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Following on from our recaps of the epically shared project between 55DSL, Aaron De La Cruz, Arkitip and Birkenstock, we satt down with both Andrea Rosso of 55DSL and Aaron in an open discussion on what it means to collaborate, the personal ties this projects has to them and what it took to accomplish it.
Can you start things off with introducing what this collaboration is and how it came about?
AR: Basically, I love Birkenstocks. I love the sandals, but I often get made fun of because of that. There’s a stigma about them that they’re for old people. A while ago my cousin was getting married, and there’s this unofficial wedding tradition were all the groomsmen would paint on the groom’s house “don’t marry her! Don’t do it!” And it’s typically in white paint. I happened to be wearing a pair of Birkenstocks during that time which ended up totally splattered in paint. Without thinking too much of it, I kept wearing the pair and throughout the years after, I received multiple compliments on them with people even asking if they were a limited edition version. I got to the point where I was tired of explaining the whole wedding tradition story, so I started telling people “sure they’re a limited edition!” I guess this is where the idea started. I then called up Birkenstock telling them we’d love to work on something like this. We’re a small company whereas Birkenstock is massive, so we didn’t know what they’d say but they agreed immediately.
Later on that year while I was in LA, I met with the guys from Arkitip for another project we were working on, and through conversation, we started talking about how we could work together on the Birkenstock project. They told us they knew the perfect artist for this – Aaron De La Cruz – who I wasn’t too familiar with at the time, but after checking out his work, it was a clear fit. Aaron also paints in black and white which was exactly what we were looking for. At the start, we didn’t really know how we were going to do this but eventually fell in love with the idea of having Aaron paint a mural on the wall we have within the cafeteria of the main Diesel headquarters.
ADLC: What’s funny is I never heard the original ‘wedding tradition’ story with Andrea until now! But my introduction to this project, as Andrea mentioned, was through Arkitip approaching me and letting me know that there’s this project going on that that I would be great for it. At first I had to give it some thought to try to think how I could make this collaboration unified. As we all spoke more about it, the concept resonated more in my head, and as practically 90 percent of my work is based off a personal story or memory tied to my family, I remembered a story about a pair of stocks my dad had since I was a kid which he just loves – he’s even replaced the sole on the same pair like two or three times. There’s that as well as the fact that the chosen style of sandal for this project had a black on black colorway – I always wear black and I mostly use black ink in my work – so that also made sense to me. On top of that, the model they picked was called the “Monterey.” My family is from Monterrey in Mexico, so with that, this whole thing just felt right.
AR: Wow, I did not know that!
ADLC: (laughs) yeah, so this whole project just felt good to me. There are times where you do a commercial project and you want to make sure it resonates well with what you do as an artist, but with this, it was pretty much already there and that was all that was needed to get me to take this project on.
Well it goes without saying that the Birkenstock sandal is an iconic piece of footwear. It’s known the world over and still maintains its heritage. What is it about using something iconic like this sandal and reworking it as something contemporary and current?
ADLC: The way that I’ve approached it was with my knowledge of Birkenstock and what I know about the brand, and the fact that it does have somewhat of a reputation behind it, especially from the younger generation. So I approached it as a bit of a challenge to try to make it more interesting for that younger audience — to try to revive it in a way through the art that I do and the colors that we’re working with. But for me, I just think about my father, and that’s like the main tie I have with the shoe.
So it looks like there are personal attachments from both of you to Birkenstock. Andrea you mentioned earlier that you had your own pair that you loved wearing. What did you love about it?
AR: Birkenstock actually makes amazing sandals. For those that have never worn one, they won’t really know why, but if you have worn one, you’ll understand. It just as footwear to be worn all day. It stays comfortable throughout — I even use it while hiking. I did a the whole Smith Rock tour in Oregon wearing a pair which was easy to do. It’s funny… whatever good the Germans say about Birkenstock is actually true! On top of that, I also like the shape. A lot of people will disagree with many considering it as an old person’s shoe, but I like old things. I’m very attached to the past and I appreciate vintage things, so I think it was very easy for me to appreciate Birkenstock. I also found out not long ago from traveling around and meeting with artists, that Birkenstocks are actually in with the underground art scene.
Stemming from that, you’ve just explain why the sandal works on a functional level. 55DSL as a label is known for being very creative. Mixing together creativity with functionality is nothing new in terms of collaboration projects within the fashion industry. Why does that notion work so well in your opinion?
