Jean-Marie Massaud is an architect. At a glance, that industry has nothing to do with the world of sneakers and footwear, except perhaps that the profession is more likely to be sartorially switched on than others. For instance, you wouldn't really be surprised to meet an architect donning a pair of their favorite sneaks in the studio. Smart-casual defined.

However, the French master Massaud—designer of Mexican football stadiums and floating hotels in blimps—has gone a step further. With the storied Italian footwear label, Rucoline, itself headed by designer Marco Santucci, the pair have launched Essentiel 'M—the new footwear defined by a modernist, almost futuristic, approach to footwear design.

With two inaugural designs launching the project—the M-01 espadrille shoes and the chunky M-02 sneakers— one of the key ethos is the instant wearability defined by the need to transfer yourself and what you wear between roles and situations. This, of course, is how most people’s lives are now live and seen, arguably, the opening up of footwear and fashion design, and the blurring of the lines between traditional “high” and “low” forms.

We chatted with the architect to get his view on the project, why he wanted to be an architect, and why he partnered up with Santucci and Rucoline on a footwear project.

What did you want to say with your footwear designs here?

Simplicity. When Marco Santucci [the owner of Rucoline] came to me, I already had in mind the kind of clothes, bags, and shoes I'd like to design—ones to fit perfectly with my "nomadic" way of living. For instance, in the same day, you might have to jump from a factory meeting, into giving a presentation, then directly to an opening or a dinner in the evening without ever having time to stop and change. Many people have this kind of life. So I wanted to design and make the right shoes for this kind of life, to equip these types of people with the things they'd need.


Has being a professional architect influenced how you approached this project? What did you bring to the table and what did Rucoline?

My first ambition was to design the entire concept, but after discussions we decided on the idea of starting with two standard Rucoline soles to test the idea of the "essential". M01 and M02 are based on the same "espadrille cut" concept. It is a universally iconic design that can support of a lot of declinations and evolutions—but always with simplicity.

Why Rucoline? Why did you work this label?

Marco Santucci is a volcano. He came with his energy, and I appreciate it as a very positive adventure and experience to have shared in. What we created with Rucoline—Essentiel ‘M—is filled with the ambition of creating, step-by-step, a new typology of easily wearable and chic shoes, with a twist on the design methods of "architecture".

Have you ever completed similar projects like this, or was this your first time stepping into footwear design?

'M is a label I apply for my co-branded projects with big companies, from the car industry down to accessories. Each project comes with a special demand of an essential, elegant, and progressive approach essentially based on quality and then the overall experience it provides. The first collaborations of this type currently in progress are in the nautical industry, the music industry with work on a piano, and motorcycling. I'm interested in designing essential clothes too. Ultimately, I want to have the opportunity to design everything I use in my daily life.

Why are you an architect? How did you start your career?

As a kid I was fascinated by the elegance and the futurism of Concorde, the supersonic plane. I started as an aircraft engineer, before understanding I was more interested in design than in being a technical specialist. My first project was a submarine with Yamaha offshore. At the same time, I started designing for the fragrance industry (Armani, Lancôme...) and my first furniture piece with the Japanese E&Y.

In 2001, Cappellini and Cassina were the first Italian companies I worked with. I then moved on and had a fabulous experience of Blimp Hotel (or 'manned cloud') with a research firm ONERA, and, at the same time, the "Volcano" Omnilife Soccer Stadium in Mexico. Today, I’m keen to think and design life scenarios around the idea of "working in vacation".

For more info on the project, check here and visit Rucoline's site.

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