Pen and paper always rule first, in my eye. When an idea sparks in my head, I need to document it as fast as possible. No matter what technology is at hand, good old ink on paper wins (it’s even been scientifically proven that it helps with memory in the long run). There aren’t distractions or screens—the brain warms up and your ideas get jotted down. Same thing goes for artists—oftentimes the core of their artwork starts off with doodles and sketches. The image they visualize in their mind needs to be drawn out into a blueprint of sorts—the bones and structure need to be there before the full body can come alive. There is an elegance within those sketch lines, which can be translated as art’s purest form. This is a form that artist/designer Louis-Martin Tremblay is known for.
“People know Picasso for the work he has done on canvas, but if you look at the sketch books of those types of artists, the first draft and the concepts are crazy—sometimes even better then the final version,” Louis-Martin says. Taking inspiration from the style of fashion sketching and mixing it with his background in graffiti, his drawings are a representation of his surroundings. Louis-Martin Tremblay has been involved in numerous mediums—like working for defunct cartoon animation house Cinar and being involved in the ’90s graffiti movement. “My parents were always open for me to discover and learn about different types of art forms,” he says. “My mom was always into fashion growing up. I was reading prints like Vogue at a very young age. But my first contact with streetwear was during the Thrasher period.”
His current illustrative venture is a great blend of everything that led him to where he is today. Not only does the majority of his 20-year career consist of drawing and conceptualizing ideas, Louis is also an established footwear designer in North America, with his list of clients including adidas, Aldo, DC Shoes, Vans, and many more. Designing is like home for Louis. Sometimes he conceptualizes a personal idea that seems to exist only in his world—like a painter that paints only for himself—but he’ll share it, and it’ll end up getting noticed by a client. He tends to operate on his own terms.
Even though Louis-Martin was partly born and raised over in Europe, he set foot on Canadian soil around the age of 9. That transition to North America led him to discover the roots of his parents’ hometown for the first time. Submerging himself in the Montreal lifestyle has helped Louis-Martin shape himself into the artist/designer he is now. I recently caught up with him at his estate in the east end of Montreal, in the Hochelaga neighborhood. Over some really good coffee, we talked about sci-fi art, the future of footwear design, sustainable fashion, Picasso, and his new projects.
JOHNNY F. KIM: Nowadays, we can see some limitations when it comes to sneaker design. Many of the big brand names have already paved the way and established some of the greatest silhouettes in the market. Being a footwear designer today, what are some difficulties that you face when you are asked to either create something new or work with what you got on a new project?
LOUIS-MARTIN TREMBLAY: It really depends for who you really work with in a sense. If you are working for a brand, a store, whatsoever, it’s gonna already establish your direction and vision of your design. But in the fashion world, you are usually faced with trending silhouettes and trends. So usually, some clients just want to ride that wave and to have you as a designer reinterpret with their own identity.
For example, how Native shoes came back with the moccasin-type runner, which followed the wave of the Roshe-type shoe—but they still managed to keep the Native DNA and still be on trend and true to the brand. So, the biggest challenge is to always balance on owning the style, but also at the same time have the culture and movement be able to relate to it.
At the present time, there seems to be a battle between brands on the technology that goes into the design of a sneaker—which also provided a shift in consumers’ buying habits and needs when it comes to footwear. People seem to be looking for the best technology at the moment, often over the style.
It definitely played a huge part within the shift. It’s funny to think that shoes like the Puma Trinomic or adidas Equipment Series back then were shoes with really great technology that nobody really paid attention too. And the shoes back then were not made for the sneakerheads, but for specific sports. So those technologies were already there, but the consumer was not looking into it—more interested in the silhouettes and the colorways.
I think Nike was at the forefront of that “technology” movement because they were the first to really own it and brand their shoes based on their developments in the footwear technology. That also pushed their competitors to do the same—like the adidas Boost being very strong at the moment.
So, we tackled a very important aspect in footwear, which is the technology that goes into a shoe. But when it comes to designing it, style and fabrics are as important right? What are other materials/fabrics would you like to see in the near future on shoes? Or a technique you think should be implemented?
I remember like 5 years ago, I watch a TED talk about mushroom-based packaging that would replace plastic. Suzanne Lee has been working on bio clothing like vegetable-based leather—this is what lights me up. We often think of technologies being synthetic-based with chips and wires, but we forget that living organisms are as futuristic as science gets, and also in tune with nature.
