Interview: Arsen Rock
Conceptkicks: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Arsen Rock: Well, Once upon a time a guy named Arsen Rock…(lol)I’m kidding.. So, My name is Arsen Rock, I’m 35 and I grew up on the south side of France in the ghetto of Marseille. My father was a sailor and my mother was a very busy housewife. I was the fifth in a poor family of seven children. Both my parents came from Comoros Islands (an old French colony located in East Africa) to give us the chance to make something bold in our life. I still remember these words that my father used to tell us early in the morning while he opened the windows: “Get up sons! You have to look for your future!”
Future, everything in my life is about that. Run and look for the future. School was very important for my parents. They knew that I have to “Learn” to get by. That reminds me the time when I use to go to school with my self-sewn old shoes rolled up with a rope. -Swag-
These kinds of situations pushed me to explore shoes architecture and to innovate by trying different ways to be smart and comfortable in an end of life pair of sneakers. By the way my Mom didn't have enough money to buy us some nice branded shoes every three months. So she used to have us with different shoes bought in the street market. Just imagine a lil’ black guy with one yellow shoe on the left foot and one blue shoe in the other one. -Punky Brewster style mode- It was my first step into the trends world.
Some years later, came my “teenage golden age”. Two revelations helped me to develop my faith, my self-confidence and my creativity. God and the real hip hop.
It was the time of Jordan and the “Dream team”, Spike Lee and “Do the right thing”, the French explosion of graffiti and Hip Hop in France and ten years after “Beat Street” and “Style wars”.
It was the time of the “Sneakers battles” or “Who has the best and exclusive sneakers in the hood”. Like a creative grand wizard, I knew that to be unique I had to customize mine with spray paints, tapes, markers and “POSCAs”. It was my Street magic tricks. How wonderful it was to have the latest Air max one with a unique and exclusive color made in the hood and by myself. #Heavy
No matter if I had some dirty ripped non-branded clothes bought in the street market. My sneakers were the cherry on the cake, the gold teeth in my mouth, and my full moon during a date. I did and I'm still doing everything with my sneakers. Hip-hop battles, chatting up chicks, doing graffiti, MCing on the stage, working, running…My shoes also saved me from hot situations like be chased by the cops for...Mmmm…I’m sorry but my brain suggest me to close my mouth.
So, they reflect my mood and my personality. They are an extension of what I am and how I feel. Having some sneakers is an opportunity to be myself, to be different and to be unique.After my graduation in packaging, I decided to pass the Fine art and architectural school competitive exams and won my ticket. This one definitively blew my mind. When I come out from the school I was hired as exhibition designer but my passion for the sneakers push me to look around for a footwear design internship to improve my knowledge. After several time passed on the web, my lucky star placed me on the way of Shane Ward (CEO, Creative director, Shane and Shawn). He gave me the opportunity to realize my dream and design my first footwear sold in the market. (Sold out) Today I pursue my passion and continue to design shoes for the best and the worst.
CK: You express yourself through so many different creative outlets. Be that music, street art, or design. How important do you think it is being so judicious creatively?
AR: Our civilization is a mix of many things and knowledge in different fields from prior generations. We have a legacy. So, I just try to seek out some new connections between apparently unrelated fields and concepts.
Your question reminds me the first time I heard “Planet rock” performed by Afrika Bambaataa on the radio during the 80’s. He mixed up the German electro pop from Kraftwerk + the west coast Funkadelic Funk of Georges Clinton + The New york Bronx Rap on a “Street Social underground approach”...and this track is still a classic.
I didn’t have the opportunity to integrate a Design school. It was too expensive. But no matter, Hip-hop was a good school to express myself on the stage, the paper, on the wall, on the radio, on the dancefloor and more…Hip hop helped me to realize that I had to redesign my life. So to achieve my goals I learnt that I had to be focused on my needs instead of being focused on what I would like to have. In my mind I had a kind of: I need a better pair of sneakers, a better bike, a better slingshot, a better relationship, a better social condition and finally “I need a better life”. Some of my everyday quotes were: “Just do it”. “Yes you can”. “Take the responsibility to make it happen”.
