The shoes created by FN Designer of the Year Salehe Bembury — whether it’s a high-end Versace look or a collab with the likes of New Balance and Anta — resonate with the sneaker obsessed. And it makes sense, given that the storytelling comes from a place of authenticity.
“I just come from being a fan of sneakers. I remember all those moments when I opened boxes, opened sneakers, waited in line, so I guess I’m trying to re-create that emotion, re-create that nostalgia,” Bembury said. “It’s amazing to hear it’s getting received well.”
To accept his 2020 Designer of the Year award from FN, Bembury hiked at an “undisclosed location” in Los Angeles alongside multihyphenate Jaden Smith, who was eager to pick the brain of the beloved designer.
Smith — who also frequently creates compelling footwear with New Balance — questioned Bembury on several topics. On the route, laughing while sweating profusely and out of breath, Smith asked Bembury how it feels to have people invested in him personally rather that just his work alone.
“I’m used to putting product on a table and then stepping away, and now the audience is asking me to come back to the table, to sit down at that table and to maybe even have a discussion,” Bembury said. “I feel like I’ve been given this opportunity to express myself as an individual, which isn’t given to that many.”
Along the way, Smith stopped to check out the stunning views while praising Bembury’s New Balance 2002R collab and the corresponding campaign. Calling the effort “amazing,” he also asked what new doors it has opened — specifically, product outside of shoes.
“Through these collaborations, I’ve been able to play around with just product design. Having an industrial design background — which is ultimately product design — I’m extremely versatile as a designer,” Bembury explained. “So now that I’ve accomplished the goal of creating successful footwear and creating a, I guess a little bit of a name for myself, I’d like to expand that into the world of product.”
Before the end of the hike, Bembury also offered a message to industry leaders with the capabilities of bringing new talent to the industry.
“To everyone watching, if you’re in a place to give anyone opportunity, you should do so because there really is this wall that a lot of people can’t get over,” Bembury said. “And if you have the key to open that door I think it can create beautiful things and product.”
For 34 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The first virtual FNAAs are presented in partnership with The Style Room Powered by Zappos, and sponsors FDRA, Deckers Brands, Soles4Souls and Foot Locker.