Design | 30 January 2020

Laurens VAN DEN ACKER :
« Personalization gives expression »

5 min
Laurens Van Den Acker - Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS
Laurens van den Acker, Director of Renault Group Design, is known for his concept cars illustrating a strong design strategy. He is known for having breathed a wind of seduction into the Renault range. He is also followed on social networks for his sneakers. And for good reason, every concept car, every new car comes with... Its matching pair of sneakers. So much so that sneakers have become his trademark, an expression of his personality.
by Vincent Frappereau

Why did he decide to wear sneakers? Why has personalization become so essential? What links exist between a car and a pair of sneakers? How is created a vehicle as individual as Captur? How do the coq sportif and Renault work together? Here are his answers:

Customization is a key trend today. Why has it become so important?

There has always been a certain pressure to conform, mixed with the desire to assert one’s personality. A perfect example of this is the punk look. British school children had to wear uniforms. The only part of their uniform they could change was their socks and shoes, and their hair. And punks are a product of this situation. They had a limit, and they developed enormous expressiveness in the little scope left to them. In a world favoring uniformity, customization enables people to express themselves and show a part of what is concealed by that uniform. I think it is a profound need. People accept conformity providing they can add a personal touch, and this is the heart of customization.

The phenomenon is even stronger with designers, as people expect them to have their own personal stamp. If designers want to leave their mark, they need to develop their specificity. They are appreciated for the way they see the world. Designers intuitively embody this desire. With sneakers, comfort is key. At a motor show, where you have to walk miles, you want the most comfortable shoes. But the real reason goes back to when I started out in my career. When I started working and wore my first suits, I felt like I was stepping into the skin of my father. Sneakers were a way for me to express a somewhat sportier personality. They are also a highly visible aspect that I can play with.

Thanks to its two-tone roof, Captur is available with 90 possible exterior combinations. How are new colors imagined?

The vocation of a designer is to make life more beautiful. And this starts with colors. They have to radiate. At Renault, we play with color as a strong aspect of our brand’s identity, our aim being to make the streets more colorful. We look for warm and lively colors. The Atacama Orange shade on New Captur is a good illustration. The advantage of a customizable car is that it can take on a broad palette of colors. The body shape was designed so that light could play an important role. We are influenced by trends, and notably what we see in the fashion world.

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

There are far more links between shoes and cars than you might think at first. The sole is a little bit like the segment of the car (urban, go-anywhere, etc.), the shoe top a bit like the body, and the laces are the signature of the shoe, like grilles on cars. There is a natural connection between the two. People often talk about the influence of architecture on cars, but the link is even closer with shoes. For example, brands are placed on shoes as they are on cars. Shoes are seemingly simple objects but communicate a lot of different things. It is often said that you should look at a person’s watch and shoes to find out more about their personality.

Is it easier to customize sneakers or a car?

When you design a car to be customizable, the game becomes configuring your own. And the same applies to shoes. Also, not all models are customizable; you need a shoe with a fairly basic design for it to work – otherwise it gets too complicated, one layer too many. Special attention needs to be paid to proportions and graphics.

Isn’t it frustrating to only be able to play on colors and materials?

Creativity needs limits. If not, you become an artist. It is a personal challenge for me to use the same type of shoe and each time invent a new customization.

Laurens Van Den Acker - Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

Can customizing a shoe interior be similar to customizing a vehicle interior?

Conceptually, yes, it is entirely possible. But I’m not sure that a see-through shoe is very attractive. That said, the interior of a shoe should not be under-estimated, even if you don’t see it. First, you obviously see it when putting your shoe on. And it also reminds me of the presentation of a bag by Coco Chanel. Inside it was very beautiful, superbly finished, almost a surprise each time you opened it. It was an intention, to create complicity between the person and their bag, something that no-one else knows. It’s interesting.

Why Le Coq Sportif?

The partnership was a given. I had already met them at a Formula 1 race – they have been partners of the Renault F1 Team for two years now. I found the brand very attractive. And they were ready to take things further in terms of customization. That made all the difference. They make bespoke prototypes. With Le Coq Sportif, we went from prêt à porter to haute couture. My models are now unique.

