British designer Nicholas Kirkwood, who just received Accessory Designer of the year award from British Fashion Council, is the biggest name in shoes today, with his daring sculptural shapes that meld contemporary art and fashion.
The designer was in Hong Kong for the international launch of his special collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation at his first exclusive retail space. The collection of Haring-inspired shoes showcases the late American artist and activist’s most classic works, including Haring’s “Radiant Baby” as a wedge heel.
Why Keith Haring?
NK: I think I was just trying to do something different from what I usually do, something very pop, because my own line can be very serious at times.
And why launch your first retail space in Hong Kong?
NK: This is the first time we’ve done our own area and it’s great to be able to do it with On Pedder. This is almost a tester for having our own store. It’s a big step for us. We’re a small brand and On Pedder’s been really supportive of our growth and how we’ve developed. For us, it’s a really important step, not just for Hong Kong, but for the whole Southeast Asian market. It’s great to have this kind of representation.
Where do you get your ideas for shoes?
NK: The design process is really getting paper, a cup of tea, a cigarette and loud music, then just doodling away. It’s more just to start drawing shapes and it doesn’t have to be shoes or anything, just shapes that I think look nice together, like angles and things like that. Then you process it and pull it out weeks later and you find a couple things you find interesting and then you develop it from there.
So most of the time it evolves out of itself. Sometimes you have a concept, but most of the time, especially with the ones that are made up of shapes, it’s really just a process of drawing, evolving, changing. Even when I’ve done my final drawing, I then have to do it on a 3D shape and draw it onto the last and then even during that period, it can completely change from the drawing.
So you just go with your gut feelings?
NK: Exactly. I always get asked that type of question. They want me to say what’s inspired me. I mean you can’t necessarily always understand it. It just comes out of nothing.
What made you want to design shoes in the first place?
NK: I used to work for Philip Treacy. Ladies would come in for a hat, but they’d bring in a whole outfit, clothing, shoes, bags, everything. I would try to find them a hat.
There was all this Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and some really interesting designs at the time, but the shoes looked like they were from a whole other era. Pointy shoes, mules, kitten heels. It just didn’t seem to go with the outfits and it made me think, who is making really progressive shoes? I couldn’t really think of anyone.
There were a couple of people – like Benoit Meleard who had really cool conceptual shoes – but not many. So I looked into a course at Cordwainer’s in London [to start learning how to make shoes].
Of all the shoes you’ve ever designed, do you have a favorite?
NK: That’s kind of difficult, it’s like choosing your favorite child. There’s definitely some I don’t like though.
You have shoes you don’t like, but you produce them anyways?
NK: Maybe some weren’t developed enough or you just somehow run out of time, something’s wrong with the colors, wrong materials or a mistake in the manufacturing or the production.
Do you plan on designing for men?
NK: Yes, absolutely. I want to do it next season, probably start with Fall/Winter as it’s more interesting for men’s. It’ll be a really small line, with three models or something. It won’t look anything like the women’s shoes. It’ll be subtle and about the details. They’re not going to be like “Oh, look at me!” It’s not what it’s about and I don’t know any guys who wear those types of shoes.
What about yourself?
NK: I’m not very good with shoes. I usually buy a pair of shoes, then destroy them and then get a new pair. I’m not like, which pair of shoes with which outfit or what’s going to go with my jacket?
Is there anything in particular you’d like to do while you’re here [Hong Kong]?
NK: Yeah, what I’m trying to find is somebody who can make three-inch golden lily shoes – the little tiny ones for bound feet? I want to develop some of my classic styles as tiny lily shoes, but obviously not to be worn. Just to make them could be really fun.