VOR shoes from Munich
Walk this way and gimme a kiss!
Walk this way (in VOR shoes) and gimme a kiss!
»Two men and a million shades of white.«
What has shaped you and what still shapes VOR today?
Jörg: For us, it was a pop-cultural imprint that consisted of three pillars: hip-hop, skateboarding and basketball. And sneakers were an integral part of the identity in all these subcultures. So this meant that sneakers have always been number 1 in our personal ranking.
Andi: The main trend that arrived in our youth in Germany was the hip-hop and rap culture of the East Coast, and the first milestone in connecting music and footwear was of course set by Run-DMC and Adidas. Also, for many years, the New York Knicks were the ultimate team for me. The players, the style, the colours and what Adidas picked up on with the “Ewing”. Patrick Ewing was the Knicks’ centre back then, an NBA icon and definitely an idol for me, as I also played basketball for a long time.
The skateboard culture, with its roots on the West Coast, was ultimately much bigger and more laid-back but didn’t actually reach the media radar in Europe and us until later. We didn’t start soaking up everything like a sponge until we were ten or eleven years old, i.e. not until the late 80s.
And what music did you listen to apart from Run DMC?
Andi: There’s loads, especially lesser-known acts like Stetsasonic but also on the other hand more prominent acts like Prince for example as well …
Jörg: … and 2 Live Crew for example! We hardly understood the lyrics, but we thought the music was great. And the Miami Bass beats fascinated me even back then. Or N.W.A. and Eazy-E, I found them ultra-dangerous, but also incredibly inspiring in terms of shoes, jackets and caps. The Adidas Ewing, that was the holy grail for me, I had to have them. They were also on an MC Shy-D record cover that I still own today and I loved them.
Andi: Going back to skater culture, we were really into skateboarding for over a decade and experienced the dissolution of genre boundaries in this culture. It meant that you could exist as a hip-hoper just as well as a grunge fan or a metal fan. It was a melting pot of all kinds of styles that brought their original identities from the music, but through skateboarding it somehow merged into one cosmos. This shaped us and also meant that we didn’t fall victim to any dogmatic style purism. Run DMC and N.W.A. were always dressed very dark and in black, for example, but we never were. We liked the style itself, but we were always very colourful. Nothing has changed there, as you can see from my vintage Missoni jacket.
Have there been any new sources of inspiration over time?
Jörg: Of course, the pool of things that influences us has become much wider compared to when we were young. There were new heroes like Eams, Rams and Mies van der Rohe. As we grew older, we also entered a kind of catharsis and outgrew the subcultures and our gigantic sneaker collections, which ultimately led to the founding of VOR. We discovered a desire to focus on something very specific. And yet, of course, we are still interested in what is happening around us in the industry. Whether that’s in terms of colours or technical innovations, it’s always exciting for us.
Speaking of ‘technical innovations’. Is it true that the cycles are getting increasingly shorter and more and more new materials and innovations are available that can be integrated in the production process than before?
Jörg: From a global point of view, this is of course the case, especially with the big brands as I experienced this first-hand at Puma. But it’s less relevant for us, because we deliberately focus on what we feel like doing. So, we want to do less but do it well, instead of constantly helping ourselves from a huge well of possibilities….
Andi: … or try by hook or by crook to stick some materials on the shoe to jump on the sustainability trend, as that’s mostly window dressing and exactly the opposite of sustainable action. We are often asked why we don’t communicate the topic of sustainability in a more proactive and bolder way, but for us, it’s always been clear: if you build and manage a brand today, then sustainable production and management is simply a matter of course. For example, we have been working on a leather-free shoe for a very long time. We started working on this more than four years ago, researching and testing whether alternative lining materials would be suitable. But if it’s not 100% satisfactory, then it will have to wait. Our brand and quality promise don’t allow us to do something new at any chance – we don’t have to and we don’t want to.
Talking about design… “Good design is as little design as possible.” is one of Rams’ design rules. Would you agree with that?
Jörg: In principle, yes, definitely. But of course, it always depends a lot on the product and its segment. We are simply not fans of gimmicks and things that can’t explain themselves. Of course, that’s much harder with a shoe than with a remote control, because every button has to make sense.
Andi: We would surely design a table differently than a shoe. We have always aimed to interpret each shoe genre in our own way. Our strength and our brand essence is the reduction to the essence of the respective genre. If you look at our origins, for example, the 1A, you can see from the lines that it really represents the essence of this type of shoe.
In 2019, we redesigned the original sole of the 1A and made it even more minimalist, omitting even more things. Our shoes are always defined by absolute purism in their design language, but they can vary at will and depending on the phase we’re in. For example, there are phases in which we have dealt intensively with one million shades of white. Here, many others immediately ask the question of meaning. But we are convinced that it is precisely this degree of intensity that is needed, because that is where the decisive difference lies, the necessary magic and the reason why we are in the game at all.
