Heinz Mariacher : a fantastic designer
Heinz Mariacher : does that name still ring a bell ? For the 80th anniversary of Scarpa, La Fabrique verticale has met one of the best shoemaker of the climbing small world. Despite his own claim that he’s not a “real shoemaker,” Heinz Mariacher is the name behind some of today’s most popular climbing shoes of the italian brand Scarpa.
When and how did you start climbing ?
Heinz Mariacher : At first as a boy by myself, exploring steep canyons with very loose rock near my home in Austria. Then I did two real mountain routes with my older brother in the Kaisergebirge, grade 4 and 5. At the age of eleven I free soloed a 5+ mountain route with sneakers and no climbing gear. At fifteen I really started climbing on a regular basis. In the 1970s I climbed many big walls in the Alps, in the 1980s I discovered sportclimbing and that’s what I like most until today.
When did you become a shoemaker?
Heinz Mariacher : I’m not a shoemaker, in the early eighties I just saw a need to improve climbing shoes, because it’s the most important piece of equipment for a climber. I continue to have ideas about concepts and how to make them work, but the assembling is a job that gets better done by the skilled hands of professionals who work regularly in the production line. After many years, of course, I have some experience and knowledge in this sector.
This year, after the 90th anniversary of La Sportiva, Scarpa is going to celebrate 80 years of making shoes. You have a personal history with these two brands. Can you explain it ?
Heinz Mariacher : This is a story of many years and would deserve a very long answer. But to say something with a few words, my collaboration and influence made an important impact for both brands. I owned a big stake of La Sportiva North America and discontinued my collaboration after La Sportiva Italy bought my shares in 2005. At the time I had no plans about my future and dreamed about being again a real full time climber. But soon after my exit from La Sportiva I was contacted by Scarpa and thought to give it a try.
As you see in the publications about their anniversary, La Sportiva is trying to hide my nearly 25 years of collaboration (there was much more than just the Mariacher model!), while Scarpa, on the other hand, shows me lots of respect and appreciation.
What is the most important part of the shoe designing process for you?
Heinz Mariacher : A good concept and lots of testing! I think, it makes a big difference if a shoe designer is a tester himself. Because it’s much easier to understand on my own feet what’s right and what’s wrong. In my case it’s a big advantage that I have a footshape that represents the average pretty well. I also learned with time how to make shoes that adapt and mold well to individual footshapes.
The market is growing a lot, as more and more people are discovering climbing in rock gyms. Therefore, there are more and more new brands emerging. What do you think of these opportunistic brands ?
Heinz Mariacher : I think that they will hardly come out with real innovation. Because they are mainly interested in the business part. Traditional brands like Scarpa have a different connection to their work, they really love what they do. And that’s something that goes into the products.
This year, during OutDoor tradeshow, a lot of brands has presented new models including knit (new textile used for running shoes). What do you think of this material ? Is it a passing fad, a fashionable phenomen, according to you ? Or something interesting to improve confort ?
Heinz Mariacher : I worked on knit shoe prototypes at least 5 years ago. But I didn’t proceed because microfiber materials are just much more functional. The knit shoes that are actually on the market are very basic and more fashionable than performing. I don’t think they will disappear very soon. Because there are many users that consider climbing a fitness activity in climbing gyms. Many of these new fitness-climbers will never climb outside where real precision is crucial. Knit shoes are OK if the expectation for performance is low. And if the main interest is to keep them on for hours.
With the new public only climbing in the rockgym, the shoes seems to become more confortable and the rubber softer. Scarpa is going on the same path ?
Heinz Mariacher : No other brand has a soft line like Scarpa, right now we have four soft performance models : Drago, Chimera, Furia S and Furia 80. And here I have to add that making shoes that are just soft is easy, but making soft shoes that are precise and work well on harder rock climbs is quite difficult.
Thinking back, in the early eighties I discovered that climbing with soft shoes is much more fun than climbing with stiff precision shoes. Maybe someone remembers the purple/yellow ballerina I had developed with the same leather of the Mariacher model in 1982 (see photo bellow). Some years later I made an improved version, the Mantra. In fact, it was a fantastic super soft slipper. But both were too early to become popular. All this was long before the era of public climbing gyms! Now, with Scarpa, I’m totally back on that path. Also because I think that climbing with soft shoes makes you a better climber.
What is the future of climbing shoes for you ?
Heinz Mariacher : New possibilities with new materials and technologies. Climbing evolved in many different directions/disciplines, which created a need for specialized shoes. A dedicated climber carries three pairs of shoes in his bag, a soft and sensitive model, a precision model. And a model that is somewhere in between.