of passion for shoes as you did? Do you consider him a mentor?
Oh yes of course it was so fantastic to be surrounded by such great professionnals of the shoe business, they were both and they still are my mentors. I say “they” because there is Alex and also my god-father Rene. They both contributed in helping me become what I am today. I mean professionally and technically, they taught me everything.
Alex was considered from the 70’s till the 90’s as one of the greatest “Maître-Bottier” shoe designer – the same title as Roger Vivier, and Rene was working as a shoe modelist for Pierre Cardin.
I’ve always been very close to them and they gave me their passion for the shoes and for the love of the well-made handcrafted accessories.
I know that without them it would have been much more difficult, and I learnt their secrets of know-how with passion.
Sometimes it was not so easy because I had my own vision of aesthetic and fashion, but they learned me that to become a good shoe designer you need to have strong skills and technical competences.
Making shoes is so complicated I mean technically because the process is long and requires high precision and manuality.
3. Your shoes are very unique and powerful. I feel that your designs are a statement of power and edge. For your S/S ’09 collection you found inspiration from Japanese samurais. What else do you find that inspires you? When you sit down to design a shoe, what often crosses your mind?
I find my inspiration in everything, and I don’t really work like the other designers. I mean I don’t build my collection, I am in the deconstruction process first, and then it comes to rebuilding.
I have a kind of photographic memory and it means that everything I saw with my eyes (form, color, material, light, density, ligns…) can have its influences when I draw.
The rest is intuition and work.
Most of the time, the best creative moment for me is when I’m half-asleep, thinking and watching my sketches in my head.
The morning when I wake up I can remember it and I put on paper these ideas.
If I don’t remember nothing I need more concentration and I start from one idea, and I draw exploring all the different ways to exploit this idea ’til I get the sketch which has the equilibrium and style I dreamed of.
I just hope to accomplish myself, and to give emotion to my customers. I’m conscious that making shoes is not an “Art Premier” like sculpture or painting or music, but I remain convinced that we can make business AND help in dressing women with an artistic approach . Just a question of equilibrium of the forces, like a chef, a bit of this and this, to find the perfect mix.
I want all women to wear my shoes, and make them feel passionate and independent, free and sexy. Like all women should be no ?
5. You told Style.com that you use over 50 components to create a shoe. Could you specify about these components? How long does each component take?
50 is a maximum, and it doesn’t mean that I make myself all these components, I do myself all the manual operations, I shape the wooden forms and platform, heels, and wedges.
I draw the soles and the accessories, but I have suppliers who produce its. The same for the “première de montage”, renforts, contrefort, puntale, inter-semelles, trépointes et fusbet… (I don’t know the english for these words!)
The longest operation is to make is the form and the heel. Each component is made for the shoe and the form you did, on-measure, and most of them are totally hand-made, and built on the tige (tomaia) by hand.
Being trendy is not an inspiration. It mustn’t be. I just do what I feel, and maybe it becomes trendy at some point. It’s not up to me to decide.
7. You are a craftsman and footwear is not the only thing in which you create. You also create bags. Which design process do you prefer?
I like to work on the volume, the forms and the constructions. It requires a good manuality, and i like to create something with my hands.
For the design process i prefer shoes, because it’s the most difficult fashion product to do. Soon I would like to make sculptures and furnitures as well. Shoemaking is just the beginning…
8. You do not offer nearly as many designs for men. Could you please explain why this is? Do you find the process of creating a shoe for a woman more fun or have you just not branched out to the designs of mens footwear quite yet?
When making mens footwear, you use different techniques than for womens. So it means different factories, different process, components, etc. It’s like having a second line, with different issues, and a totally different approach. Therefore, as we’re still a tiny label, we can’t afford, timewise and moneywise, to produce as many mens designs than we do for womens. But I do love doing mens footwear. I just haven’t found time to truly focus on it and do it the way I’d like to.
She got in touch with us, and we both liked each other very much. We kinda stand at the same level, sharing the same anxiety as young designers! We also have the same tastes and values, so there were the elements for us to collaborate. She’s one of the sweetest persons I have ever met, and it’s a pleasure collaborating with her. She’s also a tough businesswoman, which I like!
10. If you could pick one person in all of history to wear your designs, who would that be and why?
Huumm ?… Cleopatra: exceptional beauty and intelligence, elegance and dignity. I love the accessories she wore at that time.
Source: Raphael Young
Special Thanks to: Paul Viguier of
It is no secret that I adore Lady Gaga. Turns out that she adores Mr. Young as well!