Raphaël Delan, a 21st-century Renaissance Man
Raphaël Delan is truly a 21st-century renaissance man. Having initially studied architecture and fine art in Bern, Switzerland, he then worked part-time as a DJ to sustain himself. However, when he graduated in 1992, few jobs were available within architecture and fine arts, so he decided to pursue DJ'ing full-time. But after 25 years of being in the music industry and owning a record shop for 10 years, he wanted to chase his other dream, which was shoes, "I have always been fascinated by shoe design. I thought, there are so many people that don't follow their dreams and end up regretting it, but I want to be different". During his MA in Shoe Design at the London College of Fashion (LCF), Raphaël designed a stunning array of luxurious heels with a unique plywood sole (images below) that attracted sponsorship from the Swiss fashion house Bally as well as the University of Applied Sciences Bern (BFH ). Here to speak about his unconventional transition into the fashion industry and his plans for his own luxury footwear brand, is designer Raphaël Delan.
Tell me about your eponymous brand that you will be launching soon.
The designs for my new line will echo my love for music. As I work very rhythmically, my designs will too have a rhythm to them by consisting of repeating patterns. Plus, the colours and patterns that I am using also highlight my interest in album cover designs. I am currently working on my capsule collection which will be exclusive and limited edition. The style will be similar to my LCF MA collection.
Who do you see as your target audience?
An independent woman who, for example, is more interested in modern art or philosophy rather than big fashion brands. She likes to dress feminine, but does not feel she has to wear heels to appear more sexy. Because of her natural sense for art and style she prefers to support new up-and-coming designers, because the more established brands stand for a rather superficial, glamorous lifestyle, that she does not necessarily relate with.
You seem to have a very clear vision of your target audience.
Due to my background of being a DJ for over 25 years (see SoundCloud link below), I have spoken to a lot of women. Based on these conversations I have researched exactly what my type of audience is. Although my target customer seems specific, I know they are out there.
Was it difficult to apply to LCF for an MA in Shoe Design considering you did not have a fashion background?
That was indeed a concern as I did not have a background in fashion design or shoes. However, shoes are as much about product design as fashion. So I did a footwear design course and an internship with the footwear designer Anita Moser and included design work from my record shop and how I had planned the whole interior in my application as well. When LCF accepted me, I asked them why they accepted me without a footwear background. They said it was because it is exactly people like me that will challenge the industry.
You made your first bespoke shoe over 20 years ago, how did that come about?
The story is that when I was young I had issues with my hip and had to wear orthopaedic shoes. I had already undergone five surgeries by the age of 12. My friends would wear these cool sneakers, but I had to wear ugly orthopaedic shoes. So I started to draw pictures of my ideal shoe to my father, an engineer, who would try to find me a similar shoe to buy. Then, during my fine art studies we had a lot of freedom to create our own projects. I chose to produce a pair of shoes for myself that were both fashionable but also orthopaedic.
Why then are you creating womenswear shoes instead of orthopaedic shoes?
As I was DJ'ing, I would see girls enter the club who were all dressed-up with high heels. I was always fascinated by fashion in general, but specifically by the elegance and sexiness of ladies‘ shoes. So I shifted my attention from wanting to design shoes for myself, to creating shoes for women.
Tell me about your LCF MA Collection.
Part of my MA collection, involved me creating a self supportive slim plywood sole. This had never been done before and as I'm Swiss, I pitched my project to the Swiss luxury house Bally. They loved it and invited me to their Head Quarter and offered to fund me. They probably spent around £80,000 to £120,000 on me in total in terms of materials and work. It was amazing as it allowed me to work with the best resources. If you have ever worked in the shoe industry, you realise how expensive and technical the construction of a shoe can be so I was very lucky to receive their support. After I received the Bally sponsorship, I also went to a plywood company in Italy to pitch to them as well as the University of Applied Sciences in Zurich and received funding from both of these organizations as well.
Wow, that's impressive that you got so many organisations to back you!
Due to my marketing background, I know how to pitch an idea. As I already had a big company like Bally backing me, it also made it much easier to pitch to other organisations and get them on board.
What attracted you to design luxury heels?
I have always been interested in luxury. When you ask a typical fashion student what luxury means to them, they say it's expensive, but my definition of luxury goes beyond price. Luxury is when you can see how much effort and knowledge someone has invested to create something special. It's a psychological phenomenon that allows people to appreciate that something has been made in an extraordinary way. That's why I wanted to work with Bally for my MA collection, I wanted to work with a company who really knows their trade and is one of the best in their industry.
What was the inspiration behind your MA collection?
I was very interested in the design period of Art Nouveau to Art Deco. Typically with design, the style changes very slowly and over a few decades. However, this did not happen with Art Deco and Art Nouveau, it was a very abrupt transition. This interested me as I was curious why a design style would alter so abruptly. I therefore choose to incorporate both Art Nouveau and Art Deco into my collection, to make an almost timeless design. I wanted my collection to seem as though it had been created right in the transition period between these design epochs. For example, the reoccurring leaf, is both Art Nouveau by being very decorative, but also borrows from the Art Deco style by being bold and bent at a 90-degree angle. So it is a mix of these two styles.