Closed Exhibition - Shoes: Pleasure and Pain
Secrets of Shoe DesignWatch some of the world's finest shoe designers and makers discussing their inspiration and practice.
INSPIRATION & RESEARCH
MARC HARE (MH)
When I'm in a situation and I haven't got a shoe for it, then there's generally...then I need new shoes! All I have to do is keep active 365 days a year, go out and do new things and go to new places, and it's pretty easy to find inspiration to make new shoes.
CAROLINE GROVES (CG)
Whenever I get an opportunity to buy vintage shoes, that are a particular interest to me, I do so and very quickly take one apart to find how it's been constructed. And that will give further inspiration to make a different style of shoe, but use some of the tricks that I've discovered in that first shoe.
SANDRA CHOI (SC)
Is it something that you want to be romantic? Does it relate to theatre?
You ask yourself lots of questions. You go to the library.
I mean, at the moment, it's phenomenal to actually just go on a computer.
You can stay, literally, researching on a computer for ever!
And you never know where your mind takes you. It could be one picture that can lead to another picture, then words and names and associations come up. That is how the research process comes up. It's always from a story, then looking into anything that is related to it.
MANOLO BLAHNIK (MB)
"Oh, do you have a mood board?" Are you crazy? What a waste of time and energy! You just know what you want and you do it!
Mind you, sometimes I do horrible things and sometimes I do beautiful things, but I do what I want to do! I don't have this kind of...
For Philip, for example, I know what I wanted and I didn't have to put "Philip's picture" or whatever, or the materials. I don't believe in that kind of new...mood boards. I know that people do because the designers I work with since the times of Calvin Klein. "Oh! We need to have a mood board! We have to do this and..." To me, it was absolutely a waste of time.
CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN (CL)
What I want to see, really, at the end is a shoe. I don't want to see something where it's almost a mimic of...of what's been happening to you.
I will give you an example. I travel to Egypt. I'm not going to bring back an Egyptian collection. It's not because I've been in Egypt that every woman has to have a caryatid or a mummy as a T-strap.
So it needs to... I think that... For me, definitely inspiration is one thing. It can come from a lot of influences, but I still work on, actually, not "stopping" but "melting" inspirations, so it really ends up being a shoe.
Some people may see the inspiration and some people may not. I like as much people who don't see it as people who see the inspiration. Sometimes, it's heavy enough that you would see, but I really always try that it ends up being a shoe and not a little story of what happened to me six months before.
CREATING THE DESIGNS
The design for a bespoke pair of shoes, necessarily, is a collaboration with a client, listening to their wish list.
I create my designs under pressure of deadlines, to be honest with you. They have been swirling around in my head for about six months.
You get to that point where you know you've got to hand it to the factory and I am a notorious last-minute, wring out every last-minute thought you can have about a thing.
I could do a whole bunch of designs and you can guarantee on the last day
I'll re-do them because they'll be better on the last day cos I've had more time to think about them.
My design process is to draw directly onto the last. There I have all the information I need, in terms of my client's measurements, the stylistic qualities of the shoe. And in drawing directly onto the last, I think I bring a particular aesthetic to my work.
I'm not a trained designer and I'm not computer literate. I don't draw a lot - I CAN draw. But, for me, the last is the key to everything.
Sketching first and then thinking about materials to go with what you want to achieve. On top of that is the dressing, it's the embellishment, it's choosing the finishing of - metal and buttons and sole.
It all kind of comes together as pencil, paper, playing with different bits of materials and then sending the sketches to our pattern cutters.
Sometimes, we'll even draw the design onto what we call a last, and make sure that I like a certain cut or a certain proportion to be executed. And that gets cut into a paper pattern.
Computer? Are you out of your mind? Never! Computer? No! I do sketches.
Sometimes, I just wake up in the night. Next day, I say, "What did I do there?"
I don't even know what I did because it was like...by the bed. In my bedroom, I have a pencil with a wire, I just take it and... Then, boom, back I get into bed.
Sometimes, I don't even know what I do, but this is the way I do things.
So it's not a moment where I'm thinking, "I don't know what to draw." Because when you draw, the design can be interesting as a design. But the drawing, otherwise, it's... You know, just sketching a pump for me, anyway, I'm going to correct the line, et cetera, so if it's not a nice design, if it's not a new design, at least it's a drawing. And as I like to draw, that actually completely satisfies me. And the fact to be satisfied brings me definitely ideas, puts me in the mood of embellishing the drawings.
