In Conversation with Alexis Sablone
Utilising her architectural design and artistry skills to convey her wants and needs down to the smallest detail, Flatspot caught up with Converse CONS team rider Alexis Sablone to celebrate the release of the all-new Converse AS-1 pro shoe. Dubbed CONS’ most innovative skate model to date, we discuss design prototypes, wear tests and colour way influence.
Photography Credits: Ben Colen, Jonathon Mehring, Matt Willigan.
Flatspot: Alexis, thanks so much for your time today. Firstly, congratulations on the AS-1, we think it looks great. With the design process taking a year and a half, how are you feeling now it’s out in the wild?
Alexis: Yeah. I mean, I'm a mix of excited and nervous. I’m excited and I'm really happy with how it turned out. And it’s pretty much exactly what I wanted. And I'm just nervous because I hope other people love it like I do.
Flatspot: We can imagine it must be quite nerve-racking, I guess waiting to see what the feedback is.
Alexis: Yeah. You know, skateboarders have strong opinions so…
Flatspot: You’re obviously an architect and an artist, as well as a pro skater. It's no surprise that you wanted to be hands-on from start to finish with the project itself.
How did you initially approach the project? We saw you were making paper mache models of the shoe, which we thought was super interesting.
Alexis: Initially I was like, ‘hey, I really want to do this shoe’. I really wanted to create a cupsole. You know, I've been skating vulc shoes for 10+ years, but I really wanted to try to figure out how to do a cup. Something that was as comfortable as a cupsole but didn't sacrifice all the grip and board feel and all that stuff - that age old challenge.
I've worked with Converse before so they know how particular I am, but I think building these models and just mailing them to them reduced room for misinterpretation and allowed us to get close fast. In the beginning I didn't know how many rounds of sampling we would have, so I really just wanted to show that this is where I wanted it to start. From the beginning I think we got pretty close, and then we just moved onto fine tuning. Adding TPU bumps, changing the diameter of the rubber and honing in on a herringbone tread.
Flatspot: Like you say, we can imagine it's one of those things where you go in pretty heavy at the beginning with the development and then it just leads to fine tuning. What was the testing process like? Were you giving them to friends to check out and skate?
Alexis: It was hard with the sizing. There were sample 9’s and I’m a mens 7.5. One of the designers Stickney is also a 9 so alot of our feedback agreed on different points. It was a pretty small group; it’s a fine balance. Sometimes there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. Some people have wide feet, some people have narrow feet. A lot of Converses are on the narrow side, so I wanted it to accommodate some more of the foot width, but my foot’s not super wide.
Once we sorted the initial concept and we agreed it was gonna be a cupsole, I wanted to put a few things into the sole that I’ve never seen before. From basic stuff like a sharper radius that’s closer to a vulc shoe - I don’t like when it’s really round as you lose all that surface area with grip - also a little bit of concave to ensure you don’t get a situation where the ball of your foot is the main thing pushing the sole. The logo and the upper we went a little back and forth on, but other than that, they were down. Once the sample was done, it was more like; how good is the shoe? And where do we have to tweak stuff to make it better?
Flatspot: We’ve written here that we feel the AS-1 is a perfect evolution of Converse footwear design, while still having classic Converse DNA. We can imagine that it must have been really hard to find that balance whilst designing a shoe.
Alexis: Some of it was just like I wanted to do enough, so it felt like I put my mark on it and I really considered all the details. I wanted that to come through and for it to be more than just ‘oh look, there’s a shoe’, you’re like oh look at all these little variations, nuances of shapes and stitchings. There's enough to give it character. You can see it from far away and say, ‘Oh, what is that shoe?’ - there's enough that stands out. The name and the deboss; all those details. I personally just don't like things that are loud.
I wanted something that felt classic and wearable, but was new at the same time. It also leaves enough opportunities for further iterations down the road. We have colours coming that are more than one or two materials, giving us enough space to try out some different things. It was a challenge but it was also guided by my style.
Flatspot: Yeah, we can understand that. You touched upon it above, but we wanted to talk about colourways. It could potentially be one of the hardest aspects of the whole process. Was there any significance in the colourway for the launch?
Alexis: I made this model, and when I made it I thought it needed a colour to pop out the details to help me see it and make sure I liked it, and I chose green. I like this colour, it's not black so it's a little something different, but it's not fuchsia or something overly vibrant. I ended up adding contrast stitching as well, and a little pop of lighter green for the eyelets. And I was like, alright, this is as far as I'm willing to go. I don't like adding more unless it feels like it needs it.
Initially I wanted this to look good in white leather and for it to look good in a black suede. That was what I was thinking of; two disparate ends of some kind of spectrum. If it can look good and feel like it works, then there’s room to play around.
Flatspot: We’ve just got one more question for you. What piece of advice would you give to somebody who is about to enter the process that you went through of designing their first pro silhouette?
Alexis: As a designer I feel like I have the benefit of being able to be really specific with what I want. I can be like, here is the actual CAD drawing and the model. But for someone that doesn’t draw or if that’s not their strong suit, then just being really vocal and maybe writing down the most important things. What are the things you’ve noticed in the past from shoes you’ve worn that you don’t like? Then just narrow it down and figure out what you want to achieve with it. It’s a world of possibilities and it can be very overwhelming.
For me, I start with a drawing, and then I just keep drawing until I narrow in on what I actually care about and want to see in something that I want to move forward with. I think just be communicative and stand up for what you want as no one knows better than the person wearing it on their foot. You are the one with the experience and your opinion matters. So figure out a way to vocalise your ideas and make sure they are actually considered.
Flatspot: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Alexis. We’re excited to see more of the AS-1 as new colourways are released.