Missoni, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. These are some designers whose names immediately evoke a sense of high quality and design with a considerable amount of cachet. Matt Weber, Niklaus Hodel and Florian Feder are following in these footsteps with their made-in-Italy high end shoe brand, WeberHodelFeder. A complicated mouth full, we know, but catchy nevertheless. The three ambitious fashion graduates have German-Swiss roots, but are based in Belgium’s fashion hub, Antwerp. WeberHodelFeder was founded in 2012 by the three young designers who cultivated their craft at the renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. “We met at a birthday party of a fellow Antwerp Academy student. We realized that the three of us grew up only a few hundred kilometers away from each other. In a school where you share a classroom with students from some 40 nations, that feels like you’re from the same village,” Niklaus–one of the three designers– asserts, adding that they clicked immediately due to their love for football, which is a difficult interest to share in a fashion university.
The three entrepreneurs started their education quite late having had different occupational backgrounds before pursuing a career in fashion. Niklaus was a graphic designer in Zurich and Bern, yet doesn’t intervene with the brand-related graphics (the shoe boxes have the most beautiful works of art on them, by the way). “We all had a career before we came to study fashion at the Academy, a big plus in a small company, where everyone has to do everything. Naturally some tasks are left to the one most skilled for that particular thing, mainly to work as efficient as possible. In terms of design, we try to focus on the shoes and therefore work with a very skilled graphic designer —Thomas Berger— for all printed matters.’”
Twice a year the label brings out a collection of unisex shoes made from the highest quality leather and blessed with innovative and playful designs that re-envision old classics such as brogues. “Imagine three guys in a hoodie (in the beginning barely speaking a word of Italian) explaining sketches to some of the most skilled artisans who have a lifetime of experience under their belt in a small workshop filled with lasts, leathers and vintage machines. The shoes are the outcome of a rather unusual combination of Italian craftsmanship and streetwear.” And with that Niklaus briefly and correctly describes the essence of the brand: urban, cool combined with hint of old school class and an immense focus on craftsmanship. The brand’s trio themselves are often documented on Instagram (#WHFtravel) wearing their designs. The designers, it seems, know the crowd they’re creating for as they themselves are a part of it. “We design for whoever likes the shoes we make. Trying to put all the things we love and stand for into every pair. We do know all the people involved in crafting our shoes, making each product highly personal.”
It is easier to see what big designers base their ready-to-wear collections on, but in general harder to track the creative foundation of an accessories collection. “We find inspiration in the things we like, the clothes we wear and wore when we were teenagers, in the things we do and so on. True inspiration doesn’t come from a meeting.”
It doesn’t come from meetings indeed, but we can’t exclude that part of the process. You have to meet with distributors, sit around the table with financial backers and survive. It is not easy for a young startup in this cutthroat industry. Somehow WeberHodelFeder manages perfectly well. However, Niklaus remains cautious and realistic: “Let’s talk about that in another five to ten years, we have to work very hard in order to be able to offer the high quality product that we advertise. Nowadays every business is tough and I think at a certain level nothing is for free. What we do have is an incredible support from early fans and clients who wear our shoes on 6 continents. Interesting people like lawyers, actors, musicians, artists and ambassadors.”
Not only the fan base is gaining them worldwide acclaim, but the company itself is also expanding fast pace. Last year alone new points of sale popped up in Tokyo, the States and the Middle East. With a global fan base, these boys seem poised to take over the world, one fashionable step at a time.
images courtesy of WeberHodelFeder and Opening Ceremony