Matthew Arrowsmith (right), owner and creative director of Hong Kong shoe label Cipher, talks about the world of footwear and fashion's increasingly global network.
How is the men's footwear industry evolving? "As the movement back towards quality of product rather than branded design continues, traditional manufacturing locations such as those in Maine, Portugal and Italy are seeing a resurgence. Also, material usage within the shoes themselves continues to develop, especially in the sports-shoe market. Nike fly-knit is one well-publicised example. I can only see this accelerating as the input materials for 3D printing improve."
Luxury trainers have become a huge market. What niches have emerged? "Collaborations and relaunches of classics continue to catch the headlines. There is a definite movement towards semi-formality married with the highest standard of production and material selection as men become more free to don footwear of their choosing given the modern working environment. Brands are reinventing retro shapes with a modern, more avant-garde twist. Also, sportswear being made using methods usually reserved for luxury products is being seen more and more."
Tell us a little about your latest collection. "The collection is called Journey to Wakkanai. The [collection's] palette and textural references are inspired by Japan's north island winter. We describe the journey from Hokkaido's Northern Circuit through to Wakkanai, the northernmost tip of the country, so the winter white frosts and deep dark nights there have been reflected, with matt finishes, to provide the core of the range."
Why did you shift production to Italy? "We made a decision to create/craft our collections without any hint of compromise. The Tuscan factory we chose produces some of the finest footwear - semi-formal as well as formal shoes - in the world. The guys there are real artisans; it's a treat watching them take two days to hand-craft each pair."
What are the pros and cons to running a fashion business out of Hong Kong? "This may sound surprising but it has little to do with the commercial aspects of the business as there is, in our experience, less support from the banking community or government for small firms over here than there is in Europe or the United States, for example. Brands have and are still built in Europe's traditional capital cities such as Paris, Milan and London, as they continue to be a shop window to the world."
Which city, would you say, is the capital of men's style? "I'm not convinced there is one city any more. Each city has it's own music and artistic and cultural references, though, so we're some way off a global cookie-cutter high street, thank goodness.
"But if pushed I would say Paris. Life is nothing without variety. It's great to see a group of guys who dress so differently from each other yet are comfortable with that fact."