Industrial Designer CNC-Mills Women’s Shoes

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October 3, 2008. Famous for, among other things, an abiding shoe fetish, Zaha Hadid, may want to invest in the Zoe heel. The creation of German industrial designer Christian Werner, Zoe is a pair of hollow-soled women’s platform wedges befitting the finest couture collection and, at £2600, similarly priced. Painstakingly CNC-milled, the shoes are currently available only through Werner’s office while he looks for a partner in the shoe’s serial production and distribution. I.D. spoke with the designer about his footwear and how it relates to making industrial design. How is designing a shoe similar to, and different from, designing a piece of furniture?

Zoe is my first approach into the field of fashion. Designing is not only the ability to be specialized on a certain subject (which undoubtedly is important too) but to go through life with an open mind (and eyes) and, as I’ve learned with Zoe, it can be worthwhile to reflect on other things than you are used too. Sometimes it can be helpful looking newly on things from an outer circle. Design is a matter of attitude. The excursion of Zoe is for me a wonderful proof for the force of idea.

But maybe it is my experience as a designer for furniture, lamps, carpets, accessories and other stuff to be able to think about objects in a whole variety of materials. When I had the idea of Zoe, it was instantly clear that it has to be done in aluminum. Some people who saw the models and prototypes of Zoe in my office asked: ‘Oh, are you working on a new easy chair?’ I never saw it that way, but somehow there is a similarity and, in the end, it is always about the struggle to find the right proportions, tension, optical weights and material and surface against the background of technology and production. Describe the industrial process used to make the Zoe heel and why it is so expensive?

Zoe was originally supposed to be manufactured in cast aluminum. Unfortunately, people have different sizes of feet and even of the right and left foot. As you can imagine, this raises the necessary investment in moulds. So we decided to do it using the technology of CNC-machining. The hollow form of Zoe makes it quite complicated to hold the shoe while machining it though. To get a perfectly polished surface, the machine runs for many hours, which causes quite a high price of the aluminum frame.

In the past year or so, the hollow platform sandal and small transparent acrylic heels have become popular with the more avant-garde fashion designers on the runways and in fashion magazines. Why were you interested in dematerializing the shoe, if not to save material and cost?

The whole thing started out in June 2006 when I first became conscious of the revival of the platform wedge heel, which raised the question ‘Has anybody ever cut out all this cork, wood, plastic etc.???’ At that time, there was nothing visible on the market in that way. I was fascinated by the idea of a wedge heel as just a thin shiny outline of a platform shoe. The process did not follow a plan to reduce material or costs; rather, it was about the alluring appearance of lightness and extravagance, and to be honest – the seductive power of doing something completely new. I know that subsequently different suggestions for hollow wedges appeared – but I haven’t seen anything like Zoe yet. The first prototype in aluminum was finished and registered as a design in early 2007.

Would it be possible to produce a more affordable version if you found an investor or manufacturer?

I would love too! But I would not change the material!