ADLC: Well when SAS from Arkitip approached with this, I already knew about 55DSL as a brand. So what I did was look at its past collaboration projects and saw some really dope stuff that they’ve done in the past. That as well as looking at the bigger picture of things – doing a full on art project with the mural, the fact that there’s a video component to all this plus more – it felt like this whole thing was more than just a producing a product. I mean, I don’t know if this answers your question in the right way though (laughs).
How about your art work in particular, and why you felt it fit this project?
ADLC: I thought that it made sense and that it worked due to the fact that firstly, the sandal was all black, and then it was all about capturing the process that I do in having the paint drip as I paint the wall on to the sandals. Purely that alone was for me where the ‘magic happened.’ That’s where those two elements met for this project.
And Andrea, this isn’t a first for you in terms of working on a 55DSL collaboration with an artist. Why do you like these kinds of projects?
AR: Have you ever drawn something and saw that your hands get dirty from it? That mess captures the very essence of the process of the art you’re creating. It’s a beautiful thing for me. I was watching Aaron paint earlier today and he had splats all over his shoes and pants, and I liked that about it – I liked the story behind it. And Aaron’s still wearing them right now (laughs). What it means is that Aarons brings away with him a part of the process of his creativity — his art — and the fact that we’re talking about a 220 year old canvas — Birkenstock — I love that idea. This project has aspects to it coming from different parts of the world, and we love sharing that. This is why we do projects like this.
In a way, you have the artwork, which is the mural. And the shoe is part of the process — an extract of that process that people can keep.
AR: Exactly. You can bring home a piece of what’s going on here.
What are some of the key points in doing a successful collaboration?
AR: I think the most important aspect is that the artist must be free in how they create. I try to ask questions to get the artist comfortable with taking the reigns. I also want to figure out what all the problems are so that I can go out and solve them. There’s always going to be a marketing aspect if a brand is involved, but it’s trying to find that balance and seeing what works while still allowing the artist to do what they normally would on their own.
ADLC: For me, I’ve done a few collaborations now and I’ll only ever do one if it pushes me, period. It needs to push my work and push what I’m doing. For this project I use white paint. I’ve never worked with white before. I’ve use black and i’ve used grey a couple of times, but this was just different. I’ve been approached from shoe companies before that have wanted to put my artwork on their project — which is normally the go-to scenario — but this was a completely new angle.
Now talking about the Mural, Aaron can you tell us what the inspiration was for the artwork itself?
ADLC: I kept the artwork itself very clean. There are times where I go a bit busy with what’s going on in my work in terms of patterns style, but for this I kept it very vertical and horizontal with curves here and there. I wanted to do this to keep in line with the actual sandal in a way. I kept it very mellow because that’s what I feel when I think of this shoe. Just chillin’.
Andrea, why did you decide on using the wall within the DIESEL headquarter over a more 55DSL appropriate place or even out on the streets?
AR: This was actually a long discussion for us. We actually just moved 55 over to the DIESEl offices from where we were before, which we’re really happy about as it’s such an amazing piece of architecture. It’s very scandinavian in its look. It’s also very open with a lot of light so we thought this would be great. Especially on this huge wall we have at our cafeteria. For a while we’ve been thinking about what to do with that wall and realised that having 55 work together with an artist on it would be amazing.
Aaron, how your experience with working on that wall?
ADLC: Everything went smoothly. The only challenge I faced was that the wall was a different texture than what I’ve ever worked on before. But that challenge was met with changing some of the brushes and it was smooth sailing from then on. I also feel the staff there were more than inviting and incredibly open and excited about all this. I love hearing feedback from people and a lot of the staff were there during most of it — they were sitting there, really studying the processes of it all and commented on how I would put things together. It was all pretty much an unmarked, unplanned puzzle in a way, and they picked up on that. It was real comfortable.
Last question, what was the process like from the initial concept discussion between everyone to actually executing the project?
ADLC: I would say that’s really where SAS from Arkitip came into the picture. He was really the glue to this whole project.
AR: He curated the whole thing.
ADLC: Yeah, he pretty much pulled all of this together. He went through a bunch of different styles that I did and helped Andrea pick out which one worked best, and after some back and forth, things went on from there.
AR: When it comes to communication, SAS is definitely the man for it, especially when it comes to translating things between Aaron and I. You have to understand that a brand or company will have certain needs whereas an artist can have different needs. A curator is then someone fundamental in translating those needs to one another, and I feel Arkitip did a great job in translating.