But if you look at the current development of streetwear components in high-fashion luxury brands, they go the other way and exaggerate the whole thing to such an extent that the basics of the actually original, subcultural codes are completely counteracted. A bizarre spectacle sometimes.
Jörg: … that’s why we will never make something like a Balenciaga Triple S… we can’t do that. The product is the basis and the design with a functioning line is the goal. I hate it when lines don’t lead anywhere or don’t correspond. For us, the package has to be absolutely coherent visually, and to be honest, that’s easier said than done.
When you develop a shoe, how many prototypes are usually built until you are 100% satisfied?
Andi: You have to know that these sample rounds are extremely expensive. That’s why we both do so many rounds here in our lab before we are really satisfied. But often what happens is this, you work on a shoe and at some point you decide you’ve reached the final version. Then you go home, your head is spinning and that evening or at night you get a text message saying: ‘I don’t think that’s it yet.’ And guess what, you are usually very happy that the other person has dared to say what you secretly felt. These rounds are simply incredibly important and very numerous. Sometimes, we consciously choose to have a very sheltered time until we really feel that there is nothing more that bothers us.
Jörg: This is the most sacred and important process for us. I could easily talk about an eyelet for days, what colour it should be, and so on. But the process still brings us the results we can really stand behind. It happened again the other day: we were actually finished with a shoe, but then the famous evening call came from Andi who said, ‘we can’t do this, I’m not satisfied’.
In other words, you only press the start button when both of you agree, don’t you?
There could also be a “This is your shoe, this is my shoe” deal.
Jörg: Yes, it’s actually an old joke of Andi’s. For years he’s been trying to get me to finally make a competition shoe. We’d each make our own colourway and then we see which one does better. But in the end, that’s how it works with us, we always agree.
Talking about team spirit, please tell us why and how VOR started.
Andi: It all came together in 2009. At the time, we lived in a fantastic flat-share with two other mates in a large old apartment in Munich. Our entire hallway was covered with shoe racks and resembled a shoe museum. I had just founded another company and Jörg was the shooting star at Puma. Almost all sneakers he designed became bestsellers, some even up to million sellers that are still on the market today – for street culture and also for the performance sector, like the Formula 1 range. That was all him, but in the end, there was too much stress and too little joy and appreciation. That’s why I suggested to start our own company.
Is this when you cooperated with the Hummel family?
Andi: Not yet. We started in Vietnam and had access to the factory where Nike and Paul Smith shoes were also made. But it quickly became clear that we were too small a player and that the big brands always had priority. So that option fell through.
Then we looked at production locations in Italy and in Portugal and were not really satisfied with any of the suppliers at that point in time. So we got to the point where we were on the verge of burying our dream. But then we got a call from the editor-in-chief of the German Sneaker Magazine and he pointed us to Bernd Hummel’s factory. At that time, I wrote Bernd Hummel a very frank and challenging email. Three days after his first call, we were at his headquarters in Pirmasens and sealed the first deal with a handshake.
Jörg, I notice a mood board behind you. Is this taking the direction of functional running shoes or are these exclusively about design references? Can you tell us a bit more about this?
Jörg: Yes, it’s all about silhouettes, proportions and materials. Of course, this is the kind of thing we grew up with (holding up a Saucony runner) Real performance shoes that we have transferred into lifestyle, as it is en vogue today. This was always a type of shoe that we wanted to make at VOR, but due to technical factors, we weren’t able to realise it until now.
Do you ever get enquiries about customised shoes, customisable editions or special editions. Is something like that perhaps a medium-term prospect?
Andi: We get a lot of enquiries and from time to time we discuss whether we might expand our offer in this direction. But then additional production processes have to be defined, which are not yet in place. Without these, special productions would stop or delay the current production and that is of course not in our interest.
Can you personally relate to traditional, particularly high-quality shoe manufacturers such as George Cleverly, Stefano Bemer or Yohei Fukuda, or is that too far away?
Andi: I’m a John Lobb fan, for example. It just has to fit the occasion. Basically, the same rules apply here: lines, proportions, etc. If they fit, then that is transferable and valid for every shoe genre and that includes welted leather shoes, as well, of course.
Are there any other new plans and what do they look like? Is there anything else happening this year?
Andi: Something extremely big is actually happening, which we have already briefly touched on… we want to finally interpret the running and trail running segment in the VOR design. Not as a performance shoe, but in our tried and tested form. In addition, we have dealt with another very important item for us: the VOR T-Shirt
Jörg: … so a lot will happen in terms of diversifying our brand because it’s time to tackle some things we have been thinking about for a long time.