First came the light-on sneaker revival. And now the nostalgia for roller skates has once again caught on. From Charlotte Olympia to Saint Laurent and Veja, designers are playfully mounting sneakers to four wheels, with varying results. But the question is: Are these lo-fi retro rollers collectables or wearables?
For her resort ’18 collection, Olympia Dellal released a witty take rife with rainbows, metallic laces and glitter wheels. They are very charming but don’t exactly look prepared to contend with city streets or replace one’s MetroCard. Which makes perfect sense – the shoes in question are actually not shoes at all, but rather, a handbag.
Ethically minded French sneaker brand Veja took a crack at the skater shoe too, recently releasing an impressively engineered sneaker with removable wheels in collaboration with Flaneurz, a clever new snap-on roller skate label that came to market last year. It was started by four friends — Florian Gravier, Arnaud Darut, Walid Nouh and David Brun — with a passion for reviving the category. To date, their retro roller skates are sold on their site as well as in a slew of influential boutiques such as Colette, Merci, Citadium, Le Refuge, Alex Eagle Studio and Anthom NYC.
Footwear News caught up with Flaneurz’s Johanna Sanchez Laurenté, who is the buzzy brand’s communications director and “chief happiness officer,” she says.
How did the collaboration with Veja come about? And why did you want to collaborate with them?
“The Veja X Flaneurz adventure started in June 2015. Back then, Veja was already one of the first brands that had faith in us. Veja’s concept store Centre Commercial commercialized the Pantanal model, a dress shoe, during its fall ’13 collection. This model was turned into Flaneurz roller skates during our crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. This joint adventure is now taking an even greater and stronger dimension. We share the same values with Veja.”
How did the idea for Flaneurz come about? And how long did it take to develop your On Wheelz?
“The idea came from the mind of our co-founder, Florian. He has always been a huge fan of roller skating — he was even making his own roller skates when he was younger. He also pays great attention to detail and style — that’s why he thought about fancy sneakers that could be turned into roller skates. It took three years of research and development to come to this product.”
What are your professional backgrounds, and how did that bring you to roller skates?
“Florian has a rider past. He is part of SkateXpress, a roller dance crew. He has learned communication and traveled a lot before meeting Arnaud and starting the Flaneurz story. Arnaud has an engineer formation from the Arts et Métiers. He worked in different areas as diverse as connected objects and [the] perfume industry.”
Do you actually use your On Wheelz system to get around the city?
“They both love using them whenever they have an occasion to — that means every day. The rainy days are the only ones without skating! Florian uses them particularly in a sportive way, when dancing with his crew and to move around. And Arnaud has a more common use: He uses them to go to the subway station, to move faster in the city, to have more fun going somewhere, to discover Paris. Moreover, they are quite useful in the everyday life. Going grocery shopping has never been so fun and quick.”
What about the safety aspects of the shoes?
“It is safe to use in cities — when going to work, for example. We have some reviews from our clients already in our blog. Then attaching the rolling platform is a habit to get into. But even Myette, our 12-year-old tester, can do it with no problem, so everyone is able too.”
Do you see roller skates as retro or modern, and why?
“Of course, roller skates have this retro side that seduced so many people in the past and today. But we think that roller skates have a true place to take in our lives today, that they are a response to an always-more-digitized world. That they allow us to reconnect with our cities, with the outside, with the floor. They are an ode to go outside, and not stay in our beds, our iPhones stuck in front of our heads.”
Do you think roller skates are a trend or mode of transportation? And why did they go out of fashion in the first place?
“For us, roller skates are a responsible, fun and easy mode of transportation that makes all the city accessible for the flâneur. But we can not neglect the trend effect. Anyway, we are convinced that the growing interest for roller skates is simply due to the natural evolution of our societies, and the need to rediscover streets and the outside. Since the invention of the very first roller skates, at the end of the 17th century, waitresses in American diners up to roller disco, roller skating has experienced periods of popularity in waves. But every trend is cyclical, and the pleasure to have a ride does not suffer from time, so roller skates always come back.”
While today’s roller skates thankfully have technologically advanced from their disco counterparts, the movement goes much further back. In 1760 John Joseph Merlin created the first recorded skate, a primitive inline model with small metal wheels. Then, in 1818, roller skates appeared on the ballet stage in Berlin. The first patented roller skate design was in France in 1819 by M. Petitbled, resembling mini bicycles for the feet.
This year, Saint Laurent’s ad featuring provocatively posed models in roller skate stilettos saw protestors demonstrate outside a Paris store, labeling the imagery “sexist.” Complaints were filed with the advertising watchdog Autorite de Regulation Professionnelle de la Publicite, which then asked the label to modify them. The do not appear to have made it to retailers either.
It’s not the first time the house has had roller skates cause a stir. While Saint Laurent is not currently selling the $1,195 Classic Roller High Top style, first introduced in 2013 under then-designer Hedi Slimane, resellers are offering the controversial shoe, which was said to be the most expensive version to hit the market ever.
But regardless, for fashion adventurists those who feel confident they can practically run in heels, tackling fashion on wheels indeed seems an appropriate next step.