Last month, the highly anticipated 3D printing project Re-Inventing Shoes was unveiled to much acclaim at Milan Design Week.
Created by five design and architecture powerhouses – Zaha Hadid, Ross Lovegrove, Ben van Berkal, Fernando Romero and Michael Young – this extraordinary collection of sculptural shoes demonstrates what can be achieved when 3D printing is pushed to the limit in shoe design.
The Re-inventing Shoes project was initiated by footwear brand United Nude and 3D Systems, a world leader in 3D printing. The designers were given complete creative freedom to explore and challenge 3D printing technology in the production of head-turning architectural high heels.
For the designers, who are all pioneers in design exploration and research, the brief presented a unique opportunity to break new ground technically and aesthetically.
The shoes have been produced in hard nylon and a new soft rubber material using Selective Laser Sintering, a high resolution 3D printing process.
For United Nude, which positions itself between design and fashion, the Re-Inventing Shoes project provides a leap forward for their 3D production skills.
“We have been using 3D printing for the product development of our shoes ever since our first shoes, dating back to 2001. Since then we have seen a massive evolution in 3D printing.” Rem D Koolhaas, co-founder of United Nude
Having pushed the technology to the limit over the past ten years, the company provides a pretty accurate barometer for the direction the footwear industry may take when it comes to 3D printing.
Although there is at present much hype about what 3D printing can achieve, customisation is one area where this medium can be employed to great effect. So it is ideally suited to the creation of personalised footwear.
Much as traditional shoe makers would carve custom-fitted lasts, 3D design can be used to scan and model perfectly-fitted footwear. Searching for the right shoes can involve time – and much suffering if the fit is not correct. So when foot scanners hit the market, United Nude was one of the first to introduce this technology in-store.
Right Shoes, the Swiss company who create the foot scanners used by United Nude, have now launched a foot scanning app for smartphones. So this new tool could potentially bring customers one step closer to ordering their bespoke footwear online.
United Nude customers can also personalise and 3D print the Float shoe design in-store. Using a touch screen, they can select from a wide array of hues and colour combinations, then have their shoes 3D printed right before their eyes.
Float is one of the first commercial designs that can be printed with an entry-level 3D printer such as the Cube or CubePro. This effectively paves the way for customers to buy shoes as downloadable files to print and assemble at home.
Further technological advances have been made through United Nude’s collaboration with Iris van Herpen, the Dutch fashion designer renowned for pushing the boundaries of 3D printing in Haute Couture.
Beyond Wilderness, a sculptural shoe collection inspired by the dramatic form of the Banyan tree, provided some unique challenges. The elaborate shoe design was digitally created by Stratasys, one of the world’s leading 3D printing companies.
“It was a great challenge to work with Iris this time as we were using 3D printing for the shoes entirely. The hardest part was the figuring out of the materials and 3D printing techniques to be used. Fashion is always a race against time and 3D printing allows you to move fast.”
Rem D Koolhaas
Some of the collections United Nude has created with van Herpen have filtered from the catwalk to retail customers.
Biopiracy, a footwear collection with staggering 7-inch high cantilever platforms again pushed footwear design into new territory. The Biopiracy shoe and boot designs are available as a bespoke limited edition in United Nude stores.
If you wish to know more about United Nude’s 3D printing research and development projects – or want to explore their extraordinary footwear collection – we recommend a visit to the United Nude website.
About United Nude
“Designing 3D printed shoes is a lot of fun! The technology offers a lot of freedom in shape, while the process from concept to the final product is much quicker than with conventional shoes. We have been at the forefront of this technology in the shoe business and we are doing more every day with it.” Rem D Koolhaas
United Nude was co-founded by designer Rem D Koolhaas, nephew of the celebrated Dutch architect of the same name, and Galahad Clark, a 7th generation shoemaker from the famous British footwear dynasty Clarks.
United Nude positions itself between design and fashion, and takes its inspiration from architecture.
The company launched in 2003 with Mobius – a shoe design inspired by the iconic Barcelona chair by architect Mies van de Rohe.
The heel design, which was refined using 3D design technology, made a dramatic break from convention and the shoe is now regarded as a design classic.
United Nude’s shoe stores, which are designed by Rem D Koolhaas, resemble futuristic art galleries.
Cloaked in darkness, the Wall of Light™ – a computer- controlled LED wall – illuminates the shoe designs within individual geometric frames.
The wall provides the perfect high-tech showcase for footwear at the cutting edge of 3D design and print technology.
- Explore the United Nude 3D printing projects and footwear collections at the United Nude website >
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Watch United Nude 3D printed shoe animations:
- Ammonite by Fernando Romero for United Nude, Re-Inventing Shoes
- UNX2 by Ben van Berkel/UNStudio for United Shoes, Re-Inventing Shoes
- Creation of the Coral 3D printed shoe
Photo credits: United Nude
Re-Inventing Shoes features in the Rhine Capital Partners monthly investment update for May.
- On 29th May 2015