Oliver Vranesh, a second-year graduate student in the University of Virginia School of Architecture, won the recent “Next Sneaker Design Star” contest held by Complex Magazine, a men’s lifestyle magazine. His reward: a multi-day apprenticeship at the Reebok World Headquarters in Canton, Mass.
The competition challenged up-and-coming shoe designers to submit an original sneaker design to the magazine. After selecting three finalists, Complex readers determined the winner in online balloting.
Vranesh, 26, of Falls Church City, said he entered the contest simply to refresh his product designing skills. Before coming to U.Va. to study architecture, he received his undergraduate degree from the Pratt School of Art and Design in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he studied industrial design. He also worked for a handful of design firms before deciding to cultivate skills specifically in space design.
After participating in a U.Va. study-abroad program in Vicenza, Italy “where I had been drawing buildings all summer,” Vranesh decided to reconnect with his inner designer. “I thought it would be fun to enter some contests,” he said. “I found the [Complex] one online. The deadline was in two days, so I just did the drawing in one night – and I got lucky.”
Comparing his experience in architecture to product design, he said, “A lot of the skills can transfer easily, but there’s so much more to learn in architecture. Things like drawing and model-making helped with the contest a lot, and [expectations] have been a lot harder at U.Va.”
With architecture on his mind, he included elements inspired by the work of architect Carlos Scarpa in the shoe, including the structure of the midsole and a ‘Scarpa-esque stair motif’ running through the outsole of the sneaker.
“I get design inspiration from everything,” Vranesh said. “Function, art, architecture, culture, history, cartoons, video games, nature ... if something fascinates me, I'll find some way to incorporate that into a design.”
After winning the online vote, Vranesh received the opportunity to spend a weeklong apprenticeship at Reebok. There, he met with members of Reebok Classic’s design, marketing, advance concepts and lifestyle teams, did some re-sketching of his submission in AutoCAD – a design program used by architects, designers and engineers – and talked with the various departments about how to adjust the design to fit the Reebok brand. Though he decided against developing a prototype for his shoe (having already made several prototype shoes for other companies), Vranesh said that he had a great time networking with designers.
“It was really cool to work with professional designers, to see how things work at a company where at least one of their products will sell over 500,000 pairs, to see their resources, and to see what’s going on in design now,” Vranesh said. “They’re designing two years into the future; it was really cool to see how they work to find trends that could be profitable and marketable in the next two years.
“The meeting was great and a totally priceless experience. There was a lot of advice that I will try to use in my future concepts – both in footwear design and architecture,” he told Complex.
Will Vranesh stick with architecture, or continue with product design in the future? In true Jeffersonian fashion, he is keen on cultivating both disciplines.
“I always wanted to study design space. I felt like it would be a good design challenge,” he said. “I felt like it was now or never – I can study product design forever, or take a chance and see if I like architecture.”
See complete Complex coverage of the ‘Next Sneaker Design Star’ here.
— by Lauren Jones