If you want to find Renault design chief Laurens van den Acker at an auto show, the best thing to do is to look at everyone's shoes. For nearly 10 years, van den Acker has been matching custom-made sneakers to the color of Renault's latest concept or production model, often with the model name printed on the shoe.
That has resulted in more than 20 pairings of cars and sneakers.
For the EZ-GO concept in 2018, he wore a pair of gray Adidas Superstars with turquoise stripes and laces and a gold heel piece. Last year, he ordered up orange-and-black Le Coq Sportifs to complement the "Atacama Orange" of the new generation Captur small SUV.
Now, van den Acker, a tall Dutchman who favors sleek suits, is formalizing a partnership with Le Coq Sportif, a French brand that uses the unofficial national bird, the rooster, as its logo.
In addition to the Captur orange sneakers, there will be a blue Twingo model. There is no word on whether they will be available for the general public to buy -- car designers are not exactly superstars outside of the auto industry -- but van den Acker said more sneakers are in the works, including a "yellow" one that would appear "in the next few months," presumably signaling that Renault will be showing a yellow-hued concept vehicle at the Geneva auto show.
Unsurprisingly, van den Acker has a lot to say about footwear.
He said that he started wearing sneakers with suits as an act of mild rebellion. "When I started working and wore my first suits, I felt like I was stepping into the skin of my father," he said in an interview published on Renault's media site. "Sneakers were a way for me to express a somewhat sportier personality."
They also have practicality, he said: "At a motor show, where you have to walk miles, you want the most comfortable shoes."
Sneakers as SUVs?
"There are far more links between shoes and cars than you might think at first," he said. "The sole is a little bit like the segment of the car" -- think of a running shoe sole as a sports car chassis, for example -- "the shoe top a bit like the body, and the laces are the signature of the shoe, like grilles on cars."
More than that, he said, "shoes are simple objects but communicate a lot of different things," noting the people's personalities are often expressed through their shoes.
And his colorful custom sneakers are hardly an afterthought as he and his team are working on a new model.
"The creative process is practically the same as with a car," he said. Van den Acker and Francois Blanchard, a Renault designer, get together and decide on what direction the sneakers should take. They then start sketching and work with sneaker designers to build the shoes.
His ideal sneaker? "Simple and comfortable, but taking things further in terms of materials," van den Acker said. "Maybe flexible metal, and 3D printing. And why not 'smart sneakers'?"
"To make a shoe more alive, you could play with light, technology and movement, to make walking an even more sensory experience," he added. "And why not a shoe that wouldn't get scuffed and worn, or one that could heat or cool your feet depending on the season?"
As for the sneakers he wears the most, that would be the red-and-black Adidas that matched the DeZir concept and the show version of the Clio IV small hatchback. They "remind me of how my adventure with Renault began, he said. The two vehicles "were full of heart and soul, and they previewed everything that came afterwards," he said. "It's a little like your first love: You never forget it."