Earlier this year I took the time to talk with a friend of mine by the name of Vincent. Unlike many of the old heads from around the sneaker circles my French companion took on the momentous task of building his own sneaker company. Not content with the things that all of the big companies were putting out at the time he took it upon himself to put his own spin on what would be the ‘ultimate’ sneaker. Before his role as head honcho at a luxury sneaker company Vincent compiled one of the most impressive early Nike runner collections around, no mean feat in itself.
To be honest I could sit and talk about what Vincent has done and continues to do for hours, and tie it in with the similar passion that the Price brothers (and co) are doing at FEIT but ultimately it would lead to a rather long-winded and decidedly boring read which isn’t really useful. This piece was initially intended for print but due to some timing issues it never made it to press so I thought that I would share it here so at least there’s a record of the hours of intent re-interpretation and email back-and-forth that were needed to get this short interview done.
Hi Vincent, how are things in France?
Things are going well thank you! I’m still doing what I love, trying to make beautiful shoes.
Obviously to start your own footwear company you’ve got to be a bit of a fan to begin with?
Like a lot of people it all started for me as a kid. I remember staring at the walls of sports stores ogling the selection of runners in the later 80’s and early 90’s, trying to find my new pair but it always had to have a swoosh!
I really started collecting OG Nike and keeping “deadstock” gems from around 1998. Since then I spent a lot of time building my knowledge on sneaker history and ticking off a bunch of grails on my wanted list. Back in the early 2000’s I was rocking OG Structures, Stabs, Spiridons, 180s and Pegasus whilst also dabbling in some of the early Air Max retro’s and that run of really nice Jordans as well.
For the last 7 or 8 years I’ve concentrated more on the late 70’s and 80’s Nike back catalogue, when they were making shoes in the USA (Exeter) and Japan. I’m still very much a sneaker freak!
Your first foray into this territory was with the company Veam. What motivated you to start making sneakers on your own?
I was finding it harder and harder to really find shoes that interested me in my size, it wasn’t really fulfilling. I had gotten most of the stuff I wanted from way back when but nothing new was appealing to me at all. It was during this period of discontentedness I had a crazy dream; to start my own sneaker brand so I could make shoes the way I wanted them!
Delicate Run shares many similarities to Veam in regards to being made in France as well as sharing a similar ethos of quality and shape above all. Is there anything you’ve changed since then?
I learned many things with Veam the experiences were invaluable. With Delicate Run my ambition was to take the same ethos but improve upon all of the elements. I wanted to improve on the outsole, something that was definitely lacking on the Veam sneaker as well as using a material that was higher quality still. I still wanted to keep production in France with all French materials as this was gives us the finest quality with the convenience of sourcing locally.
The materials that we use on Delicate Run come from the same people that supply some of the biggest French fashion houses in the world. With that we are able to access some of the rare exotic skins that you seen on some of our sneakers, like real Python, supple lambskins, lizard and even shark skin!
Given that these sneakers you draw inspiration from were built with performance in mind, did you put much time and research into making a shoe that also performs as it’s forefathers?
We have put a lot of effort into getting the shape right, shoes these days often lose the appeal of the originals. With modern manufacturing techniques the shape is often overlooked and it really is one of the most defining parts of the shoe. With Delicate Run we don’t have to worry about hitting targets and maximizing margins, instead the quality and shape of the shoe is the most important thing.
How have you found people’s reactions and feedback? It seems in this day and age that everyone claims to be an expert and is quick to explain in great detail why something is terrible.
I think most people appreciate what we are trying to do and they can definitely see the quality and passion that goes into this project. Obviously people are subjective and not everyone is going to like the Delicate Run Manta. This is fine I’m not here to please everyone but instead it’s truly a passion for me.
The mission of Delicate Run is to propose a luxury reinterpretation of the classic running shape devoid of all the restrictions that may have been in place due to costs and time constraints in the 80s. We are open to any constructive criticism, even that coming from the “experts”, everybody can always improve!
How do you feel about the sort of ‘performance’ footwear being put out by the bigger fashion houses?
The sneaker market has changed a lot in the last decade and there’s enough shapes of shoe out there for just about everyone and we know the sort of people that want our shoes. Since Veam there have been many running sneakers put out by the bigger fashion houses, which can only be a good thing. It means that runners are being taken more seriously as well as tempting the sneaker fans into something a bit more refined.
Recently you partnered with Australia’s own UpThere store to officially launch the Manta which was a pretty cool thing to see happen. Have you got anything else planned with other stores?
Brendan and everyone at Up There in Melbourne were some of the first to really support and understand what Delicate Run is doing and get on board. They believe in the potential of crafting runners in France once again and collaborating with them was an absolute pleasure.
We have been approached by some other people in regards to collaborations which is exciting for sure but we’ll keep that a secret for now…
Given that your manufacturers often deal with much more high-end clientele and are more akin to women’s footwear and bags, how did they react to the idea of making a French premium sneaker for a guy named Vincent?
These days the large-scale factories in France are run to serve the big fashion houses making womens shoes, slippers or rope-soled sandles. The artisans I use are a very small family business who make all types of shoes for ultra-high-end clientele in super limited numbers (like Delicate Run).
It wasn’t easy at first convincing them to work on producing my sneaker but today we have an excellent working relationship. They particularly enjoy working with the high-end quality materials and the exotic leathers chosen to grace our sneakers. We both share a mutual trust in a strive to keep improving the Delicate Run shoe, I have an insatiable hunger for improvement!
You’ve got a pretty wide range of materials at your disposal, what’s the craziest thing you’ve put on a sneaker so far? Sneaker Freaker did a sample of the Skippy New Balance 850s that had Kangaroo fur and that thing was insane!
My main materials are French calf and goat leathers, normally in nubuck, nappa and velvet finishes. I am constantly on the look for rare exotic skins and occasionally I’ll stumble across a small amount here and there. I can find a rare skin in a special colour or treatment for a custom order (one pair) but may never see it ever again.
So far I’ve used python, shark, stingray alligator and even bullfrog! The craziest pairs so far used rainbow iridescent stingray and bullfrog, needless to say that was a one-off. The mission of Delicate Run is to present a sneaker in some of the craziest skins on the planet. For next summer we will be adding anaconda, cobra and lizard skins to our range but I will keep looking for even more crazy materials!
Do you have any plans to expand to new models in the future? It’s been a while since we saw a tennis or basketball sneaker made in France.
We do have more running models planned for the future but time will tell how that all pans out. I’ve done many conceptual sketches or runners and a few cross-trainers in low and some mids but nothing basketball at the time even though I did play a fair bit when I was younger.
For now it’s best to stick with what I know best, we aren’t planning to revolutionize performance running; there’s plenty of big brands out there already! For me the plan is to concentrate on what makes me happy; long lasting high-end luxury sneakers with a great shape.
Any words of wisdom for those thinking about starting their own sneaker brand?
Passion for what you’re doing and belief in your vision are pretty important, as well as courage to risk it all and patience to see it through. The difficulty can vary depending on what your desired outcome, I’m sure making footwear in China and Italy (although seemingly less painful due to their industry) has it’s own unique set of issues. These seem no less complicated than doing what we decided when wanting to make sneakers in our home country in a more artisanal way.
My passion drives me to want to know more and do better every single day. I don’t think it’s wise to ever think that you know everything about your industry no matter how long you’ve been doing it.
After all of this, the best advice I can offer is that to surround yourself with a good team because although you may want to it’s not possible to do it all yourself.