Interview with Vans’ Vice President of Global Design | Steve Mills

  Creating Vans Vault and Vans Syndicate are no mean feats for Vans Vice President of Global Design, Steve Mills.
They have set the platform, and then raised the bar for collaborations between well-known artists and leaders in their fields with footwear or apparel brands.

With each collaboration beginning organically and through a mutual appreciation and admiration, these products stand out amongst the tidal wave of endorsed footwear and apparel. Always working with their classics as a base (such as the slip-on, era, high-top), Vans cover territory with high-end artists and under-the-radar creators to create a limited, yet accessible piece of wearable art. All bases are covered, especially giving their collaborators “full creative freedom” according to Mills.

Living half a mile away from the beach, Mills surfs daily and also likes to paint. Watercolours, oils and pastels, gouache.
He explains that it’s an inexplicable quality of all VANS staff, who are all in some way also artists and musicians – a creative gene that seems to be organically ingrained.

With total genuinity in his speech, it’s the kind of attitude you can only obtain through confidence in your work.

The rest speaks for itself.

We sat down with Mills in a courtyard in Paris to talk about VANS and product collaborations, notably the latest VAULT BY VANS x TAKASHI MURAKAMI release happening that evening at Gallerie Perrotin.


CHAMP: As Murakami mentioned he wears his white VANS slip-ons every day,
so it’s great to hear the collaboration was produced so organically through a mutual admiration.
STEVE MILLS: It was a really great project. He’s a really meticulous man, which you can see through his art. He was a great guy to work with.-

C: You mentioned you give total creative freedom. Has there been an artist that has ever suggested to change a model?
SM: My whole position on this, is if I’m given a project with somebody: it’s their project. I’m giving them a platform to design off of. As a brand we talk about creative expression, which is sort of a mantra that we preach. So keeping in mind sustainability, we do provide open creative brief. But we are also pretty specific about particularly changing our six core models that have been around since 1960. They’re our biggest models today, so we’re still a little particular about changing those, but we’ve never really had to censor anyone yet so it’s been great.



C: With the selection of the prints for the collaboration with Murakami.
His bright colours and artwork are quite recognisable, was consideration taken into account about certain styles or colours for the release?
SM: initially when we did the first designs, we had about 20 different prints. And then we cut that down and took a lot at some sales and figures. We did need a white package in there, as it always proves popular. It’s quite interesting because we also try to make the connection that today is the first time I’ve seen Murakami wear anything but his usual white slip-ons. He’s currently wearing the colourful, floral print – and we do anticipate it will be the number 1 seller too.

C: The collaborative aspect is a great opportunity to celebrate the artistic side of VANS. 
It’s like the middle ground for fine art which can push to commercial with smaller and more accessible items for buyers. Like a blank canvas.
SM: We’ve done everything from fine art to animation, to designers, artists, musicians.
Which is the beautiful thing about it, it opens up the world.


C: Design-wise with innovation and technology with VANS, what are you currently exploring?
SMWe’ve recently invested a lot of money into an innovation design department at VANS. We now have classics that are crazy comfortable, and we just continue to push the envelope every season with new models also to see if they stick or not. We also have a new design, called MTE (Mountain Editions) which are fully weather-proof sneakers that we’ve been doing for a few seasons now, and it’s through the roof. So we’re evolving in our own way, innovation doesn’t necessarily mean technology in my opinion.
There’s a lot of ways to innovate and it’s a very exciting time.




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Image Canoe PR