On a recent trip to Paris we were lucky enough to secure a brief interview with the elusive head of Hender Scheme, one of the most exciting brands Japan has produced in years...

It was a combustible weekend in Paris a few weeks ago, both in temperature and mood. Fashion week always exists in a slightly alternate universe, but within that space are two distinct subcultures: the crowd for the shows and the crowd for the trade shows. While there’s some occasional crossover, the two don’t usually meet. Hender Scheme are definitely in the latter portion.

Hender Scheme’s appeal should be obvious to any reader of this site. They’re the new brand in town that everyone’s paying attention to, largely because (a) they make really nice things and (b) those things are super-exclusive, both due to their price and limited quantity. visvim used to be that brand, but they’ve crossed over now. Enter Hender Scheme to fill the void.

In addition to those first two points, Hender Scheme bring an extra element: rose-tinted nostalgia. After all, who doesn’t pine for the days when adidas made sneakers in Germany, used much better leather and had Adi Dassler personally come to your door and talk you through every purchase? Hender Scheme takes that feeling and turns it into a new pair of trainers.

Here in Paris the brand’s showroom is relatively small compared to other, more established names. However, inside there’s a zen-like serenity, due in no small part to Ryo Kashiwazaki – the brand’s unassuming and softly-spoken founder. Prior to Hender Scheme, Kashiwazaki worked in a factory and a shoe repair shop, and defines himself “not as a designer, just a maker." He left his job to start Hender Scheme in 2010 and previously stated his intention was to “surpass gender.” When we asked if he’d moved on from this approach, he simply replied “I design the things I want and things I like." With a showroom in Paris for two seasons now, clearly they must be doing something right. But why Paris?

“I like the location. In the past we used to receive our orders only by line sheet, and we started getting more and more offers from more and more stores that want to work with Hender Scheme,” he explains. “To accurately convey the image of the brand, we’d like to showcase the whole collection.” Ryo notes that his stockists have risen by 50% since he started showing in Paris, although that’s still only a super-limited 30-35 stores. “Maybe this is a very good size for us,” he says. “Because we can’t make too many as these are all handmade.”

It’s very difficult to talk about Hender Scheme without talking about the Homage line, which reinterprets classic sneaker silhouettes in nothing but premium, vegetable-tanned leather. The line adds a new design every season and, according to the press release, “considers sneakers as a type of industrial product." In person, Ryo refers to the Homage line as “shoes that were designed to look like trainers.” We were especially interested to know if any of the large-scale sneaker brands, who have been known to be litigious, have contacted him about the line. His answer was a simple “no,” before referring to the line as an art project.

“I can explain for them, but I don’t know what they think [about it]. For this art project, the idea was to reproduce the manual industrial projects in a handmade way, using leather to show the different types of styles that people can see on the same product. It’s up for them to compare.” The continual use of the term “art project” may be a nod to the artisanal quality of his products or a legal get-out clause. He needn’t worry though, we can’t see anything legal happening any time soon, as Hender Scheme’s designs only end up strengthening the prestige of the brands involved.

And, here’s the kick – it may not be the brands themselves who end up pulling the plug on the whole project. While Kashiwazaki was generally good-humored when we spoke, we did sense a certain annoyance that he’s only known for what is a relatively small part of his collection. After all, Hender Scheme make a huge array of original leather products – everything from belts to bucket hats – and it’s clear he’s just as proud of these as he is of his iconic sneaker reinterpretations.

“Some people only know about the Homage line. But this is just part of my collection.” Gesturing to the array of high-quality wares around him, he remarked, “so this is my main collection.”

Words by Jason Dike for Highsnobiety.com

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