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Treading carefully: Meet the car designer who makes shoes

Words by Rob Chilton

Yong Bae Seok was an industrial designer working in the automotive business before being hired to make a luxury hybrid sneaker for Tod’s

Yong Bae Seok gasps when the name Marcello Gandini is mentioned. “A genius! One of the most important Italian car designers. For me, he’s like Michelangelo.”

Now in his 80s, Gandini is responsible for automotive icons such as Lamborghini’s Mura and Countache, as well as the Lancia Stratus. Yong Bae spent four years working in car design before he was hired by Tod’s to be head of men’s footwear. “Overall, I want to make beautiful products, from the small thing to an aeroplane,” he says. “It’s all about the right proportions and functionality.”

Yong Bae checks the moulds

Yong Bae’s love of cars can be seen in his latest shoe, the No Code Shoeker, which has grooves that echo a car’s grill while the outsole mimics a chassis. Philosophically, there is also a connection: “Cars are about transportation, and so are shoes – they move people forward.”

He studied in South Korea and Italy

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Yong Bae is now based in Milan. “There are a few good Korean restaurants there, but not many Korean people” he smiles.

He joined Tod’s three years ago and was impressed by the heritage of the brand when he visited the archive in Brancadoro in Italy’s shoemaking region of Marche. “The history of Tod’s is fundamentally important for my work, he explains. “I need to know the stories and the styles.”

Car design played a part in the Shoeker

When designing the Shoeker, Yong Bae’s aim was to make a “hybrid of a classic Italian shoe and a sneaker” that could be worn in the office but also at the weekend. “The way people dress at work has changed,” says Yong Bae, who’s wearing a black suit and sneakers when we meet. “I saw men wearing sneakers with suits in Milan years ago, maybe 2010. When I first saw the look, I liked it.”

Tod’s new Shoeker

In making the Shoeker, Yong Bae incorporated lightweight knit fabric with Neoprene, a flexible scuba wetsuit material, which is all very 2020. But this being Tod’s – and perhaps with the interior of Gandini’s Countache in his mind – the rest of Yong Bae’s shoe is premium, luxurious leather.

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