Nigel Cabourn X Maison Mihara Yasuhiro

Nigel Cabourn X Maison Mihara Yasuhiro
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Nigel Cabourn X Maison Mihara Yasuhiro

Nigel Cabourn’s design has always been about taking details from history, and bringing them up to date with the finest materials and craftsmanship available today. His collaboration with cult Japanese designer Mihara Yasuhiro is a prime example of this. Whilst the inspiration for the shapes might come from classic canvas pump design, the shoes themselves are anything but traditional, and it could be said that they have more in common with the work of a sculptor than a footwear brand.

Rather than setting out to recreate high quality versions of the original shoes they’re based on—in this case, the Converse Chuck Taylor and the canvas French Foreign Legion boot—they’ve instead pushed things forward. The classic feel of the original designs remain, but everything from the fabric to the way they’re put together has been rethought. It’s appreciating the past, whilst looking to the future… something that Mihara Yasuhiro is no stranger too.

Born in Nagasaki in 1972, Mihara Yasuhiro originally started out with desires to become an artist, and it was only whilst studying at the Tama Art University that he became interested in footwear. For someone fascinated by the idea of creating art in everyday life, the trainer (or sneaker, if you like) was a perfect representation of functional art. Like a Hornsea mug or an Olivetti typewriter, a well-designed trainer can be both practical and decorative at the same time.

This quote from an interview with Sneaker Freaker explains his thoughts……..

“While I was studying art, I felt as though I had a mission to harmonise people and art. When people use something, that is the essence of what ‘harmony’ means to me. And I think sneakers really symbolise that.”

This desire to elevate the humble trainer into a piece of useful art led Yasuhiro to England, where he studied traditional shoe-making techniques, before returning to Japan to launch his own brand in 1996. Not content with just running his own brand, he’d also try and get his ideas heard by the sportswear industry.

Back in the mid-90s trainers were still predominantly sportswear items, and whilst they were being worn outside of the sports they were designed for, there was nothing like the culture which surrounds them today. A trainer might have been designed for basketball or tennis, but any sort of re-appropriation outside of the sporting world went pretty much unacknowledged by the brands.

This backwards mindset meant that when Yasuhiro did manage to get through to the leading brands of the day, his ideas were often ignored. One brand who did listen was Puma, who took on the young designer to help reintroduce a few of their old classics from their archive.

What started out as a relatively simple line soon morphed into a whole array of genre-defying footwear for the brand, in which Yasuhiro would merge countless details and subcultural references, often within the same pair of shoes. There are too many notable creations to fit into this brief write-up, but a suede desert boot which tightened up using Puma’s Disc system is a perfect example of the sort of boundary-pushing ideas he brought to the table for the German brand.

Whereas a modern sportswear brand would simply draw up the shape of a sole digitally using computer-aided design, and then 3D print the results to create the mould for a sole, Yasuhiro made the original shape for his soles by hand using modelling clay. This clay sole was then scanned into a computer to create the mould. It’s this hand-made element which gives the shoes their signature ‘melted’ look—a million miles away from the homogenised perfection of most modern trainers.

And things don’t stop there. The sole is then fixed in place using what’s known as the Opanka method—a traditional method of shoemaking which originated in South-Eastern Europe. Without going into too much heavy detail, this basically involves sewing the uppers, lining and sole together using double-needle stitching for added comfort and flexibility. The term ‘Opanka’ comes from the Croatian word Opanak, which roughly translates to ‘climbing footwear’, and the original Opanak shoes were laceless leather walking shoes worn up until the mid 20th century in the Balkans, not too dissimilar in appearance to the North American moccasin.

The fabrics chosen for this latest collaboration also have a story to tell. The denim used on the High Top and Low Top Shoes is 12oz Japanese denim, which has been washed and distressed for that worn-in flavour, whilst the olive drab cotton on the Combat Shoe is washed canvas influenced by the tough, hard-wearing material used by the French military.

The idea of calling footwear ‘art’ may seem a little grandiose to some, but when this much thought has gone into creating these shoes, we think the title is justified. If you have an eye for the finer details, then you should be able to appreciate these