TRIPTYCH: These Stylish Shoes Are Made For Walking.
Interview Irina Romashevskaya
An architect by training, New York-based Tania Ursomarzo created an accessories line, TRIPTYCH, with an idea that a comfortable shoe can also be stylish. Her wondrous designs in predominantly neutral palette are subtle yet extremely sexy. Intricate cutouts in unconventional places that expose toe and ankle cleavage, sumptuous textures, and a shoe-within-a-shoe concept that turns a bootie into a skin exposing sling-back shoe, these are just a few of many innovative techniques Tania employs in her designs. I met with the forward thinking designer in her pop-up shop to get a closer look.
Tell me a little bit about your collection. Where did the idea come from?
The foundation of the company is based around the concept of movement, both conceptually as well as formally. I like the idea that your feet and your legs are the things that take you through space and time. I wanted to create a solid city-walking shoe, which was well constructed and had a lot of value in terms of craft and design. So the focus has been on providing innovative design, and above all delivering quality product that’s appropriate to city living.
When TRIPTYCH idea was born, I really wanted to craft a shoe that could transition between formal and informal situations; something that I could wear in the city and walk to and from work. I don’t tend to wear a lot heels or platforms, because I don’t find them terribly comfortable, so I was looking to create something in a mid-heel range. I really wanted something interesting. An interesting shoe you could walk in, a stylish alternative to a sneaker.
What stands behind the name?
In its formal definition, TRIPTYCH is a piece of art in three parts. When searching for the brand’s name, I wanted to find a word that was related to the artistry of making things, but could also conceptually embody all things that are important to me in terms of design, which is something I always think about: body, material and form.
What inspires you most in your work?
Dance, martial arts - tango and aikido in particular - which are very similar in my opinion, are the things that I always found intriguing. When you think of it, it’s the idea of movement that’s of the essence and not the choreography per se. It’s how you relate to a person spatially, how you transfer energy between you and your partner and how you unlock the language of that movement.
What is your background?
I’m actually an architect by training. But I’ve been a multi-disciplinary designer my whole life. And I teach at Parsons at different divisions of the school. Ever since I remember, I’ve been around and involved in different aspects of design, so Triptych became a natural extension of my work and creative personalization of all of my skills.
Were you always interested in accessories design?
Interestingly enough, before I studied architecture, I had actually applied to a fashion design program at a school in Toronto, but then I decided not to study fashion. I wanted more of a well-rounded design education. And while I was an architecture student, I was making pieces for myself after school. So it was always there, it’s just that I never made it anything serious until three years ago when I started my brand.
How did you start? Did you make your first samples yourself?
I did. And that’s how I realized it was more than just an interest. When I was practicing bench-made shoemaking, I was doing all the work by hand. Right now, all the development and production is done in Italy, but it all comes from the initial research I did myself. I’ve created about 23 prototypes and different types of patterns, which made me realize that I had a very specific vision that I didn’t see anything like that on the market. That’s when it stopped being just a hobby and that’s when TRIPTYCH was born. And at that point I’ve also developed my own methods for footwear construction.
What kind of materials do you employ?
I’m very much focused on using natural materials: leather, cork, wood and naturally dyed cotton canvas. I predominantly use all-leather uppers and the soles of my shoes are made of cork, leather, wood and some rubber for practical purposes. For hardware I also use elastic and snaps. My leathers come from Northern and Central Italy. I work with different tanneries that I have developed close relationships with and I always select hides based on their advice to maintain high quality of the product. I also make my own edits based on color, texture and finishing technique. In general, I like to use leathers that have some kind of treatment to them, which gives them character and texture even if they’re primarily monochromatic.
One of my favorite materials to work with is brushed and waxed suede. What’s interesting about it is that it will change over time: the wax will eventually break down and you’ll see more of a distressed look. Another one of my favorites is suede that has been oiled. I like how it changes from glossy to matte depending on the light direction. I like the shoe that records the wear, creating movement within the actual use of the material.
What makes your shoes stand out from the rest?
My shoes tend to be hybridization between a sling-back, a shoe and a boot. You can flip the lining up and wear it like a boot, or if you want to see a bit more of a leg you can snap it down for a completely different look. So my shoes are really a shoe-inside-of-a-shoe.