So when I see adidas doing a sneaker made out of recycled ocean plastic waste, I think, “Yes!” This is part of the future, but more than that, I think working with the earth’s “natural library” is the ultimate achievement. I have always been influenced by Biomimicry even before knowing it was a thing. The same way we got people closer with technologies and social media, I hope up next is bringing sciences and art closer in a way to be able to be creative in symbiosis with our environment.
Since we are still in the subject of fabrics and materials, you mentioned your big interest in sustainable fashion, could you elaborate?
It’s been more than 10 years that I’ve been traveling to Asia to develop products. Witnessing the backend of our fashion industry is not pretty and it does affect your conscience. We need to be taking action towards the consequences of our acts here, and if you don’t work in the industry and travel for development, it’s hard to be aware of these things happening. Whether it’s waste material or chemicals involved in making products, the people and the environment are taking a big hit over there. And yes, I could come back to my 9 to 5 and forget about it because it’s on the other side of the planet, but let’s be realistic, it doesn’t work that way.
I think Stella Mc Cartney is doing amazing work to promote green runway shows and to find solutions to make a sustainable fashion industry. I guess it’s the same everywhere, meaning a lot of changes are happening, but we tend to not want to face the consequences. So I think that as much as we care about design, creativity, sales, and growth, we need to start making moves and choices that allow fashion to be passed from cradle to cradle. There is a movement of bringing back production in the places we live, which creates a bigger awareness and that is a huge start. The same way that the mid-price sneaker movement is allowing our culture to buy into kicks that will last longer than a lot of the sports brands/fast fashion offers.
“WITNESSING THE BACKEND OF OUR FASHION INDUSTRY IS NOT PRETTY”
Your illustrations seem to have a fashion sketch touch to them, with their raw lines and shapes—but I noticed your preference on using the colors red and black mainly. Is it just style or more than that?
There are many influences and reasons that brought me to use these two colors. The first one would be my upbringing by my two parents that had a fascination with Japanese and Chinese culture. The calligraphic work of Asian artists and monks definitely left a trace on my artistic development. The other side was my fascination with Joseph Campbell’s work that led me to discover the roots of many civilization’s artistic expression. From Cavemen art to the Haida tribe of the West Coast, you notice that black pigment obtained by burning wood and red pigment through diluting dirt or smashing flowers was at the core of most of humanities’ first ‘’pantone’’ options. So it always stayed with me like the purest form of expression, allowing something raw and simplistic.
A vision of the adidas-wearing future through the eyes of Louis-Martin.
A portrait of Ben and Bobby Hundreds.
You also seem to have an obsession with creating and imagining new outfits or looks that can only exist in the future. Can you talk to us about how do you come up with it?
I am a huge consumer of science-fiction and the fashion that comes with it. I think growing with movies like Tron, Star Wars, and Akira was a big factor. Not only was I impressed by the flying motorcycle, but even more than that, the way people were dressed up. I can even pinpoint a book as a kid illustrated by either Enki Bilal or Victor de la Fuente that was called Niourk by Stefan Wul. The character’s clothing marked me forever. Being born and raised in Europe definitely exposed me to a different kind of future than Marvel and DC American heroes in spandex, you know? Whether it’s Jodorowsky’s Dune or Moebius’s illustration, no one was really simplified into a flashy tight uniform, people were still dressing up into some sort of futuristic fashion.
So the future that was told to us growing up was flying cars and robots. Now that we’re in their idea of the future, what are some fashion objects or technology that you admire?
Yeah, so much for skateboarding in the air! I think the last few years with menswear becoming more creative and the new generation being less afraid to dress differently, we are seeing interesting things. From Maharishi exploring ballistic clothing for the last 20 years to Alexander McQueen pushing boundaries of haute couture, I’m a happy spectator.
As we speak, the punk scene is being reinvented in a modern way with brands like A Cold Wall, and I think this will bring something fresh to the table. And of course the fact that phones have become the connections to everything is fascinating. From shopping to communicating, this little rectangular object is only at the first step of what it will represent for future generations. I have to say one thing is really lacking... when will we get rid of laces on sneakers? It’s so medieval.