“Shoes and heels can make you feel more confident and powerful,” explains designer, Julien Martinez. “They can reflect who you are or who you want to be.”

One of four recipients of Net-A-Porter’s newly announced Vanguard endorsement – an incubator programme, intended to nurture, develop and mentor up-and-coming designers – the Spanish-originating, French founder of Souliers MARTINEZ, a hand-crafted footwear brand that marries influences from both countries, knows a thing or two about the power of the pump.

Julien’s championing of traditional Spanish hand-lacing (a skill that has been honed from generation to generation since time immemorial), combined with his collection’s effortless soignée, caught our eye from the off – so, needless to say, we were hell bent on learning more from the man himself…

Souliers MARTINEZ celebrates the intricate and ancient art of hand-lacing; what exactly does the technique involve? Where did your inspiration to champion the skill come from? 
The hand-lacing technique takes time and several meticulous steps. First of all, the leatherware has to be cut into thin, double-faced strips and rolled into reels (coils); these are then laced by the braiders following the pattern of each shoe style. It can take up to three days to finalise a pair of thigh-high boots, since the craftsmen have to be very careful.

We mainly use two types of braiding. One is called Rejilla, which has a very similar technique to the traditional cane work, and is incredibly adaptable to the summer season. The other is called Damas, which has a tight leather strip pattern, and is more suited to colder temperatures. Hand-lacing as a technique is one that few craftsmen still master; it’s a traditional skill that is usually passed down from mother to daughter over a long period of time.

All of our shoes are hand-laced, assembled and finished in Spain. It is a resolute approach to support local production on a human scale and to perpetuate craft techniques. After visiting a workshop near Alicante in 2013, everything started to develop in my mind. I wanted to perfectly blend Spanish inspiration and traditional craftsmanship with Parisian style, exploring it through the many technical possibilities of modern and timeless designs such as the thigh-high and ankle boots, pumps, and sandals. The technique provides an incredible and wide range of weaving patterns and colour combinations.

Who or what inspires you and the Souliers MARTINEZ aesthetic? 
Craftsmen are my main inspiration – Souliers MARTINEZ is born out of real passions in my life. The brand also acts as a tribute to the shoes that my Spanish grandmother, with her timeless Mediterranean elegance, used to wear. I always imagine such elegant, passionate, creative, and radiant women wearing my shoes, and I want to celebrate them.

Actresses playing in Pedro Almodovar films such as Carmen Maura, Penelope Cruz and Rossi de Palma, have always inspired me; they are strong, independent, bold and sometimes even eccentric. They accept who they are with humour, using their clothes and shoes to express their personality and to create a character.

The Spanish countryside and Balearic Islands are also an amazing source of inspiration for me, and I often go there to recharge and create. Nothing is better for me than smelling the fig trees, orange blossom and the salty wind from the Mediterranean sea to start a new collection. The warm palette and hand-lacing technique combined evokes the Spanish side of my brand, however France is also an important part of my personal history and personality and I try to always add a French touch to the shoes. I want to bring a Spanish holiday feeling and emotion to everyday life.

What do you envisage for the future of Souliers MARTINEZ, and how do you see the Vanguard programme helping you to achieve this?
I would like to grow my business sustainably, step by step. In such a saturated industry of fashion, it is crucial to remain faithful to the identity and image of the brand; it is about being sure that your message is coherent and honest, while proposing a very recognisable and relevant product.

I want to maintain my close relationship with the craftspeople. The valuable experience in getting to know them acted as my incentive to research and work on the art of hand-lacing, which in turn led to the very first shoe collection. I am really excited to work with Net-A-Porter, to propose this savoir-faire on a global scale; the help and resources of the Vanguard programme will allow us to build and maintain a successful and sustainable company by establishing a link between my hand-crafted and Parisian-minded brand, and an international business model.

As a product designer myself, I’d love to extend my range in the near future, meanwhile always promoting the arts and crafts such as ceramics or woodworking. Perhaps we could investigate new heel shapes and materials, and explore unexpected fabrics to hand-lace – I would love to collaborate with more and more artists, sculptors and craftsmen.

Julien Martinez joins The Vanguard at Net-A-Porter alongside Les Reveries, Ruh and Gu_de. Click here to discover more and shop the collections.

In case you missed it, discover which sandals Caroline Issa will be wearing for the final days of summer.