Lauded as the hottest designer to enter the footwear industry since Manolo Blahnik thanks to his gravity defying heels and sculptural designs, Nicholas Kirkwood is the go-to designer for beautiful shoes that are modern and irreverent.
Inspired by ‘the enigmatic femininity of the women around him as well as modern art, architecture and often sculpture,’ his collections are hand-crafted using authentic craftsmanship techniques in a small factory in Veneto, Italy.
Deciding to launch his own eponymous brand in 2005, after an education at London’s Central Saint Martin’s, his designs were defined by daring innovation in the use of unconventional materials and techniques that married high craft and tradition with cutting edge technology and the unexpected. This technical innovation, together with an aesthetic boldness, dynamism, graphic edge, and feminine sensibility, became the signatures of Nicholas Kirkwood’s luxury footwear, attracting the likes of Isabella Blow, Grace Jones, Cecilia Dean and Daphne Guinness. Then, as his brand flourished, Kirkwood went on to collaborate with his London based design peers, Erdem, Roksanda and Peter Pilotto, and as the global awareness of the brand excelled, international associations with the likes of Fendi, Zac Posen and Phillip Lim followed.
Over a decade on and with his look still very much in demand, we caught up with Kirkwood to talk about the importance of the perfect bridal shoe, and what keeps his styles unique.
Tell us about the DNA of a Nicholas Kirkwood pair of shoes.
I try to inject a strong sense of creativity into my work. From taking inspiration from architecture, to a small scribble on a napkin, it’s about playing with shapes and forms to create something new.
How did you first become interested in fashion, and in particular, designing shoes?
I was working for a hat designer in his store and these glamorous women would come in with cloned knock off Manolo Blahnik style shoes that were letting their outfits down. I wanted to create shoes that were as charismatic as these women.
How has the industry changed since you first started?
So much has changed in the industry, but the thing that stands out the most would have to be social media, it has transformed the way customers interact with a brand.
What has been important when building a brand from a niche footwear company into an international accessories brand?
Staying true to your original DNA.
What has been the most significant breakthrough moment in your career?
Opening my flagship store on Mount street was one of the most exciting points in my career. As a designer, you always imagine what your own store will look like, and having you own space is a great opportunity to show your collection in your own curated environment. That and finding the right factory!
Can you share with us your all-time favourite design?
That would be like asking someone who their favourite child is!
What is the hardest type of shoe to design?
Working with fur can be quite difficult, getting the balance of it looking luxurious yet having volumes in the right place is always challenging.
You collaborate with all kinds of incredible designers on their catwalk collections, what do you find most challenging about working together on a design brief?
The most challenging thing was working to the LFW schedule, rather than working together on a design brief, that part I loved. It’s amazing getting to work with such talented people and working across such a diverse selection of aesthetics.
Which shoe designer maestros do you look up to?
I admire Azzedine Alaia for his unrelenting vision and approach to craft and quality, as well as both Andre Perugia and Roger Vivier, as they are shoe designers who are innovative in their approach. I am humbled by all their work.
Do you have a particular muse in mind when you design?
I find it hard to pinpoint one particular woman, because I design the collection with different facets in mind, but one woman that does spring to mind is my friend Hikari Yokoyama, I love her strong sense of style.
Who would you most like to see wearing your creations?
I am not usually one for chasing celebrities to wear my shoes, but I love seeing strong, confident, yet feminine women wearing my shoes.
Why did you choose to offer a bridal range within your brand?
I started to make bespoke wedding shoes for a lot of my friends that were getting married, so it was a natural progression from there.
What makes your styles perfect for brides?
The bridal collection has a wide selection of designs and materials, including opulent mirrored leathers, feminine pearls, metallic Lurex, and intricate lace, which I feel provides a dedicated, yet unique offering to the modern bride.
How should a pair of shoes make a woman feel?
I want women to feel empowered, but I also like the idea of creating shoes that add something to a woman’s character, accentuating her personality and adding to her confidence.
What is your advice to brides on footwear to wear with a wedding dress?
It is important to bear in mind that the bride is the star of the show, so the shoe should make her feel like it!
What are the key pieces we should be excited about from your bridal collection?
Our signature styles like the Ava and the Leda are always a good choice for something that is both simple, yet still stands out. But, I really love the idea of a bride wearing the silver ultraspecchio Zaha sandal.
What’s next for Nicholas Kirkwood?
I am currently working on a really exciting collaboration that isn’t shoes, with a giant Italian luxury brand for next year, so watch this space.
Shoe maestro Nicholas reveals all you need to know before buying your next pair of shoes
1 If you have bought a new pair of shoes for a special occasion, I recommend that you give them a trial run. Wear them around the house for a few hours in the days preceding their debut.
2 When shopping for shoes, my advice is to find shapes that work for you and your body, don’t just follow trends.
3 Now I’m no expert in walking in heels, but I think it is all about confidence, and my good friend told me once to walk like you are tip toeing. However, if high heels are just not for you, a mid-height heel is the perfect balance of daytime elegance with added comfort.
4 Your handbag and shoes should always be complementary, but not matchy matchy. I’m all about contrasts.
5 Everyone should have at least one fantasy shoe. I think every woman should invest in accessories. It’s an easy way to update wardrobe staples and take you from day to night.
6 If you love wearing heels but can’t do a full day in them, I would suggest going for a 55mm heel height, it is not too high and not too low. Our mid height Leda or Beya block heel would be perfect for this if you are looking for something to dress up your outfit.
7 The key pair of shoes that every woman should own is a pair of comfortable flats, something you can just throw on, or into you bag when you are running around.
8 Be individual and experiment with your footwear, but I have to say that heeled trainers are an absolute shoe no no! Need I say more?
By Eliza Scarborough