Author: Marlo Saalmink
These days when fashion increasingly seems to be on one continuous treadmill, it is becoming increasingly difficult to slow things down, to approach craftsmanship with care that a well-made product demands.
On a recent journey towards the historic ateliers of The Last Conspiracy, a Denmark-based footwear company, tucked away on a hillside just outside Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, I got a glimpse into how things can still be made the traditional way. The story of Roald Nore, a creative nomad and the brand’s founder, begins with his desire to make something genuine and lasting.
As a Norwegian-Dane, Nore has had his share of the Scandinavian aesthetics of understatement, but he never quite fit into that mold. As we sit down with two black coffees, he explains to me that over the past fifteen years, first as a retailer and later as a designer, he always held strong opinions when it came to aesthetics.
Indeed, he remains a man of particular tastes. This slow buildup of knowledge and style philosophy was finally realized with creation of The Last Conspiracy.
‘‘After so many years of learning all the processes of making shoes, I felt that it was time to create a brand where I could manifest all this profound knowledge, my own way,” Nore told me.
We enter the rectangular shaped atelier with walls of stained glass, where local artisans work with quiet concentration on the new collection.
While we stroll around, a feeling of quite concentration follows us, as everyone seems fully immersed in his task. I watch as the cutters handle leather. Each pair is cut to an already existing order, so the leather is not wasted.
I ask Nore about how he conceives each collection. “Each season ends up being part of a continuous tale – I guess you could say that our DNA is very much that of a pure shoemaker,” he says. “It all begins with a series of controlled experiments with lasts and handpicked leathers. In this process something unexpected appears at times, which makes it instinct-based and incredibly tactile.’’
We watch as each step in the shoemaking process, from the last to the mold, to the Goodyear or Norwegian welting is meticulously conducted. Naturally, I am curious about his own relationship with the artisans surrounding us, as their knowledge surely contributes to what The Last Conspiracy stands for.
‘‘Working with the craftsmen in the atelier is actually not work for me – it simply is play,” says Nore. “We have known each other for so many years and I guess that this is part of the reason why it is possible to make shoes that I can vouch for, our bond is so strong.’’
Textures are an important component of The Last Conspiracy’s aesthetic direction. Nore tells me, ‘’The leathers are so important for the expression and the feeling of a shoe. We only use vegetable-tanned leather out of respect for the environment. It also ages beautifully and maintains a certain memory, in order to allow the shoe to shape on the foot. Each piece of cow or horse leather is hand-picked and thus unique.”
His capsule collection called ASGAARD (the realm of the Nordic gods) is a standout, with each pair constructed from reversed culatta horse leather, all individually cut and molded. In these sturdy capsule pieces, I also sense the brands strong Norse heritage.
“The Last Conspiracy is about this clean Nordic expression, instead of a more classic, old-fashioned appearance. The North inspires us, from its rugged landscapes to the pounding seasonal elements,’’ Nore adds.
Product is one thing for Nore, but it remains relevant to express his passion through conversations with others.. He tells me how he met the Belgian artist Malvine Marichal and how they connected immediately.
Their creative collaboration resulted in a series of bronze cast shoehorns, with animal horn handlebars, making them functional objects d’art. For Nore the shoehorns continue the relationship between the wearer and the shoe. It’s these small details that sometimes preoccupy Nore’s mind, and though they may seem unimportant there is a certain romanticism in dwelling on minutiae of life and bringing them to life.
Another ongoing relationship Nore has is with the leather innovation lab of Ecco Leather.‘“I often visit the tannery and their R&D team to experiment with innovative ways of treating leather. They have a fantastic setup and are just as curious as I when it comes to finding new textures and treatments,” says Nore.
The Last Conspiracy has been growing rapidly. Its footwear is now sold in twenty countries. How to maintain a sense of relevance in a dense market? “It is easy to keep focus on the craftsmanship, – this remains the foundation of the brand,” says Nore.
“The story we can tell about how we work is why we earned a place in the market, especially since we are not an old company. Every season we discover new ways of constructing, tanning, treating or molding, and we simply have to tell this story. When we do share our passion for the processes we make sure that our customers always understand where we are coming from.’’
After another short round in his elegantly stained atelier, Nore turns his attention to his team, locked in a technical dialogue about an old Portuguese police boot last. He looks at home here, amidst centuries of historic craftsmanship. I leave him to it, as I head for the lush hills of downtown Porto.
All images by Lisbeth Breland Saalmink
Shot at the TLC factory in Porto, Portugal