The architectural footwear company United Nude teamed up with Francis Bitonti and 3D Systems for their latest 3-D printed shoe. Each leather and gold-plated Mutatio shoe is individually generated by an algorithm, so no two pairs are the same.
With the new collection, Bitonti wanted to explore what customizable, limited-edition products will look like as the fashion industry starts to embrace digital technologies that use data that can be easily replicated.
“I see in the industry emerging what many people are calling digital materials–materials that are a software construct,” says Bitonti. “More and more of our products are going to be generated by large data sets as computer controlled fabrication equipment becomes more sophisticated and begins operating on a finer scale. How do you produce sacristy when materials are digitally generated and infinitely replicable?”
To address that question, Bitonti created a software application that would create one shoe design per customer, and then discard those particular settings so that they would never be used again. The customizable part of the design is seen in the latticed heel, which is essentially made up of a number of knots that can be loosened or tightened based on tweaks to the algorithm. “Each one of these products will be individually generated when they are sold, so we thought about the product as software and not as static materials,” says Bitonti.
Bitonti approached United Nude founder Rem D. Koolhaas (yes, they’re related) right after the launch of his spectacular Molecule shoes, another algorithm-generated footwear collection. For the Mutatio shoe, Bitonti and Koolhaas decided on an animal print-inspired embossed leather top (“we wanted something that was kind of primitive looking”) and a gold plated platform heel–to reinforce the idea of a luxury item without weighing it down with actual metal. Unlike the Molecule, this shoe you can actually wear.
“That was the No. 1 top priority at the start,” says Bitonti. “It was important because I’ve done a lot of conceptual pieces. I really thought this is something that would change what we are able to create–and something we can use.”
The functionality of Bitonti’s shoe marks a subtle shift in the line of experimental 3-D shoes that United Nude has been producing in collaboration with big name architects and designers. Previous shoes–designed by the likes of Zaha Hadid, Ross Lovegrove, and Michael Young–have been marketed more as collectable objects rather than wearable shoes. Bitonti views the Mutatio as a step in the direction of affordable, customizable 3-D printed shoes for the general public.
“I think you can absolutely expect affordable fully 3-D printed shoes [in the future],” says Bitonti. “What holds that back is companies being vertically integrated with themselves. You’re not getting price breaks–the industry isn’t set up at the moment for 3-D printing on an industrial scale.”
Essentially, manufacturers will need to make major investments to catch up the production process to where the design process is in terms of 3-D printing. In the interim, micro-factories like 3D hubs have been popping up to offer designer more affordable 3-D printing services.
The most important thing, Bitonti says, is that designers continue to innovate with digital technologies. “If we do that as designers, that will start to motivate the production side of the system.”