The other feature of my shoes is that they are all slip-ons. I incorporate a piece of elastic in the back of the shoe both for functionality and aesthetics. It becomes an essential part of the design.
I also like to expose different parts of the foot instead of using a regular chopped toe opening. I find toe and ankle cleavage, or an opening on the side more interesting and unexpected. You never see that part of the foot open.
Tell me about the construction of your shoes.
All of my shoes technically have two soles with the exception of the leather heel. Brushed leather, or sub-sole, which meets the body of the upper, the cork structure and the rubber outsole. My shoes are very robust and built to last. When the rubber eventually wears off, you can replace it with a new sole without destroying the rest of the shoe.
Why did you choose to work with leather?
Leather is the material I absolutely love to work with. It’s natural and therefore very sensitive to temperature and moisture. Believe or not, all hand-made shoes, with the exception of the structured part of the sole that connects to the insole of the shoe, are made through the use of just heat and water. That’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with the craft of the footwear construction and that’s one of the subjects I teach at Parsons. Leather is a very interesting material: you can both create something interesting or completely destroy it depending on where you apply heat and moisture. When you fit leather on the last, it undergoes a lot of stress in order to take a particular shape. And it’s amazing that it responds that way. There is no other material on earth that does that. Not even textiles, which are completely different in their application. I use them a bit, but then I always line them with leather. Any good shoe should be lined with leather. It adds to the comfort of the shoe and absorbs the moisture from the foot. It also increases longevity of the shoe and maintains its shape.
The other amazing thing about working with natural leather is its material variation. The same hide from the same tannery will undoubtedly have a slight variation in both color and texture. And it adds to the uniqueness of the shoe. Someone else might have the same style in the same color way, but it’s never going to be exactly alike. There is a lot of color and texture variation even within the same hide. So it’s a very interesting and challenging material to work with.
Do you experiment a lot with different design techniques?
I do. And I think it’s important. You always have to think about what are you offering to people. For me it wasn’t just about making shoes, or creating another footwear company. It was about making a design contribution, making my work innovative. I wasn’t interested in making the same types of shoes that hundreds of other companies were making. It was about trying to do something new, offer something different to the market and help my customers wear shoes in a truly innovative way.
Tell me a little bit about the fit. How do you test your new styles?
Footwear is complicated in that sense. Switching from one type of leather to another dramatically affects the fit of the shoe. So all of those things have to be continuously tested. Especially when you are creating something new. With more traditional types of shoes, like oxfords for example, you can anticipate the result. The type of work I do is more complicated; every prototype has to be tested numerous times. I spend a lot of time creating new prototypes before they get introduced to the market. And there are also modifications that I make to the shoes even after final samples are produced before they go into production. But it’s hard to find what’s going to work for everyone. Everyone is so different. And so I’m trying to make the best guess possible and find what I think is going to be the best fit.
How do you do your shoe sizing?
For now I only offer full European sizes. My typical size range is from 36 to 41, but I have made a couple of 42’s and 35’s for specific stores.
How comfortable are your shoes?
They are pretty comfortable, but it might take a couple of wears to break them in completely, which also depends on the style and humidity level as well.
What are you currently working on?
I started my brand with a few women’s styles, but since then my line has received a lot of positive response from men and I’ve begun gradually transitioning into men’s footwear. For my Spring-Summer ‘17 collection, I’m introducing a line of unisex sneakers: eight styles, all slip-ons with all-leather upper and a cast rubber sole hand-stitched to the body. They are somewhere in between of high and low top. I have versions with tongue and no tongue. These unisex sneakers are easy to wear and come in a similar neutral palette as my main collection, with a few neon accents: yellow, cobalt blue and emerald green to offset black and white textured leather. They all have snaps and elastic and have been tested out for wearability. It’s a very interesting and wearable collection.
What’s in the future for TRIPTYCH?
I wanted the company to consist of three types of accessories, footwear being the foundation and focus, and then eventually supplement the line with jewelry and bags, some of which I already have in prototype form but haven’t put in production just yet. So in the future the entire TRIPTYCH accessories line would be complete.