Like most things in life, there’s not a foolproof journey to becoming a creative. Some people know right away that they were made to create art and for others, art is something that they fall into. Nicolas Cabanes-Gelly just so happens to be the latter.
Growing up, Cabanes found himself interested in science, Biology in particular. Yet once he entered university, he realized that something felt off. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but he wasted no time and decided to leave school. Without hesitation, Cabanes caught a flight to Thailand with his closest friends and escaped reality for a couple of months. This journey inspired Cabanes to embark on a new adventure, so he returned home and began exploring design.
One thing led to another, resulting in the birth of Kah-Bane, Nicolas Cabanes-Gelly’s artist alter-ego, inspired by the iconic Batman villain and Nicolas’ own last name. Learn more about Kah-Bane as we talk to him about his time at fashion school in Paris, how he got into customs, creating a sneaker database with more than 10,000 pairs, and how he’s been able to bring his concepts to life.
Nice Kicks: Tell us about yourself. What’s your name and where are you from?
Kah-Bane: “My name is Nicolas Cabanes-Gelly, also known as, Kah-Bane. I’m 27-years-old and I’m from Montpellier in the South of France.”
What’s the meaning behind “Kah-Bane?”
“Kah-Bane is my nickname since I was a teenager, given to me by my group of friends. Since I was a kid I have always been called by my last name, but I spelled it ‘Kah-Bane’ because in high school my nickname was shortened to ‘Bane,’ who was also the villain in Batman. I was quite [angsty] when I was young. Then when I created my Instagram, I wanted to keep this nickname of Bane, while connecting my last name to this nickname. ‘Ca-Banes’ did not please me typologically as an artist name, so I spelled it ‘Kah-Bane’ instead.”
How did you get introduced to art and design?
“I guided myself to art by my influences, my friends, and traveling. Basically, I was very scientific until [entering school for] Biology. Arriving at my major, I felt that I was on the wrong path and that it was not aligning with me as a person, so I decided to take a completely different turn. I left [school] and went to Thailand for 2 months with friends. When I got back, I decided to embark on an unknown adventure which fascinated me, the world of design.”
What made you interested in sneakers?
“I have been interested in sneakers for a long time. I played football for 16 years, I was a big fan of soccer shoes. Therefore I was naturally interested in the parallel trainers that I wore everyday in class. So I would say that from 14-years-old, I entered the world of sneakers. I started to learn more and became interested in many pairs and their history. I’m very passionate so I got inspired and learned from everything I saw, read, or even wore. I like old vintage sneakers as much as futuristic, innovative sneakers – which I try to put forward in my concepts.”
What made you interested in designing and customizing sneakers? When did you first get started?
“I started designing sneakers as soon as I ‘learned’ to draw. My real beginnings in the design of sneakers started in fashion school. My concept sneakers on Instagram started two years ago when I was in New York City. One of my roommates wanted to buy a pair of Timberlands, but he was not a fan of the sole. I took my computer and I photoshopped a mix of Timberlands, with the sole of a Balenciaga Triple S to see what it looked like with an extra bulky sole. I liked the idea of this concept, and out of passion for sneakers, I started to create several concepts. What appeals to me the most is the collaborative fun that I’ve created between different brands that often have nothing to do with each other. In customization, I got [experience] because I worked in a customization company as a graphic designer. I learned all the elements from there in order to be able to customize a pair. In terms of creation, I found that there were a lot of problems. I didn’t find any interesting customs, despite the potential of the sneakers, so I decided to make my own customs more free and creative, rather than simply responding to customer demand.”
What’s your favorite pair you’ve ever made?
“I realized two concepts that I designed with my brother Nicolo Russo from Twins Design Studio. I was able to make two unique pairs, the Blazer Force 1 “Triple Swoosh” and the Air Force 4 “Ancestral.” Regarding customs, my first relatively successful pair was an Air Force 1 that I worked in 4 colors, with rivets and a Travis Swoosh.”
Did you go to art school? Are you self-taught or did someone teach you how to design?
