August 22 2014

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Nicholas Kirkwood Feels For The Falling Model


Nicholas Kirkwood better have a sturdy mantel. A bit of plywood shelving just won’t hold up under all the awards the English shoe designer has been racking up. There’s the AltaRoma Vogue Italia Who’s on Next award he took home last year, and then the Swarovski Emerging Talent Award for accessories he won at the latest British Fashion Awards, and the Footwear News Designer of the Year award that brought him to New York earlier this month. Given that it’s only been three years, Kirkwood may want to consider investing in a trophy room. For his fans, meanwhile, Kirkwood’s heels are trophies unto themselves, or perhaps something like a Santiago Calatrava skyscraper for the foot: daringly cantilevered, awe-inspiringly high, and balanced, seemingly, by will alone. That architectural sensibility has earned him a following among his fellow designers; he regularly collaborates with Rodarte and Alberta Ferretti for their runways, and this year he joined Jonathan Saunders in the revamp of Pollini. The most intriguing Kirkwood news, however, may be the fact that for Fall 2009, this sworn enemy of all things grounded is working on his first pair of flats. In the meantime, Kirkwood talks to about kitten heels, boudoir shoes, and how all good stories must come to an end.

I understand that your interest in designing shoes grew out of an experience making hats. That’s a bit of a switch, from head to toe.
It’s funny to look back on, because this was really only a few years ago and yet the whole landscape of shoe design was different. I was working with Philip Treacy, and women would come into the shop looking to finish an outfit. They’d bring in clothes, and they’d bring in their shoes. At the time, it was just this sea of kitten heels and really girly, pretty things. It seemed like there was a space for something else.

Had you studied shoe design in school?
I went back and took classes at Cordwainers. Not in design, though—just in shoemaking. I wanted to learn the craft.

Your shoes are quite technically innovative. Did you go to Cordwainers knowing that was going to be a focus, or did your interest in the technical come out of learning the craft?
I knew I wanted to understand the technical aspect, but for me it was always about finding a way to create shoes that didn’t have any excess. That’s the DNA of the brand. Even in my very first collection, which I never produced, there’s a focus on silhouette, on negative spaces and abstract shapes. Later, once I had the resources, I began to experiment with heel shapes and platforms. I don’t think people realize how expensive it is to try those things—you have to make the molds, and so on. I had to wait for that. But I knew what look I wanted to project.

You say you wanted to create shoes that didn’t have any excess, but your Spring ’09 collection does include a fair amount of embellishment—crystal-paved heels, for example, and a pearl-embedded platform.
What I try to do is find ways to integrate those elements into the architecture of the shoe, rather than just laying on decoration. I mean, I don’t even like to use fastenings. The pearl idea is one that I’ve developed from Fall. I generally work that way, letting a story evolve through a few seasons until I feel like I’ve told it. For Fall, it was a single pearl tucked into the heel; this season, I was playing with the idea of a woman standing on a string of pearls.

It’s a sexy shoe.
Yeah, a real boudoir feeling. That shoe is also interesting because it takes this story I’ve been working on—the pearls—and combines it with a new story, which is my interest in origami. I like that idea of folding. Maybe next season, there won’t be any pearls, but the origami idea will be bigger. We’ll see.

Are there any “stories,” as you put it, that you feel like you’ve concluded with the Spring ’09 collection?I’ve been working on the idea of suspension for a while, like a bridge or a Barbara Hepworth sculpture. That’s been going since my third season; I think I may be moving on. But we’ll see—I never really know what I’m doing until I’m doing it. I’m not a designer who starts each season making, like, a mood board or something. Like, OK, this season I’m going to be into tribal, or Native American, or whatever. I do have a mood board, but there’s nothing on it.

That said, you must have a few instincts about the direction of your design. What are you sick of?
In general? I probably shouldn’t even answer that question. There are definitely shoes I’d like to never, ever see again. Any kind of sport shoe with a heel, for instance. I mean, ew. And I’m pretty much over the five-inch-high platform and girls tripping all over the place. Granted, I’ve been responsible for some of that.

At the Rodarte show, for example? As an aside, I’m not sure I will ever understand the fashion industry’s fascination with falling models.
Ah, it’s terrible. I have sympathy, I do. Next season’s shoes should be more manageable, I’m feeling ready for a more refined, lighter, more feminine look.

But no kitten heels.
Never. I’m working on a pair of flats, but for me, it’s either super-high or super-low. There’s no point messing with anything in between.