Speak to creatives as often as we do and you begin to realise there are loads of things they have in common. One such commonality that’s surprisingly prevalent is a wonderfully weird side project. When it comes to Na Kim and June Park, two book cover designers at the New York publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux, their side project involves making incredibly delicate and elegant shoes – out of bread. In a stroke of genius, they have named this project Panolo Blahnik. (“The name needed to be as ridiculous as the idea,” says Na, “so we just decided to lean into it. Go ~ f u l l f a s h i o n ~ lol.”)
How did such a specific hobby even come about? “We were having lunch one day in September,” says June, “and Na noticed that one of the free breadsticks that came with our soups resembled a shoe. That was the start.” Na has a slightly different take on the project’s birth, putting it more down to the pair’s paltry lunch options. “This past spring, our offices moved from the West Village to the Financial District, and since then, choosing what to have for lunch has become a daily crisis,” she explains. “The options were bleak and are still bleak. There’s nothing joyous about eating out of a cardboard bowl at your desk every day. The breadshoe, in some sick way, was born from our desperate, sad lunches.”
The process of making these “breadshoes” couldn’t be simpler. “Have lunch, collect bread, see what kind of silhouette it holds and if it has any distinct characteristics,” says June. “We then take it to our workstation, which is full of office supplies, and see what we can mix and match it with. We also keep a growing stash of wafers, cookies, dried fruits and nuts, that serve as finishing touches to the shoes.”
GalleryNa Kim and June Park: Panolo Blahnik (Behind the scenes)
Often it’s the raw material – the bread – that dictates what the final shoe should look like. For instance, Na explains, she and June have held back a pack of Loacker cocoa wafers, because “it would make a perfect heel for the Commes des Garcons x Nike Platform Cortez”, but the perfect top hasn’t quite materialised yet. Other than that, the only real challenges are: making sure the bread doesn’t get too stale (it becomes far less pliable when dry); and making sure it doesn’t become a chore and remains fun (which, Na assures us, it still is).
What’s curious is how Panolo Blahnik has developed over the months Na and June have been working on it. “Honestly, it started out as a joke (it’s a goddamn bread shoe),” says Na, “but it’s evolved into a weekly practice for us – something that I really look forward to.” For June, the collaboration has been a “therapeutic addition” to her creative practice, a “much-needed break from working on a computer” and a way to use “the muscles and parts of my brain that I typically don’t get to exercise freely”.
Is there a deeper point here, perhaps? Na has a go: “Every day, we project familiarity onto the things we encounter and use our imaginations to fill in the gaps. By taking a step back from the known and expected, and translating these connections in a tangible way, we’re learning new ways to connect the dots, maybe?”
At the end of the day, however, both she and June are keen nobody goes looking too hard for any hidden meanings: “All in all, we are just playing with our food.”