In fact, that’s not about footwear design but about life and curiosity.We have many possibilities to express ourselves. I just took the choice and the responsibility to express myself through these different mediums in different situations. Everyday I design my life and footwear design is just a piece of my life. Curiosity helps you to be more creative, to explore new ways and find innovative solutions. Leonardo da Vinci, well known as a painter, was also as a sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was a man of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination”.
I didn't come into the Design Industry for the product itself but by what people need to live better and to do things in a better way. My commitment to the exploration and development of new possibilities pushes me to challenge the conventional answers and approaches. Those things push me to embrace diversity as a vital source of new perspectives and possibilities.During my creative process, I like to mix my traditional hand sketches and my computer abilities. “Different points of view provide you a better understanding about a situation or a problem.”
Like Diddy or Jay Z, you can be a good artist but at the same time a good businessman. I try to give the best of myself in each thing I do.
CK: How did sites like Kicksguide help you grow as a designer?
AR: KG! That was crazy!!KG was a big wall to express my self! It was an opportunity to tell the world who I am and what I do. At this time you didn’t see so much footwear design sketches on the web. So it was amazing to see so many young dreamers from abroad sharing the same passion for the footwear at the same place. The monthly Artist series was amazing. I was always waiting for the next month to see the best new designs and designers. That was I kind of arena with gladiators with different styles, point of view, and skills. At the same time it was also huge opportunity to talk to great and experienced people in the footwear design industry. I learn a lot from them directly or indirectly.
I’m definitively from the KG generation of Jason Petrie, Mark Minner, Erik Arlen, Zenith Chance, Brett Goliff, Tony Hardman, Pep Martens, Chris Padilla, Pietro Pellicelli, Phil Padilla, Ventsislav Nikolov, Guillaume de Castro, Jamien Sills,Justin Taylor, Sandra Rombolli, Cubby Golden, Krydo design, Saul Maret and more…
Also, I was so proud when I saw KG’s description of me on the website: “Arsen's back for 2005. He appeared onto the Artist Series scene with a series of realistic renderings that is distinctively different from everyone else. With a certain touch of European flair, Arsen's also not afraid to mix it up with different brands and off the wall ideas. Every one of his submissions so far has been like a poster or page ripped from a magazine ad._ARSROCK THE DYNAMIC ROCKER”
For me this description definitively meant “Well, I’m in the game right now”. Even now I still use the network of KG members for my activities.
CK: When did you transform into Arsrock and start using the 'out of this world' phrases you have become known for? What inspired that?
AR: That comes in the 90’s when I decided to handle my life. In these times I was too close to the street and after a serious talk with my brother, I decided to get by, to change, to move forward and to go to the next level. I put myself in a position where I have to stretch outside my comfort zone, and then I was forced to expand my consciousness.All of us need to grow continuously in our lives. Everyday is a new chance to grow and to climb the mountain of your dreams. So I had to look for the future. Future in my mind means Science fiction, superpower, masks, space battleship, Mechas, galaxies, stars, parallel universes, laser guns, marvel comics and more…My style is clearly influenced by two movements, the Futurism and the Bauhaus. Futurism inspires , future, speed, technology, youth, and violence. The Bauhaus style helps me to channel my energy with a simple, functional and effective style. This antagonism seems to be a good balance to me.(lol) Colors vs Black and White, unique repetitions, speed motionless, unstructured structure, industrial craftwork…
Arsrock from the next level: Because everyday I try to challenge myself
Arsrock from outa space: Because my mind is always tuned on the universe channel to create, innovate and understand things.
These sentences sign and show where I come from, who I am and where I want to go. So feel free to join Arsen Rock’s spacecraft to the infinite of the universe.(lol)
CK: You carry yourself in such a positive and creative way, seeming to be such an individual in your own lane. How do you translate "Planet Rock" and channel it to a product fit for a mainstream market?
