Montebelluna, province of Treviso, a population of just over thirty thousand and Celtic roots to which locality owes the origins of its name: ‘strong fortress.’ For over sixty years it has in fact been the guardian and bulwark of a tradition, that of shoe manufacturing. Specifically, mountain footwear.
However, typing Montebelluna into the YouTube search bar, one of the first videos popping up is an amateur footage of a man, in his underwear, bursting into the outdoor area of a bar nearby the historical piazza, throwing its chairs into the air.
The Italian province in its most classic of paradigms: tradition, entrepreneurial avant-garde and creative madness. Today in Montebelluna these concepts are called into question with DEMON, a brand that aspires to refresh the canons of the local footwear-making tradition by looking beyond the city boundaries. An intuition that comes from afar, from London, where in 2018 Alberto Deon had an intuition. Born in 1995, the young designer, trained as an architect, has rediscovered the importance of identity and “hyperlocal” stories to the point of wanting to bring back to life, in his own way and more than 20 years after its closure, the family business set up by his grandfather Girolamo in the years of the Italian Boom.
The lysergic fascination for gorpcore
The name chosen for this new incarnation of the historic brand seems to suggest the harsh and edgy, demonic precisely, traits that now distinguish the new incarnation of its footwear. They make no secret of tapping into contemporary culture's love affair for both technical materials and dark-edged aesthetics. One of these no doubt is gorpcore, the trend that over the last decade was responsible for turning mountainwear and technical garments into a distinguished protagonist of urban catwalks.
“Montebelluna is the city of gorpcore. From a historical perspective it has always been specialised in the development of sports footwear, going all the way to the ski boot. I think of a series of companies, such as Scarpa, that are world leaders in this culture, even if they seem to be ignoring the phenomenon today,” explains Alberto who speaks about the “conjunction” of contingent events and narratives that merged to define the brand identity.
“Gorpcore, after all, is a lysergic fascination of city kids born out of the ashes of hipsteria and subsequent normcore and hyperrealism. For these companies, it is completely vague and, perhaps, even a bit ridiculous. It has to be said, however, that it has noble reasons for being: it speaks of a different way of experiencing tourism and leisure, less about splurging but more about hard work as a form of leisure.”
Also testifying to the goodness of Alberto’s intuition is the fact that DEMON is now part of the roster of brands stocked by Slam Jam, the cultural hub and store promoting a new urban and countercultural aesthetic, spreading from Milan to the world.
They saw in DEMON a further contamination between this phenomenon and other aesthetics, which I believe is what will happen in the future. Although followers hate the term itself and many argue that ‘gorpcore is dead,’ I think we are far from seeing an end to it. More likely we are facing a dialectical overcoming of gorpcore, we will witness its dissimulation and more declinations in the years to come.
Gorpcore speaks of a different way of experiencing tourism and leisure, less about splurging but more about hard work as a form of leisure.
The new urban role of mountain-oriented design
We are witnessing, today, a reversal of the purpose for which these shoes were created. It would thus come to question whether it was finally nature that reappropriated urban spaces or whether, on the contrary, even the mountains have not been immune to a certain fetishization by man.
“I think talking about the gentrification of the mountains is the best way to describe the dynamics within which a process similar to urban gentrification has taken place”, Deon tells Domus. “Hotels and a whole couture apparatus have profoundly changed the landscape, pushing it well beyond our vernacular imagery of ski holidays. Indeed, at the moment there are much more architecturally open challenges there than in the city.”
It is in fact no surprise that a much-hyped figure in the cultural and architectural discourse such as Carlo Mollino was fond of the mountains, both on the sporting and design side.
And at the core of DEMON’s production are indeed exquisitely technical materials and specific skills rooted in Italian manufacturing tradition, such as cordura and protective foam bands, while the soles are exclusively 1980s and 1990s Vibram patents..
“There are actually few gestures that bring footwear to a more expressionist dimension, often limited to the shape of the soles that are completely alien to other mountain footwear. I think part of the charm of the operation comes from this, which allows for a narrative of preservation of a precise manufacturing context,” Alberto says.
Fluidity in design as an Italian heritage
With DEMON we witness, as in the whole industry, a desire for multidisciplinarity that also suggests a return to the creative mixtures that have always fuelled the Italian tradition. Deon comes across as a creative person fascinated and challenged by experimentation with a variety of artistic disciplines rather than by the fashion exercise itself: from music to performance and figures such as Ugo La Pietra. “It would be nice if there was more hustle and bustle among young realities like this one, more opportunities and access to manufacturing resources. If we think, for instance, about what was taking place in the 1960s”.
To tie these elements together is the centrality of storytelling, which for Alberto corresponds to redeeming the province as a treasure chest of “hyperlocal expertise,” but without “demonising consumption, but by harmonising narratives with marketing and design.” After all, as the young creative observes, “the local is the new luxury.” Yet the province struggles to understand so, clambering into grotesque attempts – Deon continues – to open up to global scenarios by letting its own identity slowly vanish forever.
That of DEMON appears, then, as a mission that goes beyond the product, becoming a question of responsibility to the country itself, but especially to the province, home of that creative folly from which everything generates.
All photos courtesy of DEMON