TALENT Q&A with architect and accessories designer Tania Ursomarzo of TRIPTYCH

By Marcy Clark

We sat down with architect, Parson’s professor and accessories designer Tania Ursomarzo about her new endeavor TRIPTYCH, which is launching an artisanal shoe line this Fashion Week on September 3rd and upcoming collections of jewelry and handbags in 2014 and 2015. Tania’s shoes are unlike any footwear designs we have seen in the marketplace: supremely stylish, category-defying, ergonomic and made in the Italian artisanal footwear tradition with the finest leathers and natural materials available. We really enjoyed learning about her approach to design and discussing her Fashion Week plans and hope you will as well!

Women’s Mafia: You are a very talented architect who is now launching a new line of artisanal shoes, handbags and jewelry, does your work as an architect influence your accessories designs?

Tania Ursomarzo: Naturally. I think that your background, no matter the discipline, always influences your work. The design of objects for the body – footwear, bags, jewelry – is simply an application and extension of my architectural design skills. Architects design space and objects…for people, for the body. It is only the scale of the work and its specificity to the body’s particular form that changes. I have been formally designing spaces, objects, and installations of different scale and scope for over 18 years now. I also construct a lot of my own work in addition to working closely with other craftspeople. As a result, I have built a significant body of knowledge and experience surrounding design, materials and methods of fabrication that I apply to all of my projects. Working outside of disciplinary boundaries challenges you to test your skills.

WM: Why “TRIPTYCH”?  Can you explain the name?

Tania Ursomarzo: TRIPTYCH, a word commonly used in art to describe an artwork that is made of 3 parts, interests me more as a concept than a word because it implies that the sum or the whole is in fact the embodiment of three related parts. My accessories label, TRIPTYCH, uses this concept in two ways: 1- to refer to the products that it encompasses (footwear, jewelry, bags) and 2- the elements that inform or are critical to my method of design and making (body, material, form).

WM: Your new shoes feature really inventive details such as asymmetrical wedges and cut out details. What were your inspirations for the new collection?

Tania Ursomarzo: The inspiration, or pursuit, of my work is always the same: a life-long, on-going interest in exploring the space and movement of the body. I am interested in the relationship between form and the body: the way that the movement of the body affects the form of objects and of space. My footwear design studies how the form of the shoe ‘transforms’ through the movement and articulation of the foot and leg. As such, I experiment with the relationship of materials to the form of the foot and leg. The shoes play with the exposure of the foot and leg as well as folds and wrinkles in the form that respond to the movement of the shoe. The motive in all of my work, whether it is architecture or footwear or otherwise, is how it contributes to and advances the discipline of design. My work always experiments and tests and explores a lot in attempt to discover innovative ways of doing/making things. I invest a lot of money, time, and research into working this way because, in my opinion, it is critical to producing new work.

WM: Your shoes are crafted in Italy at one of the world’s top artisanal shoe fabricators, can you tell us about the unique materials and fabrication?

Tania Ursomarzo: My footwear is 100% handmade by master artisan craftspeople with natural, high quality leathers and materials including the sole, entirely sourced and made in Italy. The fabricator is a fourth generation family owned and run factory and one of only a few of its kind left in the world. Their process is unique to the region and authentic in terms of artisanal shoemaking tradition. Unfortunately, artisanal shoemaking is becoming a dying art due to the demand for and industrialization of cheap, primarily synthetic shoes. In addition to offering the highest quality product possible, I am trying to support this beautiful art and craft and the region of the world that produces these extraordinary shoes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has 60 shoes that this factory has produced in their costume archives.

WM: What are some of the dream retailers and stores you would like to see carry the TRIPTYCH collection?

Tania Ursomarzo: Within New York: MoMa Design Store, Dover Street Market, Patron of the New, Oak, Bird, Project No. 8, Creatures of Comfort, Pas de Deux, Maryam Nassir Zadeh.

WM: Who is your audience/customer?

Tania Ursomarzo: In general, anyone who has a keen interest in and appreciation for good design, fine materials and craftsmanship. I want my shoes to be worn and worn well until they become a part of one’s body – a second skin. In the same moment, I would also like my shoes to be collected, to become a functional and notable object of design. These are shoes that can live in your closet, on your feet, on a shelf, on the wall, etc. I hope that they are the shoes in your collection that, even at the end of their life, are difficult to part with.

WM: When did you realize you could make your passion for shoes and design your career?

Tania Ursomarzo: Design and making is euphoric for me and as such, has always been a part of my life. My life simply became my work and my work continued to be my life. There was never a clear-cut decision nor realization; I keep my gifts in motion until they begin to define who I am. Footwear design became the evolution of those gifts. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t design and/or make something.

I’m fascinated by the way things are made. And even more so, by how ideas, the intangible aspect of design, become something tangible that we can physically experience and study. I live for the moments when my work pushes back at me.

WM: What is the wildest/bravest thing you’ve done?

Tania Ursomarzo: Start an artisanal footwear line entirely on my own …and secure a MASSIVE loan to do it! There is a lot of risk in launching a new premium high-end product through a very small, unknown start-up. I’m a one-woman show and while I may remain a small company, TRIPTYCH will always remain a label with big ambition, expansive ideas, and above all, tremendous VISION.

WM: What can the Women’s Mafia make happen for you?

Tania Ursomarzo: I would like TRIPTYCH to be recognized as an innovative design product and not a fashion brand. My goal is to educate consumers and to develop the appropriate clientele through the vehicle of design. I am both a design practitioner and educator, and as such I endeavor to make my work a product of the things that I teach. My customer is someone whose beliefs align with my own and thus, the philosophies behind my product. My company and my work are not about the business of shoes; it is about an appreciation for the discipline of design and making and how this practice finds a special place in the art and craft of footwear. The world doesn’t need more shoes, it needs good, ever evolving, thought provoking, innovative design, and if that is something that you can wear on your feet, then so be it.

Lastly, if anyone could wear your designs, alive or dead, who would you choose?

1-    Me

2-    David Bowie

3-    Pina Bausch

4-    *Fever Ray (Karin Dreijer Andersson)

5-    Feist

6-    Trisha Brown

7-    Grace Coddington

8-    Merce Cunningham

9-    Grace Jones

10-  Tilda Swinton

*top pick because of how Fever Ray uses her craft and the vehicle of ‘performance’ to transform both her identity as a person and the physicality of her body. My shoes and my label are designed around the concept of transformation. I believe that our creative ideas and identities are aligned in this respect. I think that when you step into a pair of shoes, you step into a new personality or take on a new identity. To me, they are the most interesting thing worn by the body because they have so much power to transform it, not simply from an aesthetic point of view, but from a practical and conceptual point of view in that your feet and legs are primarily responsible for moving you through space and time. Without them, we become static beings.

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