By Shu Xie
I like the stories behind brands; I like them even more when people of one mind meet and then overcome the odds to realise a dream. Two of them, whose coming together I’m sure many creative types can relate to, are the founders of this new-to-Singapore footwear brand, Flower Mountain. Shoe designers Keisuke Ota and Yang Chao, from Tokyo and Beijing respectively, found in each other a common love of footwear design, mountain trekking, and rock music. In fact, it was during the Fuji Rock Festival (once held at the foot of Mt Fuji, hence its name, but now staged in Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture of Japan) when the appealing idea of Flower Mountain was mooted. It’s hard to imagine the fortysomething blokes rocking to Gorillaz or Genshi Shinbo and thinking of broguing and lacing, but apparently they did!
I can’t say who’s the flower and who’s the mountain, but the twain did meet in 2015. As a result, Mr Ota and Mr Yang created some seriously handsome shoes. For sure, the classic sneaker references are there (mid-sole details!), but let’s say there are luxury brands that are far more blatant. What I find charming is that both guys have infused their sneakers with their very own touches and quirks, minus any bombastic branding. The results are so imbued with the spirit of indie, detail-loving shoemakers that Kith New York was enamoured enough to be one of their earliest stockists.
The Yamano sneaker (top) is a case in point. It has a rather familiar form, composed of not terribly unusual details, but the sum of its parts say something about the different aesthetic that the design duo was aiming for. What caught my eyes were the amoeba-shaped, cut-out eyelet guards; the multiple pieces with decorative stitching that form the quarter and the heel counter; and the leather whip stitch that joins the toe and the toe box. When I looked past the collar into the inside of the shoe, I was quite delighted to find an insole that is made of cork (treated with a natural compound known as Agion that has anti-microbial properties to inhibit bacterial growth, which also means reducing unwelcome smells). These are totally caressable kicks, inside out!
The tactile quality is most evident in the Asuka mid-cut (above). The upper is made from a cotton canvas that is produced in the Japanese town of Kurashiki (Okayama prefecture), known, in fact, for their hanpu—plain-weave canvas that is so durable, they’re used to make sails, a craft that dates back to the end of the Edo period. The canvas used in the Asuka has an unusual texture: it looks suede-y, but could pass off as hand-made paper! The same attention to detail is applied to the rest of the shoe. Given its sturdy looks, I suspect it is more than able to stand against tough terrains. Oh, there is that cork insole too.
In a test-run/walk, Flower Mountain’s Yamano can hold a gerbera (or choose your favourite bloom) to outdoor wear brands such as The North Face. They’re light enough for long treks, and can deal with most weather conditions although I doubt shoe lovers will cross a flooded pathway in them. The cork insole, however, may not be comfortable for naked feet, but because of its anti-microbial effect, it may be ideal for those bent on going sockless. And I do find that the sizes run a little small, which means you may require a pair one size up.
Flower Mountain makes most styles for both men and women, but if the ladies prefer something less rugged, which is understandable, there are the Pampas canvas sneakers. Again, Japanese canvas is used, but what’s eye-catching is the print. Available here, is a sort of camo of Zebras, which I found beguiling. I later learned that this, together with a botanical pattern that is popular in Japan, drew inspiration from the 19th century English textile/wallpaper designer William Morris. Which means that my initial thought of their designs being somewhat Japanese now deserves a strike through.
Flower Mountain shoes—Yamano, SGD339, and Asuka, SGD339—are exclusive to Robinsons The Hereen. Photos: Jim Sim