STUDIO HAGEL & Mathieu Hagelaars.
It's even hard to believe that Mathieu Hagelaars doesn't see himself as a sneakerhead. We mean, he is the man behind STUDIO HAGEL and all its dope creations — not to mention the collaborations w/ the likes of Virgil Abloh, Takashi Murakami, and Puma. Leaving it all behind, Mathieu prefers to call himself a sneaker person.
The designer behind Studio Hagel has very specific choices to focus on his work. The creative cloud he lives in has a soundtrack and ofc we hacked it so u can enjoy it as well — here, u will find lots of electronic beats, including the DJs Koze, Daphni, Sophie, Fatima Yamaha & mo.
Before u move forward, hit play... you know, just for setting the mood. 🤠
We met him in Amsterdam to talk about his creations and get to know his awesome studio. Keep scrollin'. 👇
Studio Hagel is said to be driven by experiment, right? How does that work in practice in your day by day?
I experiment a lot when it comes to footwear. Getting shoes apart, using material that isn’t footwear-related or making combinations that I’ve never seen before. I also keep trying a lot and failing a lot. U have to play around to come up with new ideas. Innovation and new ideas are my main focus.
The things u see on Instagram are all about showing the potential of what shoe design can be. It’s never an end result, it’s a starting point. As long as I see it, there's potential in these prototypes.
Do you think an experiment can start based on a material?
Totally. Some concepts are based on just a material. That could be a material that’s non-footwear related or a hardware part that I apply on footwear design. It doesn’t always start from the material, but it’s definitely a way to make a concept.
What’s the weirdest material you have ever worked with?
I think that would be silicone. In the beginning, when I made those sneaker spoofs, I used plastic spoons and Styrofoam. Once I made a whole outsole of those weird foam things you buy in a toy shop. If u make these things wet, then they stick together. This ended up being a crazy outsole that looked cool if u ask me.
Besides the variation of materials, what are the other techniques u use to create content? For example, do u ever use two different shoes to create a new one?
Yes, especially, in the beginning, I deconstructed and reconstructed a lot of sneakers. I made all kind of weird combinations, like a sandal made out of both running and basketball shoes. It’s all about experimentation and coming up with new ideas that I’ve never seen before. Innovation is important, even if it’s only in aesthetics.
We know that making new designs through experimenting is an important pillar of your work. What about the process that results in, like, a Nike shoe with a lot of price tags and how people react to that?
Oh yeah, that one. Some people said it looked scary and other people said it really looks like haute couture. A friend of mine gave me one of those price tags machines, so they were literally price tags that were attached to the shoe. At first, I wasn’t sure what to do with that machine, but when I tagged a lot of those tags on the shoe, it started to feel as new material. Almost an organic feeling, which makes it even more interesting if u think it’s just a lot of plastic tags. That's also always the thing that I'm trying to figure out, how can we flip things or how can we use things in a different way, an experiment to get a new kind of design.
U've said once that you started your studio when nobody wanted to work with you because you had no experience. Now, you've collaborated with the kinds of Murakami, Puma and more. What's your POV about this evolution?
The reason why nobody wanted to work with me is that I didn't have a design background. I was a sales manager for a couple of footwear brands. The thing that I always liked the most is the product itself, not selling it. At one point I decided that I wanted to get more into product design, getting closer to the creation.
So once I made that decision, I did a Masterclass industrial footwear design. This was a good way for me to get a feeling if I really like to get into footwear design and if I am able to be creative. That's the point that I found out, that this was the direction that I really want to go into. The first thing that I did was getting to do job interviews and, of course, the first thing that everybody did was to look at my CV and see that I didn't have any design experience. Nobody hired me.
So I thought, if I want to do it and nobody wants to hire me, then I have to do it myself. That’s why I started STUDIO HAGEL in 2015.
Since I already was in the footwear industry, I had a network of smaller Dutch brands. That's where I got my first small project. After a while, I started to make my own prototypes. It started with spoofs and jokes, making a Yeezy with a sock, some tape, and a vacuum cleaner hose. That's also the point that I found out, you also can design by making products instead of drawing. After making a couple of those spoofs, I started to make my own designs that I call my “makersmondays”.
These makersmondays got a lot of exposure on Instagram and also got noticed by people from the footwear industry and also by other designers. That was the point when Virgil reached out to me and said, “Hey, I really like the things that you're doing. I'm going to have a show in Florence. Let's make a design together.”
How did you feel when he contacted you?
Honored. At that point, I didn't realize that it was a big deal. And once I got in there, I felt like “oh wait, this is like a really, REALLY big deal.” And Virgil's a great person to work with, and he is always really pushing the limit. He's always about getting the best out of u. And it was kind of in a rush, we did a design in three weeks, and we already went to the factory, which is crazy.
Do u consider that ur work is more directed by the visual or is it more needs-driven?
It's more about aesthetics in a way. With every brand that I work with, they have their own footwear developer, and they know how to make a design in a good way and how to make it comfortable. So, yes, comfort and quality have a high priority in the design process, but my main focus is innovation on aesthetics.
Speaking about Murakami, what kind of things do u care about the most when working on a custom sneaker?
Well, I don’t make custom sneakers but I do understand why you ask this question: people do think that I'm a customizer. But for me, it's not about customization. It's more about designing products.
If I do make a custom sneaker, especially w/ Murakami, I think the main importance is that we actually collaborate. It's not about, “Hey, let's slam a name on top of a shoe.” It's more about working with another creative person, you always have to fuel each other and get to the design to the next level by using each other specialty. W/ Murakami I had total creative freedom, but I also knew what I wanted to have. It was my first time working with a more visual artist instead of a fashion designer. So that was super interesting and, next to that, he's a super nice guy.
S/O to Mathieu AND Studio Hagel. 🖖