by Carina Chela
Spotting Aki Choklat in a crowd is not that difficult: look out for his shoes -probably the most eclectic or spiciest footwear in the street.
Choklat’s own AC collection – focusing on high quality men’s shoes – has spellbound a set of international loyal Choklat devotees. Currently Choklat is working on his forthcoming book Menswear Trends. As of January 2016 the Finnish-Moroccan cutting-edge footwear and accessories designer is Chair of Fashion Accessories Design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, USA.
Your first choice of a career was not in design. You pursued a diplomatic career, why was that?
Well, I come from a bohemian multi-cultural family. And as a child I had quite a different hobby: I was sketching shoes. But I wanted what most kids had: a normal life. I wanted a good job and money. So I moved to the United States to study at a university and after graduating I did a congressional internship at Capitol Hill. But I was profoundly unhappy. I simply was not meant to sit in an office all day and wear a suit. Politics and office environments are not meant for me.
When do you consider that your career as a shoe designer started?
When I decided to join my sisters in New York. I continued there with my passion: selling and designing shoes in a market stand. We imported Moroccan clothes and accessories making alterations and updating them for street wear. I’ve always loved the Moroccan babouche slippers and, among other things, I redesigned them and they sold! Someone bought one of my designs and when I realised how happy that person was, well, I never looked back again. That was around 1997 and, although it has often been a struggle, I never regretted taking that road!
With designs you never really know. Many times the shoe that I didn’t even want to show becomes the best seller. It’s difficult to predict what will be a success.
When do you feel most creative?
When I go to the factories. When I see all the materials and machines I get new ideas for the seasons to come. I love being in a factory… maybe it’s because my first job in design was working on the factory floor designing for various brands. Like many designers my process of creating starts with inspiration. Everything – stories, life, relationships, exhibitions – inspires me, I sit down and design endlessly, no problem there.
What do you think about Finnish footwear?
We have some special traditions that we excel in. The Finnish birch bark [tuohi virsu] shoes are very unique to Finland, same as felt and even the combination of these two. I also think that Finnish footwear design talent is remarkable and world class. The innovations of Julia Lundsten’s label Finsk, Minna Parikka’s fun but romantic collections, Janne Lax and his bespoke tradition meets sportswear and the legendary Pertti Palmroth that was selling globally decades ago.
What about your work for Lahtiset?
I really like to work with those felt models because it is something that is traditionally Finnish. My own AC line has sold very limited numbers in Finland but the ‘Aki Choklat for Lahtiset’ line has sold very well. I think the ACFL-002 is the best seller, a simple slipper with holes on top. And my work for the Lahtiset factory gives me an excuse to visit Finland, not that I need one!
You have taught in several design schools in Europe. Perhaps the most prestigious one is Polimoda School in Florence. What was that experience like?
I am a very down-to-earth person and teaching in any good school is as important as teaching in Polimoda. But of course I considered it an honour to be part of the Polimoda academic family, and working in a school whose president is Salvatore Ferragamo‘s son Ferruccio Ferragamo was obviously very special. It’s rewarding and great to meet new talents. But yes, I must admit that it also was one of the most beautiful teaching environment in the world.
Are you a dreamer or a realist?
I live a very simple, I guess realistic and non-fashion lifestyle. I like hanging around with friends and reading, going to pubs and gardening. But my work life is full of the other more superficial fashion stuff. So I really appreciate the so-called normal life. But a dreamer? Yes, of course. I think a designer has to be a dreamer.
I guess you get asked a lot if you like chocolate?
Occasionally I get asked about this, but not too often. I do love chocolate, dark bitter. I indulge myself from time to time! Sometimes in passport control, when they notice my surname, I get the odd shriek of joy!