June 2019

Soul Mates

ProvensenProvensenProvensenProvensenText: Louise McClean Images: Provensen

I chanced upon a shoe label, Provensen, not so long ago when I was visiting a friend. She was sporting the most amazing, ultra-stylish pair of desert boots I’d ever seen and I instantly wished they were mine. When asked where she had made such an outstanding purchase, she mentioned that her boots were made by a talented young Sydneysider which, for me, was an interesting discovery. I had always been aware of the scarcity of local brands that provided beautiful and interesting footwear which explored ideas outside the sphere of typical women’s shoe design. My friend then proceeded to deliver the devastating news – I wouldn’t be getting those boots because they were from last season.

But we can all breath a sigh of relief, because whether or not you have a pair of these genius desert boots, Provensen’s Faye Montalban has so much more genius to offer with her second season (about to hit stores). The Provensen style illustrates untethered imaginative freedom in every element – conceptually and in the use of colour and materials, that really set these shoes apart. Faye’s proclivity to push creative boundaries not only tests herself but the women she makes shoes for. But the results are undeniably beautiful, easy-to-wear shoes that radiate character and had me running to the nearest stockist to get a pair.

Louise McClean: What got you started in shoe-making business?

Faye Montalban: I was originally meant to start a clothing label with my best friend but she ended up wanting to become an artist so that idea was scrapped! The idea of starting a clothing label without her defeated our original purpose of wanting to do it together, so I was left to pursue things that purely interested me. It was simply down to the other things I love as far as apparel, underwear and footwear. It wasn’t too hard to decide. I had been collecting footwear for years. At the time I was hoping I could produce shoes that provided a certain aesthetic that I felt wasn’t really being offered in the market, particularly in Australia.

LM: Did you have any background in design or shoe production before you started Provensen?

FM: I haven’t had any formal training but have completed basic design courses years ago. I did a Bachelor of Communication at university, which is far removed from what I am doing now but I did really enjoy studying it. I have however been in and around the fashion and retail industry for several years and worked for a trend-forecasting agency while living in London.

LM: You have a new season of shoes which has recently hit stores, can you tell me a bit about this collection?

FM: For this collection I felt I pushed the boundaries a little bit more for myself, in a way, and possibly for customers. I felt it was a little riskier producing some of the styles. I wanted to see what the response would be from people, whether they would like some of the things that might appear somewhat unusual. I like to challenge myself to try and see if I can make things work or make a look or idea work. I wanted to be able to offer that challenge to other people, hoping they could also feel good about making more unique styles work for themselves as well. I recognise that some styles may not be for everyone, but feel that the people who do like them want to embrace them for that very reason.

LM: What is typical in the process of designing and producing a pair of shoes?

FM: I often start by gathering as much visual material as possible. I like collecting bits and pieces throughout the year, of things that I like or have caught my interest in one way or another. For instance, I’ll take a close up photo of a section of a painting for a colour reference or keep a found postcard or become obsessed with a particular song that reminds me of a particular time and place. I also love the library and, of course, the Internet for other ideas. The Internet is great for chasing ideas that come to you quickly and you need to research them further just as quickly. I can be on there for hours. I guess I am constantly forming ideas even before I actually sit down and put them on paper, so to speak. From there it is really a case of what I feel I might want on my feet for the following year. Next, I get specs together and then go and work directly with the factory for sampling.

LM: What do you find is the most challenging aspect of this process?

FM: Getting the first ideas down can be a challenge for me. Sometimes they come to me quickly and other times I feel like I have to squeeze my brain to work out the feeling I am trying to represent. The design process is really a gut feeling thing for me. I’m not sure if anyone else is like this when they try and put a range together but that is the only way I can explain how it works for me. It’s almost like I have to try and have conversations with my stomach!

LM: Where does your inspiration for shoe design come from?

FM: I’d say mainly people and some of the other things I mentioned above. Memories, time periods, movies, sub-cultures, current affairs and so on.

LM: Can you describe what it is about your overall design principles and methods which makes your shoes so unique?

FM: I like to mix up materials. To use things that myself or others may not have really used for a while. This year I’ve used canvas, leather and metal (Rhythm Nation Boot) and last year I used cotton drill on a court shoe (Yoko). For example, this season I purposely chose nubuck instead of suede on one of the styles – the Lishy steel toe-cap court shoe because it had a finer softer grain which off-set the metal. The shoe had the potential of looking really tough and that’s not what I wanted to achieve. I also purposely chose a softer colour palette and colour matched the hard rubber sole to the upper to help the over all look appear not so harsh paired with the metal.

LM: Is there any other fashion or not fashion related creative outlet you’d like to explore in the future?

FM: Hmm… Definitely guys’ shoes. Living abroad again quite soon would be great as well.

LM: What’s your favourite pair of shoes from your collections and why?

FM: From the first season it would have to be the Boo desert boot. It is very typically me and had a great response from customers, press and buyers etc. I had the idea for Boo at least five or so years ago and she was really first inspiration for Provensen. From this season it would have to be the Lishy steel toe cap. Again, it really represents me and she has been an interesting one for me to see how people take to her (all the shoes are named after friends, that’s why I refer to them as “she”!)


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