Olivia Kim Explains Her Fuzzy Custom Vans, Back-to-School Anxiety and the Rise of the Fashion Sneaker
Our Pop-In@Nordstrom x Vans Vans selection includes Old Skools and chukkas designed by our own Olivia Kim, a project she undertook with designer Alex Dymond. You’ll be able to tell which ones they are. They’re fuzzy.
Available for adults and kids, Olivia’s faux-shearling and velvet shoes aren’t available anywhere else on the planet except for Nordstrom. They are exclusive and “fashion” (Vans also exists in the fashion world now, if you didn’t know), but above all else, fun.
Here she speaks on Kurt Cobain, cringing when brands try too hard to be down with the kids and how getting her shoes clowned in fourth grade scarred her for life.
SHOP: Pop-In@Nordstrom x Vans
I didn’t even know [we matched Rose Quartz and Serenity] the Pantone colors of the year. That’s crazy! The pink and blue reminded me of ’90s candy ravers. They took me back to early ’90s, to Nirvana as well. I’ve been thinking about Kurt Cobain a lot. I feel like ever since I’ve moved to Seattle, well, I’ve always been inspired by Kurt Cobain, but now that I live here I feel like it comes up more so. You could pull off a Cobain look with these shoes, oversized women’s sunglasses and a vintage mohair cardigan. I wanted the shoes to be as hairy as possible. Really textured and kind of like a fuzzy bedroom slipper. Fuzzy shoes aren’t the most practical. If they get wet or muddy, they’ll look like a dog that was rained on. You’ll want to be careful about puddles. I don’t know, they’re just fun. The green and red, those came from conversations with Alex, because we wanted to do jewel colors for men. They felt regal, royal, back to school whether you’re in school or not; good colors for varsity jackets or high school football teams. And I think velvet for guys is kind of outrageous and impractical as well, but there’s something chic about it.
Back to school
It’s such a momentous time: getting your pencils, your backpack, your new shoes and planning your outfit—who hasn’t had anxiety or insomnia thinking about all that stuff? My favorite pair of back-to-school shoes were in the fourth grade, these sneakers I bought in Seoul, which were white Velcro and had this cat face on them. I thought I was so cool, and nobody else was going to have them, straight from Korea. I got to school and everyone made fun of me for wearing Velcro, saying I didn’t know how to tie my own shoes yet. So embarrassing. Traumatizing to this day. I see cats on shoes, and I’m like, “No! Don’t do it!” I remember every outfit I’ve ever worn. I used to write down my outfits so I wouldn’t repeat them.
I feel like guys always have the better option [with sneakers]. Better colorways and shoes that aren’t made in small sizes. So when we were doing these custom Vans, I was thinking, “How can we do these right and then take them down to girls’ sizes?” And then, how can we REALLY take them down and do kids’ sizes? That’s where the whole kids thing came from. I’ve never designed for kids before, but I thought the best way to do it was to think about mother, daughter, father and son: Don’t you just want to have everyone matching? Some brands do that really well; I’m thinking about Vilebrequin‘s father and son swimsuits. Some of our designers in SPACE are inspirational too, like Roksanda: she takes beautiful dresses for adults and remakes them for kids. That’s the best way of looking at it, I think. Don’t talk down, just shrink it down.
We had an inspiration photo that we found on the Internet: someone had custom-cut individual pieces of fur, and literally safety-pinned them onto the shoe. I’m always looking for pictures, storing them and bringing them up when I need to. So we modeled our designs on that, sent them to Vans, and went back and forth with three prototypes. I think our shoes are really different for them. I don’t know that they had ever done a fuzzy shoe before. They’re funny, aren’t they?
Men’s or women’s?
I see them as unisex, actually. They’re all unisex. But these green and burgundy ones in particular I felt maybe would resonate with men more than fuzzy pink and fuzzy blue. But I don’t know! I don’t want to be gender-specific about them.
It’s such a thing right now. Everyone is rocking sneakers with their designer clothes. Sneakers don’t have to be considered so casual anymore. It’s a fashion statement at this point. I think by using elements that seem much more high-end fashion, like velvet, I think we’re elevating it even further.
Personal Vans history
I was always wearing Vans growing up. I remember I started wearing them in the third grade. I wore the Eras, several pairs. And I’d wear them until they were trashed and my big toe popped out the front. This was back when everyone was writing on them, and you’d write the name of your crush on the sole. Then cross it off and write another one. You’d have your best friend sign them. Like a cast on your broken arm. Graffiti on shoes is making a comeback. Did you see those Vetements and Reebok ones? We’re getting those for SPACE.
Vans as projection screens
I grew up super preppy, and Vans reminded me of a boat sneaker. I would wear Keds and Sebago and Vans on the beach. I would always have preppy colors, like red, or navy blue, or red with the blue fox striping. And Vans were affordable. You could get a pair for school and another for spring. There are certain elements of Vans that obviously feel very skate/surf. But it’s a very different thing on the East Coast versus West Coast. On the East Coast we were preppier. We didn’t get the skate/surf thing as much. I’m a terrible, terrible skater. It’s too scary. I do surf, though. I love surfing. Surfing is fine because you fall in water. Skating is not fine. You fall on your elbows and knees.
Vans as a fashion brand
Vans has always been in fashion for skateboarders and surfers and that reach has gotten so wide recently. Skateboarders back in the ‘80s and ‘90s were considered misfits, weirdos, the kids who weren’t playing more traditional sports. And that subculture has now become very mainstream and you see loads of brands wanting to channel that emotion. I love that companies are embracing the rawness and creativity of what once was considered an outsider sport, but it still needs to feel authentic and not just a way to get in touch with the younger kids. Vans has always been so great about being true to who they are – and it’s awesome to see that their style now influences big fashion houses!
SHOP: Pop-In@Nordstrom x Vans