A conversation with Shem of Shem Paronelli Studios
As we countdown to Shem's first ever private installation, we decided to have a short conversation with him via Whatsapp about his brand, the installation and his motivations.
The brand has been increasing its output lately with collaborations ranging from brands like Orange Culture and Kenneth Ize to Lisa Folawiyo and Maki Oh. They also have plans to release a furniture collection really soon and start working more on their own collections.
In this current economic climate, it looks like the time is perfect for a "Made in Nigeria" product that is of high quality and values to make a mark for itself.
The interview was conducted via Whatsapp and apart from some minor editing, we preserved much of the style in the transcription so please excuse any errors.
Stranger: Hi Shem, how’s it going? Pretty sure you wish you didn’t decide to do this installation after all…
Are you ready for Saturday? 😀
Shem: Oh well…you know how it is we just never stop working…
Stranger: Yea of course, hehe. So this will be your first private installation right? I know you have participated in the expo canopy at previous Lagos Fashion and Design Weeks
Shem: Yh this is the first private presentation we are doing…and this time I’ve tried to articulate what design is actually to me …and what I feel men and women should be wearing in terms of footwear and accessories and we are trying to present it in the most cohesive way possible and within an immersive environment that really defines what our brand represents…we’ve never had the opportunity to do it like this before…this is a first.
Stranger: We are very excited to be the place you decided to use for your first installation!
We have been having conversations for a long while now about stocking your brand and working with you on collaborations so it is very cool that everything is finally coming to fruition
We have also talked about some of the shoe brands you find interesting - artisanal Italian brands like Guidi and Carpe Diem amongst others. Are you interested primarily in their craftsmanship or are you more drawn to their ethos? Are these brands in any way an inspiration for the sort of installation being planned for the weekend?
Shem: Yh yh…I’m equally excited it’s finally coming through…and even more excited that we are working with you guys at STRANGER seeing that you understand our vision; what we stand for and what we are trying to say
Exactly...we are an artisanal brand…and the likes of guidi, carpe Diem etc resonates well with us so well because we in some way share similar ideas in terms of ethos and the process of getting our works made…100% by hand
So yh this weekend we are painting a picture of a mini-universe which we live in…sharing with the world what SHEM PARONELLI STUDIOS is actually about and we look forward to having the people come and have this experience.
Stranger: Just to bring us back to this artisanal concept, the idea of making shoes “100% by hand”. In the West and other developed countries, because mechanisation has removed much of the need for craftsmen, there is a certain romance attached to the notion of making something by hand. It is a dying art there and the people that can do it are few and far between. Do you think “100% by hand” has the same resonance in a place like Nigeria where due to poor infrastructure and more, so many things are still made by hand? How do you communicate that your brand is making things by hand out of choice rather than out of necessity?
Shem: Yh…I believe that the process of making things by hand is the purest and the highest form of luxury…irrespective of whether you are having them made in the west or here in Africa…and this is why haute couture still exists. So our decision to keep our products handmade and even more importantly handmade in Africa is about keeping alive this amazing tradition that is almost going extinct and it is our own little way of trying to help the world slow down just a bit. The quality and attention to handmade products are just phenomenal and we won’t just have it any other way.
Stranger: Definitely. I guess the main thing is to educate customers about the craft behind each shoe, increasing their appreciation of the things they buy. A key interest of mine and one that Stranger will be pushing a lot more this year is the need to take a more considered approach to making (and consuming) things so it is great that this is also a concern of yours.
Shem: Very much
Stranger: Not only are you working on your own shoe designs, but you have worked (and are working) on collaborations with a lot of local fashion brands, not to mention your collaboration with our in-house brand Sunless. I won’t even go into your upcoming furniture collection and leather accessories…how do you find the time?
And you still have a day job abi?
Shem: Haha…well it’s such an amazing thing to realize how much we have within us and how much we can actually achieve when we are convinced in the power of our vision…
I feel like I’m obligated to bring some certain kind of beauty into the world…I feel like its something I was sent here to do…beauty and the process of articulating it is a very serious thing.
Stranger: Hmm…and here I was expecting to hear that Shem Paronelli was really a pair of twins with similar interests, lol. More seriously though, you are right. Having a driving force can give us the ability to do amazing things.
Stranger: In a way, I feel like a lot of Nigeria’s problems are because most of us have not found our own driving forces and do not even know how to identify them even if we went looking.
So, bringing us back to the installation - it will run for one week in the store - the last time we spoke about it you told me you were calling it “The evolution of hooves”. Is that a Margiela reference or am I looking too hard?
Shem: Yh going by the plan it should be running for a week
Nah…I wasn’t referencing anyone when we picked a title
Stranger: Damn. I was all set to be like, “I knew it!”
Shem: Ha! Sorry to burst your bubble
Stranger: What inspired the title then? I know you will be showing both men’s and women’s shoes so I am very curious to see how everything will come together under this idea of hooves and evolution. The shoe as an extension of the human animal has always been an interesting idea I think…a section of the idea of fashion as prosthetic.
Is this the first time you will be showing women’s shoes?
Shem: Well the idea behind “the hooves evolution” actually is based off of where I am creatively as a designer and as an artisan; and by that I mean my mental space. These are ideas that I’ve had for the longest…I’ve always had an aesthetic; a concept and a look I want to propose …but I guess I’ve never just been bold enough to … Either because folks from around here have a certain idea of what they think “beauty” is or what it should be. But I guess I’ve gained a little more boldness to start sneaking this ideas out there…
It is about footwear conceptualized as Protection and Empowerment for the feet.
And this is what this collection is about
It is about playing with the ideas of empowerment…both for women and men
Everyone wants to feel protected from something
Stranger: That is pretty cool. How many shoes are you looking at showing in the installation?
Shem: Everyone wants to feel empowered too…so we are playing with these concepts
We are showing roughly 12-15 designs
Stranger: Are they all going to be shoes? Or will there be some other pieces?
Shem: It’s almost like a mini-universe and here it’s about all these products that tell the whole story…so yeah there are some accessories as well
Stranger: Excellent! I am really looking forward to it. You will be the first physical installation and the way we are announcing Stranger’s focus on fashion this month and I think it is a good place to start.
Let me leave you to start your day or get back to work! Thanks for chatting.
Shem: Was a pleasure!
The Evolution of Hooves will be at Stranger from the 13th - 18th of March 2016 and all shoes will be available to order.