In our current issue of SNEAKERS, we’re bringing you an interview with Scott Patt, Head of Innovation and Design at New York-based footwear brand Cole Haan. With a history dating back to 1928, Cole Haan is known for elegant footwear. But as a part of Nike Inc. between 1988, Cole Haan has also on the forefront injecting formal footwear with comfortable performance tech. Here’s Scott Patt on the brand’s elegant innovation.
Cole Haan was the first brand to blur the lines between men’s footwear, fusing together dress shoes and sneakers. Was this done for functional purposes or style?
Not only are the lines blurring more than ever, but we’re also creating greater definition than ever before. At Cole Haan, we look to our audience and their extraordinary journey to help us define what we make both stylistically and functionally.
How would you describe that approach?
We design for how people live, how they want to look and how they want to feel. Within that design, exploration, the collision of craft, style and engineering creates what we call elegant innovation. It’s design with purpose, whether it’s a reinvented dress shoe or sneaker, or an invented hybrid somewhere In between.
When you design, does it matter to you if a shoe will be purchased to wear at the office or in the street?
We absolutely consider the wearing occasion for everything we make. We talk about that process as 360˚ design, taking consumer insights and combining it with functionality and stylistic consideration of every product at every angle, inside and out.
Do you have a certain shoe in mind as an example?
An amazing example of this is our Washington Grand Revolutiøn Men’s Dress Oxford. It’s a classically crafted, whole-cut Men’s Dress Oxford reinvented on the inside to wear like a sneaker. We took out what you didn’t need from a men’s dress Oxford and replaced it with what you do need. For multiple generations men and women have been raised in comfortable, flexible sneakers, so in 2017, why we should accept antiquated experiences and expectations with dress footwear?
Where do you look to find inspiration?
What’s unique about Cole Haan is the incredibly diverse talent across multiple industries. We have designers from the fashion industry as well as talent from sport and performance brands, but we also have designers who have worked in automotive design and 3D designers from the animation space. It’s the fusion of these diverse skillsets that makes our products and community so special.
Can you give us a few insights into your work process?
Our designers have different design approaches whether it’s digital, analog or a combination of both. Some designers are more closely related to classically trained cordwainers, while others are more digitally focused. Regardless of approach, our Global Innovation Headquarters in Greenland, New Hampshire, allows us to rapidly concept and prototype products from dress to sport via modern tools such as 3D modeling and traditional dress shoe making.
Is it more difficult to create comfort and functionality in an elegantly designed shoe? What are the challenges?
With dress and dress casual products most times a man or woman is not looking to buy a spaceship. They have a specific need such as work, a wedding or a party, but don’t want to stand out. They want to look stylish and chic and feel great. That’s a REAL consumer insight. “Don’t give me a reason not to buy it.” These are the places we look to reinvent products from the inside.
What’s your favorite shoe available at Cole Haan right now and why?
I’m loving the ZerøGrand Stitchlight Wingtip Oxford because it looks great on the foot. It’s also crazy lightweight, breathable, super flexible and has a proprietary knit wingtip design that is functionally zoned to work with the natural movement of the foot.