Pierre Hardy, who has been designing shoes for three decades, has no shortage of advice for those wanting to dress people from the ankle down. At the top of the list? “Be absolutely, definitely, strongly, deeply sure of what you love or what you want, and hold on to this,” says Hardy, who designed for Christian Dior and Hermès in the ’80s and ’90s before setting up his namesake line in 1999. A successful career in footwear requires a breadth of creative, commercial and technical expertise. We asked five leading designers how they got their start—and made it to the top.
Where to study shoe design
“I went to school to learn technique… [including] how to cut the leather, how to choose the leather, how to stitch a shoe by hand,” says designer David Tourniaire-Beauciel, who was appointed creative director of Robert Clergerie in May 2017. In addition to technical skills, design courses can also hone your vision and aesthetic, says British designer Sophia Webster. She funded her MA Fashion degree (with a focus on shoes) at the Royal College of Art by designing for Chinese high-street brands and interning for Nicholas Kirkwood simultaneously. While a design degree remains the most popular route, there are those, like Hardy, who advocate a more general artistic education. “They deliver a better [understanding] of global art culture and a strong cultural knowledge,” he says.
Choose the right shoe design school
Cordwainers College, which was absorbed into London College of Fashion in 2000, remains a popular choice for aspiring shoe designers. Household names like Jimmy Choo, Nicholas Kirkwood and Sophia Webster all studied there. But a prestigious program isn’t the only route into the industry. “We are not looking for particular schools, it’s more the work experience and the portfolio itself,” says Mara Schmitz, a senior consultant at Freedom Recruitment, who have placed people in design roles at fashion giants Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, as well as footwear specialists Tod’s, Hunter and Jimmy Choo.
Perfect your graduate collection
“We go to the universities and screen the best talent for them,” Schmitz explain of the recruiter’s presence at graduate shows, “and that’s sometimes the first step into the first job”. This was certainly the case for Paul Andrew, design director of Italian footwear label Ferragamo. He attended the lesser known Berkshire College of Art and Design, but thanks to talent scouting, he found his graduate collection the subject of interest from Alexander McQueen and American Vogue.
Get an internship
In getting your first work experience placement, it pays to be persistent. Designer David Tourniaire-Beauciel, who was appointed creative director of Robert Clergerie last year, knocked on the door of Stephane Kélian’s factory in his hometown of Romans-sur-Isère five times before they gave him a shot. While submitting your CV is the first step, once you hear back, you can expect your portfolio to take centre stage. Portfolios should include “good mood boards and, if it’s luxury, nice hand sketches,” says Schmitz. For Hardy, a face-to-face interview is the most important step.
“Even if everybody speaks English in the studio—and Italian at some points—understanding French makes every day working life much more efficient,” says Hardy of work in his Paris-based studio. But it’s not just about speaking the same language literally. “Fashion is a very sharp field of culture and [requires] subtle understanding,” he continues, “and working in a French environment requires an innate sensibility”. Aside from cultural cohesion, Aquazzura co-founder Edgardo Osorio credits being multilingual as helping him develop a “completely different perspective” and an international understanding of the marketplace.
Don’t start your own company too soon
“There’s nothing quite like actually working in the industry to learn your craft,” says the British-born Paul Andrew, who laboured under other designers, including Narciso Rodriguez and Calvin Klein, for a decade before launching his namesake label in 2013. “Get as much experience as you can making mistakes on other people’s budgets,” advises Webster. Her advice is echoed by Osorio, who began interning at 14 in his native Colombia. “For me, I think the worst mistake you can make is to start your own company right after you study,” he says.
Spend time in factories
“The time you spend in the factory is very, very important,” says Tourniaire-Beauciel. They are first and foremost where you learn the essentials of shoe-making. Webster cites a period interning in Italy for a company who had “a factory underneath their main head office” as vital in showing her the process of making a shoe, while Andrew credits his time at Narciso Rodriguez “travelling back and forth to Italy and working in factories” as where he “really honed my craft.” After that, it’s where you ensure your designs come to life in the way you intend. “To design a sketch, at the end, it’s nothing—you need to give the information,” explains Tourniaire-Beauciel, who spends two of the six-month seasonal cycle in the factory itself. This involves discussing the drawing with every member of the manufacture team, and finding solutions to everything from budget to heel architecture. “It’s a discussion—sometimes there is some argument,” he admits.
“I think it’s important that what you’re doing is different,” Osorio says. “You have to create your own little world because if it looks too much like someone else, [your customer is] already buying someone else.” That’s not to say your aesthetic shouldn’t evolve over time. “Love what you hated and hate what you loved,” advises Tourniaire-Beauciel, citing the Buffalo shoes with high wedges that he designed in the ‘90s. “Ten years later it was considered the ugliest shoe in the world, and now there is a comeback.”
Know your customer
Whether pitching yourself to an existing brand or going out on your own, understanding your position in the marketplace is critical. “When you design you need to understand: Who are you designing for? For which brand? For which price?” Tourniaire-Beauciel explains. For Webster, this involves “being mindful of what women want to wear, [even if it’s] something understated and classic. Learning that was a bit challenge of me because when I started I just did everything super multi-coloured and all high heels.”
“I had definitely thought about the sort of woman I wanted to dress and the sort of woman I wanted the brand to appeal to,” Andrew recalls of going out on his own. Likewise for Osorio, whose international background allowed him to identify the U.S. as the best place to start retailing his collection: “I knew the clients, I knew the department stores, I knew the boutiques [and] I was familiar with the environment of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to say.”
“In fashion, you need the relations with manufacturers, suppliers, artisans [to make a collection happen],” says Osorio. These contacts are acquired only by working for someone else first, “unless your family is in the fashion industry or you’re very, very rich,” he explains.
Contacts outside your factories are important, too. “I sort of begrudged it at the time, but I was always thrown into the showroom to present the collection to all the buyers and press,” says Andrew of his years designing at Donna Karan. “But in retrospect it was amazing, because I got to build relationships with these key executives in the industry, and when I went to launch my own line all I had to do was pick up the telephone. My collection in my first season was at Barneys, Saks [Fifth Avenue], Bergdorf Goodman and Harrods.”
Build your business
“There is a big step between presenting 10 to 15 models in a showroom… and making it a real collection and a real brand,” says Hardy. “I wasn’t prepared for that—I was just a stupid designer dreaming about shoes. You have to be efficient, you have to be competitive and you have to be communicative.” Getting the right assistance is essential, and many designers look close to home. Osorio set up Aquazzura with his partner Ricardo D’Almeida Figueiredo, while Webster’s husband Bobby runs the commercial side of her line. Another option is to seek external support. “We hired a management team from another luxury group that had a lot of luxury experience,” says Osorio.
Spread the word
“You will get written about when you’re new,” says Webster, “but after that, you have to consistently be creative, and you’ve got to pace yourself.” Osorio, whose line gained traction thanks to the concurrent rise of street style in 2011, recommends new brands “only focus on a digital strategy” when they first start looking to raise their profile. “When you don’t have any money, you need to only focus using that voice and doing it well,” he continues, citing his shoes appearing “in those [street style] pictures and on certain people” as making “a huge difference”.
“You can never dream big enough,” says Osorio. “You just need to work your ass off, believe everything is possible, have a big smile on your face and be very nice to everybody.”Read more at:cheap prom dresses uk | prom dresses