I just try to understand people by asking the right questions.(lol) For sure I have my own idea,but I always try to be close to the customers.
CK: How is it different designing for the European market as opposed to the Americas and Asia?
Asians have small feet! (lol)T he Asian market is huge and until now Chinese brands only made copies of all the brands in the world. So that’s a big opportunity for young designers to try something else. By the way, they are looking for fresh young designers…They already have the factories.(lol) The European market is more classic: black, white and brown colors with a small bright color touch. This market is not focused on innovations but more on the quality (details and finitions). About American market: the Americans like to show off. ”PIM, PAM!POUM!BAM!” Look at me I’m the best and I want to show you that I am!”
CK: Can you tell us about some of the brands and product you have had the opportunity to work on?
I have had chance to work freelance for different famous and “infamous” brands. But after several years in this industry, I begin to think that I’m “Unfamous” (lol). A lot of my designs are still on the project stage or in some secret drawers. I just hope that is not because of my unconventional approaches of footwear design. (lol)
CK: You have been able to work for so many different brands on such a wide range of product. How have you been able to carry over fashion, athletic, casual and blend what you have learned?
AR: When you think about design. Think about bridges and don’t set up walls. To give an example, each category of shoes contains its own strong technical points. The track and field shoes have spikes and have to be lighter as possible. The basketball shoes have ankle support and stability. The running shoes need to absorb shock, control motion, be flexible and be durable. Of course these are only an exhaustive list. But that very interesting to mix and cross over the technical point. You can exploit them just for fashion or to improve the shoe.
CK: When in a transition from one product market to another do you ever find yourself stuck in the same place creatively and end up having to re-calibrate before that asteroid from Planet Rock comes along with a new explosion of ideas?
AR: You have to re-calibrate for sure. But I think the only one market that you don’t have to do it is the KIDS market. Kids are the same all around the world. They are virgin and innocent. They want to explore their environment and we have to stimulate all their senses. So we have to provide them bright colors, funny characters, light, laser guns noises, shiny patterns and keep a kind of fire works feeling.
In fact, deep inside us, we are all kids.
CK: Working as a Sr. Designer at AIRNESS it seems you have a hand in almost all of the product, ranging from athletic and cleats to casual. What was it like trying to balance everything?
AR: Yes I do. My unique experience at Airness pushes me to explore different categories in the footwear design field, from casual to athletic. That’s a kind of gymnastic. In each category you have to redefine your psychology. There are different approaches for each range of product. You can’t design a soccer boot and a fashion sneaker in the same way. The design process is still the same but the constraints are different. You have to take into consideration, the last, the patterns, the materials, the target price and the market. This kind of situation provides a lot of experience and knowledge. Fore sure, Airness is a good school for hard workers and people who are not afraid to break the rules. The CEO always pushes our limits until finally you realize that you don’t have some. So thanks boss, for giving me the opportunity to be my own boss. (lol)
CK: How does the Sr. Design position differ from previous roles you have had? What advice would you give to somebody ready to make the move to a Sr. Design position?
Mr. Malamine Koné (AIRNESS CEO) used to say: ”All my employees are CEOs and have to manage their department with success”. As a young sports brand, AIRNESS has given me the opportunity to meet a bunch of experts, factories, and old timers in this industry. That position helps me to improve myself and to be bold. Right now, I can say that I’m flexible and ready for every new challenge. At this position I work as designer, color designer, developer (still in course lol) and it happens that I have to go to see the big accounts to sell my designs, so salesmen too! So you can imagine how I’m busy. (lol) Of course my main force is still to design and that is also what I like.
To all young designers, this position will define what you want to do for the next few years. It will define the path of your future. Do you want to continue your career in a huge multinational company or do you want to own your destiny and be a CEO? In this time you will certainly ask yourself this question.
o, Be ready, be curious, be flexible, be productive, proactive, take care of your health and keep dreamin’.
CK: After just a quick glance at your resume two things really pop out beside the outstanding footwear portfolio - the places you have been and your work experience outside of the footwear industry. Can you tell us about your time at Nomadic Display and Groupe Lartigot Holding? How have they helped the way you think about design?
