Previously managing director at Wieden + Kennedy, Paulo Ribeiro's new agency has a sneaker branding project that pays unexpected tribute to the creative world.
Ever thought you'd have a sneaker named after you? If you're a creative, probably not. It generally tends to be sports stars who get this kind of honour, and even then, only if you're at the very top of your game. But artists? Designers? Poets? No chance, you might think.
But surprisingly, you'd be wrong. Because that's exactly what the new sneaker brand Novella is all about.
Novella is a project that Two Things, the agency founded by ex-Wieden + Kennedy's Paulo Ribeiro, has been quietly working on for four years now, in partnership with Phil Marineau III who approached him with the idea after having formerly collaborated during his time at Electronic Arts. This new premium sneaker brand is built around stories. In their own words: "It's a shoe as beautiful as the story is deep; a verse in the chapter of an ever-evolving story."
The stories in question are inspired by artisans and creators, and the range is titled as if it were a novel. "Each shoe is designed around an artist that is hand selected based on their craftsmanship and true passion for their work," explains Paulo.
In short, they are unlike those featured in other shoe collaborations. "Instead, they are true artisans in their fields, be it a barber, comedian, poet, painter, photographer, or sound artist," says Paulo. "They were intentionally selected creators who were atypical from the types of people that sneaker brands tend to collaborate with because the intention for Novella is to be a vehicle for a broader range of stories."
Novella's debut offering, Chapter 01, takes its cue from spoken-word poet Rudy Francisco, textile artist Katherine Entis and sound artist Marcus Fischer. The designs map the stories of Novella's artisans onto the sneaker through thoughtfully curated elements. The sole of all Novella shoes includes an imprint of a mix of the designer's fingerprints, so the wearer "carries a piece of the artist with them". Each design is limited to 2,020 pairs; once they're gone, they're gone for good.
The sneakers are unisex, inspired by classic skate and tennis profiles, made from premium materials and crafted by hand. Each shoe comes with two pairs of laces, nicknamed the 'mild and wild.' The 'mild' pair of laces complement the shoe's aesthetics and is a conventional colour choice for the design. The 'wild' pair often involves an anecdote, story, or nod to the artisan themselves.
Concept and strategy
"Two Things was involved with the creation of the brand in its infancy four years ago, in our pre-COVID world," says Paulo. "Our work began with the initial strategy for the company and continued into the definition of the brand, the structure for releases, identifying the artisans and working to bring the product to life. Two Things is built to work with clients in moments of transformation, and this project allowed us to bring a strategy to life holistically through the product and the marketing."
"It's rare for an agency to get to build a brand from the product up, particularly one on this level of comprehensiveness, artistry, and depth of storytelling," he adds. "This was a collaborative process in which strategists, creatives, artists, and designers worked together to build something beautiful and new. And as our agency is focused on the moments of transformation – where we can work on setting the strategy, developing the concepts that will bring that strategy to life and then overseeing the creation of that work – this project was a perfect example of how we do it."
So who are the creatives behind these unusual sneakers? First up, Rudy Francisco is one of the most recognisable names in Spoken Word Poetry. Born, raised, and based in San Diego, California, he uses personal narratives to discuss the politics of race, class, gender, and religion while simultaneously pinpointing and reinforcing the interconnected nature of human existence.
His sneaker, titled Verse 01 | Love Poem, embodies Rudy's belief that every poem is an act of love. This same love is brought to the design and craftsmanship of his shoe, evoking pages of a poet's notebook with oiled leather overlays, woven tongue labels, embossed poems, and new works.
Secondly, Katherine Entis (Verse 02 | Momotaro) grew up in California and British Columbia before studying textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her design studio, Soft Century, runs on the belief that quality products can inspire the spaces we tell our stories: rugs and pillows are made to be just as exciting to touch as they are to view.
Her shoe, titled Momotaro (Japanese for 'peach boy'), pulls its inspiration directly from the folklore of the same name, a story her mom would tell her frequently growing up. Her vibrant colour palette and mixed textures, integral to her textile work, complement the playful and child-like iconography woven throughout the shoe.
Finally, Marcus Fischer (Verse 03 | Two Worlds) is an audio and visual artist who creates, collects, and transforms audio into immersive, layered soundscapes accompanying performances/installations. While his catalogue is as wide as it is deep, time and the tale of Two Worlds emerged as a recurring theme full of beautiful contrasts: digital and analogue, motion and stasis, intended use and created use.
Inspired by the tools and materials Marcus uses in his work, his shoe is an ode to utilitarian craftsmanship and longevity. Each detail is a callout to Marcus' audio equipment and photography, from polaroid-printed footbeds to custom-painted eyelets that patina to reveal bronze underneath.