In recent years, Cole Haan has upended the world of footwear with its innovative approach to product design. The 89-year-old company has focused resources on evolving its lines of shoes for men and women, creating an innovation center in New Hampshire dedicated to solving problems with shoes commonly ignored by brands in the past half-century. Cole Haan’s design philosophy is manifested in its Grand OS, a system that places value in core footwear elements like flexibility, cushioning and lightness. The diverse team of designers and creatives responsible for shoes like the ZeroGrand Stitchlite Wingtip Oxford, GrandPro Deconstructed Running Sneaker and ZeroGrand Laser Wingtip Oxford are led by Scott Patt, Cole Haan’s VP of Design and Innovation.
Patt is a veteran of the industry, having previously worked with brands like Nike, Converse and Hurley, and is also a visual artist and surfer. At the innovation center, he has cultivated a wealth of talent from many disciplines. His team has backgrounds in industrial design and video game design, material innovation and traditional boot making. Thanks to clear direction and well-established creative boundaries, Cole Haan’s innovation center has produced modern updates to classic silhouettes, pushing shoe design forward with contemporary materials and new designs. We talked to Scott Patt, on a trip to New Hampshire, about what makes the center thrive.
One of the categories is called GrandPro, which is about taking classic silhouettes and modernizing them. So for the brief, it’s literally that. How do I take a classic, but make it better? But then there’s the brief of: How do you invent? How do you do something that’s so different? You don’t really have a starting point. So where do you go with that?
The briefs at the brand are diverse in a lot of ways, with those starting points, and how you twist them for the appropriateness of the silhouette and the wearing occasion, versus “I need to cut better, I need to run faster, I need to perform better.” Ultimately we want people to perform better, but the starting points come from rooted places in style and fashion.
Elegance equates to tradition, and tradition equates to familiar. And some level of familiar for people is incredibly important, whether it’s a little bit or whether it’s the whole thing. That’s the place where you get people into, like, “That looks like something I recognize,” but you pull it off the wall and you’re like, “Holy shit, this is like nothing I know.” And, that’s cool.
The attention to detail of products, the ability to create something that’s functional — that will stand the test of time, of being able to continually update and evolve the brand along with that.
We’ve got great business partners and we’ve got great development and factory partners who care a lot about the stuff we’re doing. If we can’t do it today, we’re working to do it better tomorrow. And I think everybody’s in on that goal and mission, and that collective desire to be better.