The high-end footwear game is getting pretty tedious these days. What started as an exciting new area of the menswear market has quickly turned into a free-for-all, as brands far and wide frantically jump on Common Projects' luxe-minimalism wave, flooding the market with low-key made-in-Italy shoes that might be beautifully made, but aren't exactly the most exciting things to wear on your feet. It's becoming really hard to find something special when all you can see is tonal white colorways and minimalist interpretations of shoes that your dad wore when he was your age.
Enter Swedish-Russian footwear designer Achilles Ion Gabriel (yes that's actually his name - I'm jealous too), a designer who quickly won me over thanks to his fashion-forward aesthetic and peculiar design language. Personally, I like my shoes to either be so timeless they're practically invisible, or so weird that people wonder what was going through your mind when you bought them. Achilles' footwear manages to tick both boxes at the same time, by fusing classic silhouettes with abstract, sculptural elements.
"It's quite silly, but it was inspired by holidays" Gabriel tells me of his Spring/Summer 2016 collection. "Sort of a mixture of Japanese onsen [which are hot volcanic springs, FYI] and Liguria in Italy." That means soft, summery colors are used throughout the designer's shoes, all of which are handmade from top to bottom in Italy and are available in both men's and women's sizing.
Achilles Ion Gabriel's SS16 sneaker lineup includes an insane hybrid shoe that matches a running silhouette with traditional Chinese Geta sandals - it's like he's taunting your feet by putting what would normally be a high-performance upper on top of a clumsy, clunky sole. There's also a velcro-strapped number which sports some angular paneling and a tennis-style low-top with distinctive banding across the toe and heel.
They're unusual enough to show the rest of the world that you think the Stan Smith is soo last year, but familiar enough to still be very wearable. You could style these with pretty much anything - from sweatpants to a suit, so long as you don't go too mad on the colors.
When it comes to footwear of the more formal variety, Gabriel's SS16 collection again toys with classic styles, giving them playful design quirks. The Oxfords in #1, 3 and 4 have had toeboxes and heel counters added to them - just like classic running shoes - while Derbies and combat boots have elongated strips of leather sprouting from their soles. Note that striking golden stripe running down the front of the Chelsea boots in slide #8, too.
Gabriel's innovative approach to footwear design has won his label accounts in prestigious stores worldwide - fashion-forward shops like LN-CC, Dover Street Market, Joyce and Voo Berlin.
Achilles' aesthetic takes cues from minimalist painter Frank Stella and mid-century artist Anne Truitt, as well as his mother, a gravestone sculptor (how's that for a job?) - a quick browse of his Instagram will reveal all sorts of dreamy, abstract imagery, sort of like a regularly-updated mood-board. It's refreshing to see how art can so directly inspire footwear design, a discipline that's normally obsessed with relics of the past and/or technological innovation.
28-year-old Achilles grew up in Finland but now lives in Paris, where his eponymous label is based. He tells me he enjoys gardening and spending time with Maggie, his parrot. Before launching his eponymous line in 2013, Gabriel studied footwear design for five years, and last year lent his talents to Parisian label Études Studio's inaugural footwear line. Oh, and he's done a spot of modeling for Rick Owens and Damir Doma, too.
Like I said before, the high-end footwear game is pretty busy these days. While there's now more expensive shoes for you to blow your money on than ever, it's also becoming harder and harder to find something you've not seen a thousand times already. If you want something a bit more from your footwear but don't want to resort to fashion victim sneakers, then look no further than Achilles Ion Gabriel.
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The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.