WORKING WITH THE MANUFACTURERS
My favourite part of the whole business of doing shoes is being able to be in the factory and talking to the people. They're all people, most of the time, the people I get on very well. Like 50 or 60, whatever. And the best - they know what they're doing so well and I love that.
The way in which I hand-make my shoes is different from factory production.
I use very, very few machines. I use a sewing machine and that's about the extent of it. So I have limitations. I don't have any economies of scale.
But I also have liberations. Because it means that, because I have the skill, because I have the knowledge, I can make sophisticated, beautiful high-heeled shoes in my kitchen, if necessary.
I spend a lot of time in the factories. I draw and then after, second part is always in Italy for me, in the factory. I sleep in the factory and I stay there. I reproduce the style. I correct the style.
Stay there - I stay a week, for instance, completely. And start from one design, which has become a pattern, the first prototype. I correct the prototype at least two or three times in the same week. So definitely it's important to be there, otherwise, it's just an idea unfinished.
If you really want to have the line correct, if you really want that it looks good on, you definitely have to be there with the manufacturers.
I was trying to capture that kind of '50s dolce vita era when being "black, suited and sharp" was kind of it. So I kind of had to go to Italy to do that.
Now I've found that, where we've moved into sneakers, it also gives you a very nice luxury feel.
There's a very fast-moving way of working in Italy that means you can have an idea one day and have that shoe in your hand within a couple of days, go back and do it.
It's a very flexible working situation and they have a lot of pride as well, where, naturally, things will not come out of the factory unless they are just beautiful and perfect.
That connection between a designer with the factory and the maker is key. Because, ultimately, you're not making everything yourself. You're trying to translate your idea into something that's 3D.
You have to have a clear communication and sometimes pushing - pushing one another to actually try new things, in order to innovate.
Over the years, we've built a great, strong relationship with our makers, and that is something that I will always treasure.
THE CHANGING NATURE OF SHOE DESIGN
Every generation of shoemakers adopt the new technologies of their time.
In my case, the new technology would have been the sewing machine coming in 1860...whatever it is!
That's the one new technology that I do use every day.
When I started, people used to use actual dyes and moulds to actually cut a stack of leather to make the actual shoes. Now it's all computerised. Everything's laser-cut.
I think technology is going to play a huge part of this whole process of making shoes - and designing.
Every season, all the factories in Italy come with new materials for you, proposing new materials and, "This is what we do now."
Sometimes, I say, "Why don't you do a mixture between this and that?" We try to do new materials. Sometimes it's successful. Sometimes it's not.
It's going to divide in different ways. Stuff will get really scientific and stuff will still remain traditional. Then at some points, those things mix and then, you know, people's tastes change and it goes back to the real traditional thing or it gets super-technical again.
So it will be a merry dance for ever.
I think that, in terms of design, what has been changing is probably
new textiles, new fabrics and materials.
That's a thing, so everything which is new, but it's already "au point", but still it hasn't, you know, it hasn't moved.
It hasn't moved - leather. Leather shoes is still the number one - by far, the number one. You have leather shoes. I have leather shoes. I see leather shoes there. I see, OK, a pair of sneakers there, so probably some plastic, but that's about it.
And so you have all those new techniques, et cetera, but it's almost like a little decor, it adds something. It's a cherry on the cake, but the cake is still the same.
THE PLEASURE OF SHOE DESIGN
I'm proud to be a craftsman. When people call me a designer I'm very flattered.
I never really thought about it my whole life, being a shoe designer. It was truly a eureka moment. One day I was like, "Oh, I should design shoes."
"How hard can that be?"
I love making. I love making beautiful things. I love to make women happy and I love to be involved with fashion.
For me, it was like dresses and jackets and jeans are things to use.
Shoes are just like a fantasy, a kind of indulgence.
I have been, as a teenager, starting drawing. It was a sort of a dreamy thing.
It was not considered as a job. And that dreamy thing became a job.
So, definitely, it's a type of a big buckle, you know. From a dream it becomes a job and the job is a dream, so it's no longer a dream, it's a job, but the job is a dream.
So it's all fine.
Sponsored by Clarks
British shoe retailer and manufacturer Clarks are delighted to be partnering with the V&A as part of the brand’s 190 year celebrations. Find out more about the brand’s history here. The partnership includes exclusive product collaborations and lead sponsorship of the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition.
With additional thanks to
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