Salomon XT-6 with Benjamin Grenet | Footpatrol Meets
As you may have seen from our recent social posts, we’re helping Salomon by celebrating the 10th anniversary of one of their most famed silhouettes, the XT-6. At Footpatrol, we were lucky enough to be one of the very few stockists around the world to launch the XT-6 10Y. With each pair numbered and limited to 804 worldwide, this unique pair harks back to its beginnings within the world of performance and trail running hence its near all red upper and features ‘Prototype’ detailings across the heel linking it back to that rich heritage it was founded.
Rolling out a series of special content surrounding the XT-6, we hopped on a call with the original designer of the XT-6, Benjamin Grenet to discuss his past within footwear design, the crossover between performance and trends and of course, the XT-6.
Footpatrol: So, let’s kick things off at the very start… Could you share with our audience how you got yourself into footwear design and in particular how you became a footwear designer at Salomon?
Benjamin: Firstly, I’m definitely more a product designer than a footwear designer and was designing long before my role at Salomon with different agencies. I’ve designed everything from boats and tools but I was always interested in performance products. I had the opportunity to join Salomon in ‘02, more than twenty years ago in the position as a bag designer for Salomon and did this for three years. It was interesting, very rich and I discovered the world of performance products through our S–Lab label and this was where I did my first design dedicated to athletes through this S-Lab line. It was three years later though that I joined the footwear team. I was a total virgin when it came to footwear design but I discovered everything about footwear from this moment and had at that time the position of Advanced Innovation designer which was good as I could dedicate my time to innovation without the pressures of the commercial aspect. So I had the different position of footwear design, designing products for hiking, trail running, S-Lab and now I manage the in-line team for footwear.
Footpatrol: So talking of S-Lab, technology and performance, we’re here to talk about the 10th anniversary of the XT-6, how does it make you feel to think it’s 10 years old now?
Benjamin: It’s strange! It’s strange to think we designed this product ten years ago and that it’s still alive and with definitely more quantities than in the past with the original product but it’s with thanks to our consumers who love the product and are still excited to wear the product.
Footpatrol: It must be a unique feeling seeing people wear something you’ve designed, whether that’s on the city streets or winning competitions around the world, what’s that feeling like as a designer?
for sure it’s pleasant for a designer to see their designs out on the street but I would say my real victory is to see my kids every morning with an XT-6 on their feet. It’s never happened in the past that my kids have wanted to wear different products but it’s the first time in my career that I see my kids wear something that was designed by their dad!
Footpatrol: As you say, you see your kid going to school, you see it during fashion weeks but can you tell us more about the original inspiration behind the XT-6?
Benjamin: Of course, so I’m very interested in motorsport, by all the mechanical products, it’s where I try to bring inspiration to my products especially for such a technical range like trail running. From the automotive world, I’m very intrigued by the technology and how the technology is the starting point of the design and not trying to hide this and instead trying to put the technology at the forefront of the design and as an element of the design aesthetic. That’s how I like to work, starting by understanding how we want to create the product in terms of functionality, I always try to avoid the question of the style, it’s not a question of the style, it’s more a concept of the technology and how we play with that within the design.
Footpatrol: Ok so when we talk about design, what are the kind of timelines you’ll be working towards? How long did it take to get to that final design of the XT-6?
Benjamin: In-fact, It’s both, It’s very quick but also a very long time… Let me explain. It’s a very long process because it’s an XT-6, a sixth generation of a very long evolution from the XT-Wings which was the first generation with this chassis and technology. We started to develop the S-LAB XT-1 and the 6 is this sixth generation, it’s a long evolution. So if we consider all the products before, it’s a very long time but between the 5 and the 6, within my career it was probably the fastest I had designed. Because thanks to those five products before, we had a lot of maturity and a greater understanding about the technology and what we needed to change and move. The most problematic aspect of the 6 was creating visibility on the market and how we can create a signature product within the market.
Footpatrol: So for those who may be unaware of where Salomon is from and the location of Annecy, how does the terrain that surrounds Annecy play in terms of testing and how important is it in regards to the end result.
Benjamin: Very important! The possibility to be very reactive to the test and the ability to test immediately and test any new prototypes with the mountains that surround us, it means we can test all year round. You can see it as a big laboratory but most important to us for the development of the product like S-LAB is the connection with athletes. It’s important to test the product but this line starts with the athletes and the core runners we have on our teams. Their ability to understand and test during runs or races it’s where we can learn or fail very quickly because they don’t have any empathy, they’ll tell you if a product works or it doesn’t work with no filter!
Footpatrol: Just touching on lifestyle and the day to day wearing of the shoe. Where do you see the XT-6 going within the lifestyle market.
Benjamin: Good question… It’s a secret! Haha. No, for sure, not only for the XT-6 but for all the lines is sustainability. The journey and how we can involve all our products in a more sustainable way and that’s how I see the story of the XT-6, without any spoilers! We have such a talented colour design team here at the design centre and we have a ton of beautiful colour ways to propose to the market and the XT-6 is very important to that. It’s a very good base for new colour propositions.
Footpatrol: One thing we were interested to learn was that the XT-6 mould was nearly destroyed at one point. Could you share a bit more about how this nearly came about and how it was thankfully saved!
Benjamin: It’s a very interesting point, it was something we discovered within our new position within sportstyle and how we can achieve and could re-propose to consumers. It’s a tricky point, from our performance product when it starts to be obsolete within performance it’s sometimes too early to propose it within Sportstyle, we sometimes need to wait some time but it’s difficult to sometimes measure this time. It’s tricky but this learning with the XT-6 helps direct us in the correct way for future silhouettes.
Footpatrol: Just touching back on the lifestyle aspect, so with the outdoor trends within fashion at the moment, how do you keep in touch with the loyalist of the brand but also look towards the future with these trends.
Benjamin: I would say, our performance line helps us stay humble and true. Within the performance line, we are able to provide something more authentic than Sportstyle and without that, without S-LAB, without the connection to athletes it will not be the same as Sportstyle. It’s very important to me to keep this link and it’s this timeless product that will help us within the Sportstyle line. We are in the outdoor Sportstyle, because of our outdoor performance.
Footpatrol: I suppose for those wanting to learn a little bit more about the different lines like for example, the XT-4 to the XT-6, how would you explain this?
Benjamin: It’s an evolution based on the same concept. In-fact, the XT-4 is based on the bottom unit of the XT-Wings, a non S-LAB product, at that time we created an S-LAB version, changed the outsole, lighter and transformed it to transform it to a more performance product. The XT-6 is based on the XT-Wings 2 and 3 bottom unit so it’s a slight evolution between both. What was funny was I designed the XT-Wings and another designer transformed it to S-LAB and for the 6, I designed the S-LAB and that designer designed the XT-Wings so we changed around.
Footpatrol: There’s been lots of Xt-6’s over the years but do you have a personal favourite? A colour way? A collaboration that resonates with you?
Benjamin: Woah! Now that’s a very difficult question… Of course I prefer the original but there are so many good variations of the XT-6. The one I prefer is always the next one that’s proposed by our design team. I’m not the creator of the new colourways but more the guardian of the temple and I’m always surprised by what our designers are able to propose so I’m always amazed by the next ones. So I’d have to say the first one, and the next one, the future ones!
Footpatrol: A timeless silhouette and like you say, hopefully in five, ten years we can have an even more in-depth conversation on how this silhouette has evolved and hope you’re there to tell that story again so thanks for taking the time to talk to us and we’ll speak again soon!
Benjamin: It’s a pleasure, you’re welcome!