Jan Jansen. Image by Daphne Kuilman

Jan Jansen – a portrait

Jan Jansen. Image by Daphne Kuilman

‘Hands do have other senses than brains’


Text by Annemiek van Grondel
Photo by Daphne Kuilman

Jan Jansen (1941) is Holland’s most famous shoe designer, creating two collections a year. He is praised for his elegant, playful and imaginative work, often with an artistic, distinctive twist and great attention to detail. His work is widely sold, has frequently been awarded and is shown in museums all over the world. He lives and works in Amsterdam.

Where was this picture taken? Which of your designs is seen in the photo and why?
In my studio. These are my wife’s wedding shoes. They are handmade by me, in 1964, and are of the same fabric as the dress: crêpe Georgette. Beforehand, Berry Brun, the designer of the wedding dress, revealed to me that it would have folds. So I knew what to do: make folds in the shoes, as well. They are displayed on a ‘leg table’, which I designed, too. The table is called Hommage à Rubens.

What feeling or thought do you convey with your work?
I want someone who puts on my shoes to get the feeling that he or she is wearing something special, something to enjoy. Don’t put your foot into a black hole that solely serves as foot protection. It must have both beautiful looks and an inside that is as comfortable as possible. I am now designing for Spring/Summer 2014.

Is innovation an important criterion of good design?
The experiment is a crucial factor. Do not linger in one thing. Stay curious and playful. Like Picasso: he managed to keep renewing himself over and over again.

What do you consider the biggest changes in your profession?
The biggest changes are primarily the results of new techniques in sports shoes, such as air sole shoes. And 3D printing has endless possibilities for the future. My shoes sometimes resemble works of art. Now some 3D artworks resemble shoes!

Jan Jansen

Jan Jansen

Working directly by hand may sound old school, but it still beats working with machines. The quality of the shoes is so much better when made directly by hand. You have to really feel the material and shape in order to get it perfectly right. Hands do have other senses than brains.

I think and work exactly like in the sixties: using my intuition and my own hands. In creating shoe-lasts and heels and silhouettes, I’m still as free as before.

With what projects are you currently involved?
I look forward to my memoirs. For two reasons: firstly, it would be interesting to show young designers and students what not to do, and by doing so make their hair stand on end. Secondly, I would write in order for me to get it off my chest.

Furthermore, I look forward to the realization of a very subtle technical change on the basis of a high heel, which makes the foot seem more elegant. I have showed a prototype of the shoe-last to Gucci. I look to the future with great confidence.

What advice would you give young designers?
Close your eyes and think about what you would most like to do, even if it seems unreal. Then open your eyes and try to get as close as possible to that dream, that wish. Find a business partner that understands your dreams. It is not unthinkable that they will come true. Oh yes: and read my memoirs, as soon as they are published.


This interview was published in Connecting the Dots #7 for the Milan Design Week 2013.
For entire magazine click here.


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