For this edition of People & Product, we managed to finally pin down a man who we have known for quite a while through various different avenues. Aasen Stephenson is a local artist, maker, creator and all-round nice guy, with a super steady hand (read on and you’ll see what we mean), and a fascinating home studio filled with interesting objects and obscure curiosities.
He has spent the past few years working at Springline, our Northampton based last supplier (and also the last remaining last supplier in the UK). We have also seen some of his personal projects make their way to being proudly displayed in various places up and down the county too.
Recently Aasen has started a charity drive for Cynthia Spencer Hospice, an organisation providing palliative care services here in Northampton. The basis of the project is that several teams locally come together to raise money for Cynthia Spencer, kindly started by Franklins Solicitors who donate £50 to each participant in the aim to raise as much as possible for a local charity of their choice. To get behind this thoroughly worthwhile cause, Crown Northampton donated a pair of Harlestone sneakers for Aasen to add his handiwork to and we're now giving away the finished pair of sneakers to one lucky winner.
Aasen’s no stranger to hand customising Northampton shoes, essentially taking a tattoo gun to the upper, without the ink, to create a pattern or design into the surface of the leather. Depending on the design and its coverage of the shoe, they can be anything from a small motif to an allover full pattern to form incredibly intricate artworks.
To help support the charity drive, we’re offering a pair of Harlestone Hand Stitch sneakers to anybody that donates ANY amount to Aasen’s Just Giving page from now up until the closing date 12th May. We’ll then select a winner at random who will get to chose their own size and colour combination in the Harlestone style, which Aasen will then customise with one of his fully bespoke designs tattooed into the sneakers. All materials from the Hand Stitch Collection will be available to choose from with the exclusion of Horween Shell Cordovan.
More information on the campaign can be found here.
So, we know Aasen likes to do his bit to help support local charities, but we wanted to know more about him and how his unique skills came about. As is standard with these People & Product features, we sat down with Aasen for a cup of tea and a few custard creams (thanks by the way Aasen, and nice tea pot!) and asked him a few questions all follows...
Aasen, thinking back to your past, how did your creative journey begin?
I’ve always worked with my hands, computers just weren’t my thing growing up. I have always liked to be hands on and create something with absolutely no machine intervention - it’s always got to be manual.
What were your first jobs and how did you end up doing what you do today?
Originally I went to college and studied art but obviously had to get a typical day job to make a living, so I was actually a mechanic in a traditional car garage working on anything and everything they would need me to fix. Alongside that I was always continuing my artwork and way before I ever got into ‘cutting’ or engraving anything, I was actually making more street art style work during the period when the likes of Banksy and other street/pop art names were gaining popularity. I’d work with spray paint, stencils, and generally any sort of mediums I could get my hands on at the time.
And was this when you started the ‘Deathrooms’ brand? What’s the inspiration behind that name?
Deathrooms - ah that comes from my love for music. At the time I was really into a band called The Distillers and I was friends with their lead singer, Brody Dalle. They have an album titled ‘Sing Sing Death House’ which really resonated with me at that time in my life and I just decided to lift the ‘Death House’ name and from then on it’s kind of been a ‘brand’ as such that I've gone by.
Aside from keeping a day job, you’ve also with various different studios and outlets for your creative work. Can you tell us more?
Ever since I got into creating different artwork styles for various people, I began to receive positive response to works I’d done for free or for favours and the like. I've then been able to display my work in a few studios selling work to the public. Looking a few years back,I had a place in the Northampton Fish Market complex which was great, as it was a venue amongst other artists which was set in a cool space that, as the name suggests, was formerly a fish market. Around that time I also moved from the practice of cutting the stencils for spray work to paper cutting. I figured I was cutting the stencils anyway and found something interesting in paper cutting. The more complex the more challenging and ultimately, the more curious the output.
Ah, so that’s how the ‘cutting’ thing came about - we did wonder! So how did you then transition from paper to shoes?
I was cutting designs into paper and then I met a designer who was connected to Alexander McQueen in the fashion world. She had some ideas of how I could then cut into leather and it could be used to make a garment. That led to producing a dress that had a pattern cut into it and even a mens leather jacket, and that was my first venture into cutting leather.
Then obviously from the leather work, came the shoes, right?
Yes, that’s right. Whilst I was at the Fish Market, Guy West of Jeffrey West (another well established Northampton shoe brand) picked up my work and was interested. I had a go at using a tattoo gun without ink to essentially etch designs into the leather and then things spiralled from there. My own style of artwork aligned with the Jeffrey West iconic style and I ended up collaborating with them on many different things. Once I even found myself travelling to a store opening of theirs to customise shoes for people on the spot as they purchased them. That was a trip!
Okay, so it’s safe to say your artwork has taken you on an interesting journey. To bring it right up to the present day, we’ve seen some of your leaf cut designs. How do you create these?
I find leaves in local parks or forests then press them in magazines for around six months so they’re nice and dry and flat. I then cut freestyle designs into them fully by hand and eye. I’ve done all sorts of different styles and those are likely some of the things you have seen on display in various places around the town. There’s something about cutting into a natural object that is already beautiful and intricate in its form and then adding to that beauty further.
Finally. Thank you for your time and hospitality Aason. Our connection with yourself was initially through local last makers Springline where you’ve worked for the past few years as a bespoke last maker among other things. Now you’ve recently moved on to pastures new, we wish you all the best, wherever your creative adventures take you next. Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us and good luck with your charity drive. We also hope you enjoy your chosen pair of Crown Northampton Overstone Derby Sneakers shown in this feature. Finished in your personal choice of Forest Green Horween leather with black sole, we think they suit your style and personality perfectly.
Shop the Overstone in all colours here.
PHOTOGRAPHY & WORDS - Ben Lloyd