9 November 2022

GCDS x Clarks brings the rave to the classroom

Giuliano Calza, Creative Director of Milan's GCDS, discusses the rave-kink-schoolkid influences for their collab with the British footwear brand...

Remember Clarks? If you didn’t jump on their Wallabee hype in the last few years that breathed new life into their iconic style from the 1960s, then you’ll most likely remember them from your school days. Chunky, boxy black leather (with velcro for those who now drive automatic cars) that proved the greatest piece of footwear for legging it down corridors and playing football at lunchtimes. If you caught someone wearing them now, you may wonder if they were just on the hunt for a sturdy, reliable shoe, or if they’d been held back a few years. Or, maybe they got their hands on one of the hottest collaborations of 2022. 

The Clarks x GCDS collection is a marriage of two brands that ostensibly seem worlds apart, but have found a sweet spot of creative common ground. Whilst a brand may want to move away from being known for kitting out kids, it’s that aesthetic and heritage that GCDS set out to champion. The brand’s Creative Director, Giuliano Calza, says that it is the school uniform aesthetic that became the focus point for the collaboration, drawing in inspiration from kink-style boots and the rave merged with formalwear. 

The result is a display of eye-catching mules and platform loafers in leopard print and black leather with chunky buckles and added height. The collection is both a reflection of Calza’s non-conformist vision and Clarks’ meticulous design and unrivalled heritage, producing a range of pieces that are created to be shared. 

“The starting point was to create a formal loafer that everyone could wear,” Calza explains. “The aim of the project was to design the perfect shoes for both elegant and everyday use. As a kid, I always believed Clarks were the shoes for important occasions, and now, thanks to this amazing collaboration between us, I think these are the right shoes for any occasion.” 

On the night of the release, HUNGER sat down with Giuliano Calza to discover more about the inspiration behind the designs, how the DNA of Clarks helped bring the collection to life, and how Calza approaches fashion as a sociological examination of the times…

Ry Gavin: Hey Giuliano! To kick us off, tell us what your original vision for the GCDS x Clarks collection was? 

Giuliano Calza: The original vision for the collection is not the final one that came about. I always thought of Clarks as formal shoes, my mum’s shoes or old people’s shoes. So, I wanted to take that into our world [GCDS], which is of course not so old, and to create a shoe that you can wear in various different situations. Wherever you go it’s the one shoe you want to have with you. 

The original project was different. I wanted it to be a boot that could also be a mule. I wanted to explore the idea that even if you have a boring shoe, you can still have the kink aspect. My idea at the beginning was around fetish and the classic schoolboy looks, but at the same time wanting to create something you can go out to a club wearing and or out to a rave. But then of course the idea had to become simpler and simpler because of the amount of work that it takes to make one shoe right during a pandemic. 

RG: Clarks is a brand that most people have known throughout their lives, from being a school kid up to now – How did the brand’s heritage play a part in what you wanted to create? 

GC: I wanted to create a pair of shoes that I could wear or that my dad could wear – that everyone could wear to give them themselves the personality to do so, because sometimes people forget that clothes are about how you wear them. If I were to dress up like you now it’s going to look very different on me, and that’s the premise I had for these shoes. It’s all about having one shoe that you can wear to a whole variety of different places. I really wanted to create these kinky, classic shoes, particularly for men who often just want to wear white or black shoes. 

RG: So you have different characteristics from broth brands coming together. What exactly is this collaboration a marriage of? What do the designs pull from each brand individually? 

GC: I know my crowd and I know they’re up for fun and crazy stuff, but on the other hand, I didn’t wanna scare people coming to the store. I wanted to create something that even people who don’t know or wear GCDS can come to the store and want to buy the shoes. So I like to cosplay myself, and ​​be the designer that can create for others and not just the designer that creates for himself. Sometimes it’s just about how you want to be, how you’re going to embrace how you want to be, but this time I said to myself that I want see my mum stepping into the store, buying the shoes, and then for me to find myself at dinner wearing the same pair. 

RG: With all of those aspects at play, how did that transpire into the design process for the collection?

GC: It all started from one picture that I find so fun. A businessman is sat behind a desk, all suited up and dressed up smartly from the waist, but then on the bottom half and under the desk they’re wearing sexy, kinky boots. Clarks loved the idea. It’s such a long process of visualising an idea when I’m really clear about what I want to create, but at the same time, it’s a never ending process because of the fact that GCDS were not manufacturing it – it was happening in Clarks’ factories, not mine. I had to reconsider the idea of creating six different pairs of shoes because a mule and loafers are very different from high boots, kink boots and platforms. 

RG: How much of the kink culture in Milan did you want to bring to a very British, school-wear shoe brand? 

GC: I really love British culture. Generally, school uniforms are generally not something that we have in Italy, you can wear whatever you want. So this for me was already something that I wanted to experience. I wanted to take a small amount of my background and take the idea to Clarks and London of this very London shoe. 

RG: How did that process and that inspiration vary from your usual design influences for GCDS?

GC: GCDS is based on my life mostly. I read a lot and I watch a lot of shit, literally things that you would never watch on YouTube for hours. Everything that makes me feel something I want to recreate into my world. For Clarks it was different because I was starting from an idea that could suit both brands. When you opt for a collaboration, you have to be willing to understand the other brand. I think if you’re collaborating, it’s not just to make something possible for your brand, but to create something that is so iconic and for the other brand to take on a new energy. Something that Clarks are not lacking is products, so it was more about creating a fantasy for the consumer. 

RG: Were there other ideas that were even more far-fetched? 

GC: At the beginning I wanted to do this huge platform Wallabee shoe. But then I realised a design like this was only going to last three weeks, because there will be so much hype for a product that no one wants to buy. Sometimes when you create those crazy fashion moments, it’s a cool moment, but people won’t be wearing it the next day. 

RG: In that case, and bearing in mind what Clarks is known for, how did the concept of a “classic” item play a role in the collection? 

GC: It’s just something that you can wear and not feel over or underdressed. Classic smart shoes are something that you can wear every day, even with joggers on, the outfit still looks fun. I saw that among classic shoes in London that you don’t really have mules – the clog, Amsterdam, Holland vibe.  

RG: Separately from the collaboration, what about yourself as a designer – what do you hope to achieve in shaping style and culture? 

GC: Coming from a completely different background from fashion, I see fashion as a sociological and cultural idea. It’s a photograph of the year – in the seventies you used to dress up like Mick Jagger, in the nineties like trash, and in the 2000s it was Paris Hilton aesthetics. It’s asking the question: What’s today about? I think this era today is a remix era. In terms of how I’d like to be perceived, I can just be Giuliano. I have lived everywhere in the world, I have friendships from all over the place, and I want to see how these differences can inspire fashion.


Get your hands on a pair of the GCDS x Clarks here… 

  • Writer Ry Gavin
  • Imagery Courtesy of Clarks

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