Interview by Marlo Saalmink
When one was recently invited to visit the Latvian capital, Riga, it dawned upon me, how overlooked this part of Europe is, when it comes to design, culture and fashion dialogues. Latvia is a country in a positive transition, a process most relevant contrasted by the current Crimea crises and the regional discussions about independence and identity. When I first met ELINA DOBELE at her Riga studio, tucked away on a cobbled street, I felt a sense of composure and enthusiasm, so sincere, it was hard not to feel connected to her work. Architect first and shoe designer second, her work combines traditional craftsmanship with stern lines and graphic shapes. We caught up with Elina to find out more about her vision and her eclectic view on life.
MarloSaalmink: Hello Elina, Where are you today and who is with you?
ElinaDobele: Hello! Well, at the moment I am in Toronto, preparing for the Thomas Bálint catwalk show during Fashion Week Toronto. My shoes are going to be featured in the show. We are here with the designer and of course extremely excited.
MS: We first came across you work in your intimate showroom during Paris Fashion Week, could you tell me a little about how an architect ended up being a shoe-designer?
ED: Personally, I think it was my luck to graduate in architecture studies and work as an architect during the initial rapid economic growth in Latvia. I was only 24 year old when the first house, I designed was actually built. These were sort of crazy times, which allowed me to also explore the not so bright sides of being an architect. This led to the the realization that I wanted to design my own life instead of being chained to the authorities, laws, builders and incessant bureaucracy.
MS: Continuing on this, what is most relevant for you in your designs: form or function?
ED: In footwear design, these are often presented as mutually exclusive. For me it is important to develop a connection between both. Each has its value and form often supports function and vice versa. For me comfort and utility are very important as I consider shoes as small houses for our feet.
MS: How do you see the dialogue between fashion and art? Do you explore the dimensions of utility and wearability in your work?
ED: This is the most interesting part of fashion design that all these creative components of inspiration, creation and collaboration have to merge, to shape a business model. I feel thankful that in my life that I can be my own creative director and extract such abstract imaginary ideas into real, wearable objects and show then in my own thought, environment or presentation. Footwear has to be wearable and we live our lives in it, which makes my work even more demanding and interactive. In our Riga studio, we constantly play with the abstract notion that utility allows for innovation.
MS: Monotonous and composed, each collection seems to come from a sense of reflection. For AW14 what were the references you were looking at?
ED: Personally, I have always been interested in specific personalities. People who have a strong sense of style beyond what they do. As an example, I worked on this collection while reading Charles Bukowski, getting inspired from Joseph Beuys, and listening to Nick Cave’s project Grinderman. These sort of very strong ‘bad ass’ type of personalities. They all have very specific style. And this way the outcome is solid, monochrome. The shapes are so simple that they become even brutal, if I may say so. Still there are a lot of details that also explain the hand crafted value of the shoe.
MS: Hailing from Riga, Latvia, in how far are you interacting with your surroundings?
ED: Latvia…I love my country, I am a rather proud and patriotic citizen, I must admit. Latvia is a small country of only two million people which gained its independence form Soviet totalitarian regime only in 1991. The country is actually recognized as the greenest in the whole world. The omnipresence of amazing Art Nouveau architecture and 19th century wooden houses are a great inspiration. This year Riga is also a European Capital of Culture, emphasizing the massive wave of creative industries developing in the latest years. As an example, the Theater “Jaunais Rīgas Teātris” and its producer Alvis Hermanis has been recognized as one of the more influential intellectual minds in Europe. Therefore my environment, is quite a luxury situation to interact with from my point of view.
MS: Finally, footwear can be rather overlooked in the fashion industry, how will you make your mark in the coming seasons?
ED: Well, I prefer to think that what I do is more than just the shoe design. I do design the whole process I am living. It is a most dynamic and intricate process, from sketch to conceptualization. I belief that the meaning of the word ‘design’ nowadays is also much about what lifestyle you are living, what are your values that lead you to the business you are evolving in. The relevance of the actual design of a creative process, I call this.
MS: Thank you Elina for your time.
ED: Thank you, Marlo and dear readers!