How do you design a pair of customized sneakers?

It’s a team process. We visited Le Coq Sportif’s design center in Paris to get a handle on their techniques, and also to understand what was possible and not possible. I work hand in hand with François Blanchard, a Renault designer, and the creative process is practically the same as with a car. We do a briefing to decide on where we want to go and the target result. After that, we make a few sketches and choose a direction. Then we execute. It’s a little project parallel to the development of the car.

Which was your first pair of sneakers at Renault?

My first sneakers were a pair of Adidas to match the DeZir concept car. It was the first car in which I was involved at Renault. It went on to inspire a whole range of production cars, which you can now see on the road. Those shoes are special to me, even though they are worn out now.

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

How many pairs do you have?

That’s hard to say – it changes all the time! Seriously, though, you will see 12 pairs in photographs at the L’Atelier Renault event, but I have at least 20. I wear them every day. As with a car, which you have to drive, with shoes, you have to wear them.

If you were to create a pair of sneakers from scratch, what would they look like?

I would like to make a much more advanced model. Simple and comfortable, but taking things further in terms of materials. Maybe flexible metal, and 3D printing. And why not “smart sneakers”? People talk a lot about how alive Renault cars are and the life that goes with them. To make a shoe more alive, you could play with light, technology and movement, to make walking an even more sensory experience. I would also want it to be 100% recyclable. And why not a shoe that wouldn’t get scuffed and worn, or one that could heat or cool your feet depending on the season?

You created Twingo Le Coq Sportif. How do you allude to a shoe brand on a car?

You have to start by finding the shoe model that goes with the car. If it’s a sports shoe, you choose a car focused on performance. If it’s an urban shoe, you go for an urban car. So it all starts with character. You then play on colors. For example, Le Coq Sportif has an iconic look, an immediately recognizable and very strong universe. You can use this design touch. I think Twingo Le Coq Sportif is really well done because you get an immediate Le Coq Sportif feel before you see the logo. There are other recent examples of limited series Renaults related to fashion: Twingo La Parisienne and Captur Helly Hansen. The latter was a major success in terms of brand positioning. It’s a go-anywhere car, with Helly Hansen being an outdoors brand. The red and black tones are distinctively Helly Hansen. And the 3D-effect fabrics lend a sense of robustness. You need to choose the right brand to join forces with if you want to boost their images. They shouldn’t cancel each other out.

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

What’s the difference between a car designer and a shoe designer?

Taking the example of architects, you very often see their personal stamp in the buildings they create. Just look at Frank Gehry – you recognize his creations. It’s the same in fashion. You can tell Jean-Paul Gaultier apart from another designer. It’s important as a designer to have your own signature. But it’s different in the automotive industry, because you work for a brand. Your work is a success if people recognize the brand, not your style. But this doesn’t mean you can’t put your personality into the vehicles you design. Wearing remarkable shoes or accessories gives you extra personal expression. I became a designer because I had a Ferrari poster in my room when I was a child, and I said to myself that I wanted to design and drive cars like that. It was a dream. You dream of becoming a race driver or car designer and that’s what triggers the desire. When you create cars, you discover that you touch on numerous design disciplines. With cars, you create 500 products at the same time. All design forms are included: product design, architectural design, sculpture, work on colors and materials, light, furniture, technology, and so on. Automotive design is the perfect world because you encapsulate all possible forms of design. This is what makes it attractive. It’s complicated but fascinating. And this is why the difference between cars and sneakers is not that great. We already integrate this segment into our designs.

Which sneakers do you wear the most?

The ones that remind me how my adventure with Renault began: my Adidas sneakers for DeZir. The DeZir concept car and Clio IV will always be special to me because they were my first experiences at Renault. They were full of heart and soul, and they previewed everything that came afterwards. It’s a little like your first love: you never forget it.

A word on your next sneakers?

We are working with Le Coq Sportif on the next pair. Get ready to be surprised in the next few months. The only hint I can give you is that they will be yellow...

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

Renault x Le Coq Sportif - SneaCARS

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