It was the great Oscar Wilde who once uttered the immortal words: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Never has this been more true than in the case of shoe designer extraordinaire, Raph Young. He may be today’s most exciting avant-cobbler; he may be the nephew of Alexandre Narcy (the celebrated, four-year-long shoe designer for Monsieur); but most of all, Raph Young is a visionary.
His shoes are fantastical and other worldly, like two little dreams encasing the feet, perched atop a sculptural heel so unusual, it could have been plucked right off the surface of some far off planet. They take couture to innovative new heights, merging Young’s everyday inspirations with the deep inner workings of his subconscious.
He says of his influences: “They can be anything, from design and architecture, History of Art to what I live in real life, women I meet and the things I dream.” This discourse of fantasy ran through his latest show at Paris Fashion Week, with a collection born from a single photograph. “My last Fall/Winter collection started from a picture of a geisha whose whole body was totally covered in Japanese tattoos called Irezumi,” he reveals. “I wanted a collection which was really feminine and sexy, so it’s once again about the contradiction between past inspiration and modernity.”
After being born in Korea and then adopted by a family in Lyon, France, Young honed his craft under the guidance of his uncle, who he interned under at YSL.“I grew up amongst shoes and shoe masters. I have been drawing since the first day I arrived in France at age four,” says the young designer. “Undeniably, my upbringing in physics and engineering influenced me in terms of how to assemble and how to create the components of a shoe.”
Fearless, futuristic and flawlessly beautiful, Young’s masterful collections make for dangerously seductive heels. Fusing high-fashion glamour with mechanical rigor, they are both worshipped by fashion followers and architects alike. “The signature is always about the construction at first,” admits Young. “The structure is where I can really create. A strong heel built on a sexy and edgy style.”
These scientific roots embodied his Fall/Winter 2010 collection, modelled on heliocentric theory. The result was a collection of heels and boots whose look wouldn’t be much out of place on the foot of a Stormtrooper. “It’s also because numbers have an unrevealed beauty, like when sciences become ‘meta,’” he insists. “When it’s changing into philosophy and opening your mind to another reality.”
Indeed, these are shoes for the post-modern woman. The woman who dares to be bold and who readily empowers her sexuality. With the application of an artisanal level of craftsmanship, combined with the use of a medley of exotic materials from elephant to deer to nappa leather, Young moulds an incredible silhouette following his age-old motto: “When you get the line, if the shape and silhouette are done put down your pen…! Perfection is never adding and adding again, it’s just precision and proportions.” And it is this meticulously crisp style that has earned him not only fashion stardom, but true artistic merit.
Although his recent burst onto the fashion scene has sent his social schedule reeling, when free from the manic intermingling of traveling, meetings and parties, he admits he enjoys nothing more than moments of solitude. “I often need to stay alone to think and to do my own things,” says Young. “Drawing, writing, smoking and, of course, dreaming.”
So what’s next for this hot, young designer? “I’m an eternally unsatisfied person you know, so I already think about the future,” says Young. “I’m never proud of my collections, they can always be better. And I’m this way with everything in life.” Well, if the fans are anything to go by, we have a lot more in store from this ground-breaking designer.