AR: Nomadic display is an international company; it was my first experience in the design industry. It was the first time that I learned the rules of this industry. It was an opportunity to experiment what I learnt during my whole crazy teenage life. I remember when they called me for an interview; they asked me if I had some experiences with 3D software. I told them: “Yes of course!” But I only knew a bunch of fake 3D softwares. In that time it was my first step in the 3D world. (lol) Anyway, I asked them the name of the software that they used and found it on the web. Fortunately, they have some other candidates to interview and I had one week before my second step. And during one full week I hardly worked on this one. One week later I had a phone call from the design manager. She told me that they have selected two people and I was one of these.But I had to make a one-day final test based on a real project and I finally I got the job. I went with my street art rules, crazy wild styles, and graphic avant-gardism. My design manager killed me and said NO several times before saying YES. Just because I was confident, I didn’t hesitate to make what they expect and what I have in my mind. One of my best experiences at GLH was to work as jewelry designer. I remember the first time I went to Monaco with my boss to present my projects to a Monegasque company. It was very impressive! Everything was beautiful! Architecture, streets, people, cars…So much beauty, design, and finesse in the same place. That experience blew my mind. I was also in contact with jewelry designers, sharing skills, technique and point of view. One more time, I realised that my brain and my design skills could bring me so far and far away from the ghetto.
CK: Having worked in some of most amazing places in the world and having had the opportunity to travel all over, how have these world experiences affected you and transcended to your creative side?
AR: As I told you before, design is life. This world experience helps me to respect life and people. If you don’t respect life and people, you will provide “a shit” and if you provide “a shit” people and life will give you back “a shit”. That is one of my philosophies. All of these travels pushed me to absorb cultures from different countries. For example if I go to Korea, I like to live like a Korean because I want to understand my environment. In this way I can capitalize my knowledge and use it in my design. For example, If I want to design a cup I try to see this cup in a different view. I switch off my French mind and light up my Korean, African or Spanish mind. Different point of view provides different solutions.
CK: Having a very unique background, your education is no different. You attended the ESBAM-Art and Architectural School of Marseille earning a BTEC Higher National Diploma in communication and a BTEC Advanced National Diploma in packaging. Without having a true Industrial/Product design 'Footwear' degree how has that been a challenge over the years?
AR: Well, Conservative people don’t believe in you and like to stay in their comfort zone. You always have to prove that you can handle some footwear projects and that your unique background can help to find some new perspectives in this field. So I had to be innovative and persistent but one the most important things was to keep my footwear designer dream alive. My career path is certainly unconventional, but I always knew that being a footwear designer was my destiny. Before that, I did graphic design, web design, exhibition design, packaging design and jewelry design, beatmaker. I also wrote some lyrics for my rap. So what?(lol) After all, I’m still here and in da place to be and I will bring my dream as far as I can push it.
CK: Clearly you have been fueled by your positive attitude, hard work, and talent. What advice do you give to students working on their portfolios?
AR: Be yourself and get straight to the point. No need to put thousands of renderings, sketches ,and projects inside. Just prepare your portfolio with the best things you have.The best thing that represents you and your design work.
I recently met a famous businessman in the Footwear trade. He asked me to show him the best shoe I designed but he warned me that I would have only one chance to convince him. I did it with success.Each time you present your portfolio to someone, just think that’s a unique chance to change your life. Your portfolio shows your experience, your imagination, and your abilities. That’s not only about design this is also who you are since you were born. This portfolio is YOU.
CK: Having gone over your past, whats next for Arsrock?
AR: I’m still at Airness but my next step is to be a CEO (lol) I’m currently working on an exciting project named SUUAGTM (Something Unique U All Get) based on my life experience. (www.suuag.com) I’m still looking for partners and business angels, which would like to join this fantastic adventure. Feel free let me know and welcome to my world.
CK: Anything else you would like to add for the Rockers?
ARSEN ROCK WEBSITE
ARSEN ROCK VIDEOS