They came to me in a dream
I’m not totally surprised when I hear this. There’s something incredibly special about shoe brand, Abcense and the shoes are pretty much a girls dream realized. I stumbled upon the shoe brand by pure chance. Strolling through Eslite department store on my recent trip to Taiwan I began perusing the latest designers on the contemporary fashion floor. I looked to my right and something instantly caught my eye, a pair of baby blue heels, with a perspex feature around the front of the shoe that with its rainbow effect caught the light and made them stand out even more.
Looking at the rest of the collection, each shoe was so unique in design from both their flat shoes, to heels. So interesting in shape, even a classic style had been reimagined to make it unexpected and fresh. Picking up the shoe, what made it even more unusual was how comfortable they seemed. With a cushioned sole, they looked both fashion forward but wearable for everyday. After learning that the designers were both local Taiwan designers I set up an interview to sit down with Yoyo Pan one of designers behind the duo design team to learn more. So here we sit a couple of days later in Abcense’s studio, surrounded by the beautiful shoes.
Pan’s passion for shoes is clear as soon as we meet. Her background was in product development in ready to wear but over the years she felt more of a leaning towards shoes not garments, “ I couldn’t find anything I liked in shoes. I love fashion and I can name lots of brands for RTW I like, but I couldn’t find shoes to match the garments. I like United Nude but most other shoes I found were too comfortable and I wanted something more feminine. I started sketching shoes for myself, and sent them to a factory. The factory told me they weren’t doable, that my sketches weren’t practical and the shoes couldn’t be made. So I went and spent two years with a shoe master.”
Two years after working with the Shoe master, Pan tells me, “I then went back to the factory, and they still said my shoe design was un-wearable, but I had already made a sample and showed them and the shoes were made!” She continues, “I’d been spending 10-12 hours a day with the shoe master. I felt so happy when the sample finally came out. There are so many components, so many leathers and pieces to create the balance, lots of things to think about.”
It was in 2007 that Pan had the idea of starting a shoe line and in 2012 Abcense was born. “My partner is a product designer and we worked together at another company before starting the brand. We both felt the same way, that there were many places we could go to find clothes we liked but not shoes, so we decided to launch the brand together. We didn’t know how hard it would be in the beginning. But while people like what we’re doing we want to keep doing it. “
As we study the shoes together I comment on their beautiful architectural structure. Pan tells me, “The first pair of shoes that really inspired me was United Nude, the idea of putting architectural components on shoes and creating shoes that don’t have to follow the rules of traditional shoe making.”
The growth of Abcense has been steady. After launching and trying to sell in some boutiques in Taiwan, the market wasn’t quite ready for them, so instead they went to Paris Fashion week, and it was there that people really took notice of them and the orders began coming in.
The brand has been going for 6 years, the first few years were spent developing the brand, “It’s been a steady growth; the first two seasons we were still looking for our marketing position, we found out people liked our shoes. However we had some very friendly pieces within the collection that people could wear everyday but some pieces people couldn’t wear everyday so we adjusted our ratio, so we had more wearable pieces. We begun concentrating on more flats and sneaker designs in the second year.”
This season’s collection is all about contemporary sculptures and building in New York. The Guggenheim Museum was an inspiration for one of the shoes and fluid form of the Cube Sculpture Zehn Jahre Zurich influenced another pair with their large block heel.
Their customers vary from country to country. In London most customer’s range from 25-36 in age whilst in Taiwan and Italy their customers tend to be older, around 35-40. “I think it’s our culture”, Says Pan “When you’re young you’re told to be the same, don’t be different but when you’re older your more free to experiment.”
The brand has been developing and evolving in design and the designers certainly listen to their customer’s feedback, We’ve been playing with different paint on the leather. From the first 2 collections we were more crazy in design, we played more with construction on the heel. You have to consider the whole outfit and we got so much feedback that the customer said they can’t really re-wear the shoes very much as they’re so memorable. We then created more friendly pieces that could be worn more than once. These next two seasons we ‘ve become more and more feminine, evolution of our style but also feedback from customers. The pony hair flat has been one of the best sellers, we re-release it in different colors each seasons, it’s the pair I wear everyday.”
"We've also added sneakers because our China buyers requested them. I pushed myself to think if I was to wear sneakers what ones would I wear? Then we adapt the style depending on what our customers want, like the heels to be more feminine or a different material.” Also faux fur is really big now so we added faux fur heels in as well as the fly knit ankle boots, they’ve been really hot this season.”Says Pan.
For the higher heels, Pan says, “I tried to hide the platform, I think it looks a little cheap so I tried to hide it, my factory hates me because there are five different components when you do that.”
They are the perfect partnership, as Wang, Is also more aware of what is happening locally, like fur being so popular now, so you might not like it but you have to put it in the collection” Pan laughs. “Sometimes he has his designs that I don’t love but he has his reasons to add it in, and knows it will work for the collection.”
I ask Pan where she would like to see the brand in the next few years and she tells me, “I’d like to do direct to consumer, I’d like to do a flagship store, a real flagship store, perhaps in London. We also want to collaborate with different architects or artists and we want to have steady sales to support us in what we love to do. If you see the whole collection, only 20% are our conceptual ideas, we want to do more that are your dream shoes.”
Finally I ask Pan if there is anyone she’d like to see your shoes on? “Tilda Swinton, and Charlie Gainsbourg, I love her music and her movies.”
For more information on Abcense visit www.abcense.com