“I went to a design school specializing in fashion. Then I finished my school career in a fashion school in Paris. I obtained my fashion designer diploma and with my [graduating class] I had the chance to participate in several competitions, as well as the Graduate Fashion Week in London. It was an incredible experience. I really like the clothes, but I came back after all that to my main passion which is sneakers. All of this allowed me to carry out designs and very fashionable customs. I know how to adapt to any request, I project myself easily into fairly complex designs. I’m very far from being a genius, or the best in this field, but I’m a great creative, a great worker, and above all, a great enthusiast.”
How would you describe your style?
“It’s complicated to describe myself by a style. I don’t really have a specific style, but I like diversity in materials, mixtures of strange colors, novelties, and innovations. But at the same time, I like the vintage style, sporty sneakers, chic shoes, and complexity in construction. I would say that I have a streetwear style that’s modern, while also mixing vintage and chic pieces. It’s quite representative of the concepts that I carry out.”
How does your craftsmanship add to the sneaker community?
“I think my work is inspiring from the point of view of its diversity. My concepts allow new forms to emerge and new collaborations exist.”
How do you decide on a colorway? What inspires your designs?
“At the concept level, I often try to associate pairs with their OG colorway. Over time I refine and make some modifications so that the concept is cohesive. At the custom level, either my clients give me [colorway] guidelines, then I take care of the design and the color layout. If I’m allowed free rein on a project, the colorway comes quite instinctively. I often think of a color that I want to work on and then build my pair around this main color as I go. I really build the pair as I progress. I find that this process allows me to end up with unique products.”
What company makes the best silhouettes? Do you have loyalty to any brand?
“I do not know because I am really curious about everything that is done. With my mash-up and concept work, I have to be curious about everything. I have a shoe database [that I’ve been building for] 2 years, with more than 10,000 different models. I have worked on more than 3,000 models at least.”
How has your work developed over time?
“My work is constantly evolving in terms of quality, it’s like everything else, the more you practice, the more you refine your skills. I evolve thanks to my life experiences and what is done in fashion trends, but also by the culture around sneakers. You need to be focused on your goals and think constantly about renewing yourself. It’s not easy, but with perseverance and creativity, ideas will come. From my point of view, you need to produce a lot and do a lot of experimentation in order to develop your art and make it evolve.
What’s the biggest challenge for you as an artist?
“We don’t do this to make money, but I think for any artist it’s not easy at the beginning to earn a living through art. It’s hard at the beginning to get monetized, especially when you do something with pleasure and passion. Not to mention financially, as an artist, the challenge is to be persevering, to know how to constantly renew yourself, to communicate your art. It takes so many things into account. It’s super simple to see art, but there is so much that gravitates around it – working time, reflection, production, networks, contact, content, communication. The ultimate challenge is to know how to manage all of this in order to succeed in having fun and living from your art.”
What’s your favorite pair of shoes that you own?
“I really like the pairs of Sacai, which I have in large numbers and the last pair I bought, which is the Raf Simons Cyclon 21. I also have the Solefly x Air Jordan 1 “Miami Art Basel,” pair 136 out of 233 which is real bomb.”
What’s been your favorite moment in your career thus far?
“Professionally I’d say it’s when I [worked on] a show at London Graduate Fashion Week. Also the fact of having realized two of my concepts in real life. But what makes me really happy are the exchanges with people – creating unique pairs and seeing the state of joy of my customers upon receipt of the pair.”
How do people purchase customs from you?
“For the custom order, just contact me on Instagram. I try to answer as quickly as possible. Generally my clients give me the color tones they want and leave me free on the design of the pair. Each custom is unique so prices may vary, but we are on a basis of €250 for my service with a delay of two or three weeks.”
What are you hoping to achieve with your work? Where do you see Kah Bane in 5 years?
“In five years, I don’t know, but I’m thinking of a lot of projects. Thanks to Instagram, the opportunities are numerous and quite varied. I would love to create my own brand of sneakers, but you have to go step-by-step.”
Nike Air Force 4 “Ancestral” by Kah-Bane and TwinsDesignStudio
All photos provided by @kah_bane.