Designer Limelight Ilya

I recently had the chance to catch up with Ilya the winner of the Fall Winter 2013 Trend Direction competition and second in the 2020 Running competition.

First of all, congratulations on your successes in the recent competitions.  How did you learn about MESH01?

I was invited to compete for the Pensole Footwear Design Program Scholarship by D’wayne Edwards.

 Had you entered a design competition before?

Yes. I was a finalist in the online footwear design competition, the Cut&Paste live 3D design competition finals in San Francisco, and a portfolio competition at Domus Academy in Milan where I won a scholarship for 70% of the tuition for my Masters Program in Accessories Design.

Can you tell us about your path towards becoming a footwear designer?

I have been drawing since I was little. Everything I drew was design related, but my favorite subject was sneakers. At that time, I didn’t know that there is a profession of Footwear Designer – I just drew out of passion. I grew up in a musical family and my other passion is music. I knew I couldn’t formally study music and design at the same time, so I decided to do it one by one. After completing my musical studies, playing in a band and teaching music in Serbia, I moved to the US – New York with an idea to grow as a musician and designer. This is where my passion for design was reborn and took over the music. I still played in a band, but I drew more and learned Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator on my own in order to create my first serious portfolio. I decided to study Industrial Design with a goal to become a Footwear Designer. I chose the Masters Program in Industrial Design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco because of the relatively low cost for the quality of education. It was the first time I was introduced to formal design training and the traditional design process. I was growing every day as a designer. After less than two years of studying, I was accepted for an internship at Specialized bicycle components in Morgan Hill, CA. This was a great opportunity to get real hands-on experience and utilized some of what I had learned.  That summer (2009) I designed several cycling shoes that went into production, among other components. Even though I was doing what I always dreamed about (designing shoes), I felt that in order to become the best footwear designer, I needed to have knowledge of both – ID and fashion. This is why I submitted my portfolio to Domus Academy in Milan, where I won the scholarship for the Masters Program in Accessories Design, specializing in footwear. Living and studying in Milan, the world’s fashion capital and one of the most inspiring design cities, broaden the way I thought about design. When I look back at myself as a designer 4 years ago, I see enormous improvement.  This inspires me to work harder. Living in different cities and moving across the globe made a huge impact in my growth as a designer. My latest footwear design work was an internship at Manas, a small footwear company on the Italian coast. They’ve been producing shoes for different brands over the last 50 years. It was a unique “Made in Italy” experience as the whole process from design to production was under the same roof. My goal now is to continue growing as a designer and to eventually design the best shoes ever.

Who are some of the designers / artists that you pull your inspiration from?

I love art and my favorite artists are: Kandinsky, Malevich, Picasso, Chagal (to mention some); Architecture: Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid; Interior: Graft; Footwear: Tinker Hatfield; Fashion: Alexander McQueen, Rick Ovens and many others…Coroflot, design websites, the streets, and people are also great sources of inspiration.

MESH01’s community is located all over the world.  You have lived and studied design all over the world.  I’m sure the community would like to know how design scene compares in the various places you have lived.

When moving or traveling, you can compare design in various places by meeting and observing people and their habits. People from different countries and cities have different life experiences. Meeting them, you are adding a layer of culture to yourself. What’s odd in one culture, is normal in the other. Differences can be found everywhere. Italian espresso vs large American coffee is similar to comparison of Fiat 500 vs SUV (which you may not be able to park in Milan). Design is also a lifestyle. I personally enjoyed the design of the two-hours lunch break, which during the hot summer I used for riding my bike to the beach and refreshing in the Mediterranean sea before I go back to work. Understanding one cultures lifestyle helps a designer to be more realistic in understanding global values, but also in realizing the importance of your own culture. I always carry my individual style even when adapting to “New York tough”, “California laid back” or “Milano fashion must”. All these places have strong design scenes, especially Milan, where almost everything is meant to have an aesthetic statement: from a vintage bicycle (that you can buy for 50 euros on the street) to futuristic designs you can see during the design week.

Thank you for the interview, can you offer any words of advice to the other designers out there in the MESH01 community?

My advice to young aspiring designers is to leave their rooms sometimes and walk to different parts of the city, or travel to another city or a country if they can afford it. There will be many surprises that bring boundless inspiration. Than go back to your room and continue drawing. I’d like to end with a quote from Alan Alada as I find it very similar to my path: “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be yourself.”