Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Shoe Haute Couture : Designer or architect?

The average woman in Britain spends approximately £31,680 on shoes in a lifetime and that amount has risen by 34.3 per cent since 2001. Shoe designers are the new doyennes of the fashion world and shoes are object d’art.

Tamara Mellon former accessories editor of Vogue saw a window of opportunity a decade or more ago and borrowed £150,000 from her father to buy a 50 per cent stake in Jimmy Choo. Mellon is the daughter of Tommy Yeardye, the co-founder of Vidal Sassoon.

Jimmy Choo was a little-known niche couture designer based in Hackney, East London. Choo was a graduate of the influential Cordwainers College had been making shoes for a select clientele, including the Princess of Wales. In the time Mellon joined the company, Jimmy Choo had gone from an individual's name to a brand that carries phenomenal currency. Despite the fiscal success it was reported Choo and Mellon stopped speaking after Mellon negotiated a deal with Equinox Luxury Holdings Ltd, in 2001 to buy out Jimmy Choo. Now the designer holds no stake in the global business, aside from the Jimmy Choo Couture range, for which he works under license.

Jimmy Choo is now a name that trips easily from most fashion-conscious women's lips and the company is worth a staggering £101 million. The brand has been made covetable on a grand scale, thanks to the high quality of design of Sandra Choi, (Jimmy Choo's niece). There are 30 Jimmy Choo boutiques across the world at present.

Another London based shoe designer Olivia Morris has picked up an impressive celebrity clientele for her creations. Kate Moss, Madonna, Demi Moore and Dita von Tees all have shoes designed by Morris. The power of celebrity to sell shows well recognised with major fashion houses using well-known supermodels on their billboards.

But some designers like Manolo Blahnik prefer not to advertise or even stage shows for new collections. What sells his shoes is word of mouth granted usually from one A-lister to another but his craftsmanship is the selling point. Blahnik carves each heel himself; first on the machine and then manually with a file and chisel, until the prototype is exactly as he wants it to be. Like several others Manolo Blahnik studied literature and architecture at the university of Geneva in the 1960s before becoming a shoe designer.

So too did French shoe designer Robert Clergerie who trained as an architect before starting work at Charles Jourdan in 1971 and setting up his eponymous French label in 1981.

Bermondsey-based company United Nude is a living example of the synergy that exists between footwear and architecture. Founded by Dutch architect Rem D Koolhaas (the nephew of architect Rem Koolhaas) and Galahad Clark (scion of the Somerset-based shoe company), United Nude was built on a single, ultra modern shoe that offers two heights but dispenses with a traditional heel.

The Mobius was released in March 2003 and still figures in the collection. A conceptual shoe, it is constructed from a single strip that is sole, heel, foot bed and upper.

Another emerging shoe designer with an architectural background is Milan-based Max Kibardin. In 1993 the designer won a scholarship to Bratsk University of Industry where he specialised in economics and management in building constructions.

London-based Nicholas Kirkwood, is currently being fêted by Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Harrods in London for his clean, structured lines. The young shoe designer cites sculpture and architecture together with the work by Anish Kapoor and Donald Juddas as his inspiration.

He believes shoe heels have an important physical function to fulfill which requires the knowledge of architecture.

Italian luxury shoe label Sergio Rossi, by contrast, is a stalwart when it comes to stilettos. However, since Edmundo Castillo (who previously had his own New York-based shoe label) was appointed creative director in 2004, he has indulged an interest in architecture. One of Castillo's favourite styles was inspired by the art nouveau movement.

Reviewed 9/01/2017

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