Amongst the conveyor belt of catwalk shows, Sophia Webster’s maximalist showcases are always something to look forward to.
Whether it’s an invitation into Webster’s Winter Wonderland, replete with snow queens in killer, ice-cool boots with bubble clutch bags reading ‘Melt Me’ and ‘Ice, Ice, Baby’ or the unveiling of her Dolly Birds of Paradise, each joyful presentation is a pathway to a colourful and playful parallel world.
But this stylish accessory brand isn’t just fun and games. In five years, since debuting her first eponymous collection for Spring Summer 2013, Sophia Webster has amassed a loyal following of global fans. A graduate from the distinguished Cordwainers College and The Royal College of Art, her background in Fine Art has resulted in all the designs being hand-drawn and conceptualised within the company headquarters in East London.
Renowned for adding a touch of escapism to the footwear market with her joyful shoes and vibrant clutches emblazoned with irreverent slogans, we chat to the London-born designer about world domination, one neon-hued stiletto at a time.
Tell us about the DNA of a Sophia Webster pair of shoes?
I like to think I offer something different. My shoes are feminine but bold. I try to design for many different types of women, and offer a wide and varied range of styles. Most importantly, I try to design shoes that make women feel confident, because that shines through.
Can you share with us the story about how Sophia Webster began, and where your passion from shoes came from?
I always thought I would become an artist. I first knew I wanted to be a footwear designer when I was at college. I studied my art Foundation at Camberwell College of Arts, I always loved sculpture, but one day we had a still life fashion illustration class and I found myself drawn to drawing the shoes more than anything else, that’s where it began. From that point I just kept on drawing shoes and eventually enrolled in the BA Footwear Design course at Cordwainers College, which is part of the London College of Fashion. After I finished my degree there, I went on to do my Masters at The Royal College of Art, where I fully realised the kind of brand I wanted to have. I started my own brand in 2012, with my first Spring Summer 2013 collection.
What do you think has been the key to building a strong identity and carving out your own space in the competitive footwear market?
It’s important to trust yourself and your own vision. You’ve got to stay in your own lane and not worry about what your competitors are doing. I think you need to have an understanding of balancing creativity and commerce in the fashion industry, and be adaptable and able to evolve the way you design. I wanted to position my brand in a market I felt hadn’t been reached, to offer women luxury product at an accessible price point.
What has been the most significant breakthrough moment in your career?
Winning the Vogue Fashion Fund. It was incredible to receive that kind of recognition and it happened at such a great time for my company, and really helped us, and will continue to help us achieve our plans and goals for the future.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced and lessons you’ve learned over the past five years?
The company has grown hugely over the last five years, I started with a team of 2 and now we have over 60 people! As the team has grown, it has meant we have had to build in new processes and adapt to a new way of working. Also, adapting to a new market and really understanding what our customer wants has been important. We have expanded the collection to offer different heel heights, sneakers, and flats, to ensure we are catering to our customer’s needs.
How would you like to see Sophia Webster continue to grow?
I’d like to continue growing my online business, my team and opening more stores. I keep an open mind as to what the future holds!
Can you share with us your all-time favourite design?
It’s so hard to pick just one! My Lilico collection with oversized 3D flower embellishments, as we have updated this in so many different ways. From pastel leathers, to crystals, to coloured vinyl, sequins and metallic.
Tell us about the iconic butterfly design. What was the inspiration behind it, and why do you think it turned out to be so popular?
I designed my Chiara shoe when I was studying at The Royal College of Art. I think they are popular as we live in a world where people love taking photos and posting on Instagram and this shoe has a really striking silhouette which lends itself to being photographed. They are very statement shoes and I think my customer appreciates and loves that about them.
Do you prefer designing shoes or bags?
I’d have to say shoes, I think they are incredibly powerful. They have a magic that other accessories don’t have, they change your posture and the way you hold yourself. They can elongate your legs and accentuate your best assets.
Do you have a particular muse in mind when you design?
My muse varies season to season. I have muses from all different walks of life, from characters in movies, to iconic musical influencers, to artists.
How should a pair of shoes make a woman feel?
If you could spend a day in anyone’s shoes who would it be and why?
Probably my daughter Bibi’s shoes, I would love to get a glimpse into the way she sees the world!
Tell us about your recent Spring Summer 2018 collection?
This collection was really different to anything I have done before, it was very, ethereal and enchanted.
What was the inspiration behind it?
One of the main inspirations was the 1917 Cottingley fairy phenomenon, which was about two young girls that took pictures at the bottom of their garden of cardboard cut-outs fairies, creating a big hoax that they existed! They managed to fool the whole country, and I love that for a moment in time, people believed in fairies. Another big inspiration was Cicely Mary Barker Flower Fairies books, illustrating different flowers with their own fairy girls. I reimagine this in my LFW presentation positioning models in life-size Renaissance tableaux posed on tree branches surrounded by flowers.
Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?
The Fairytale Wedge. I love that miniature rose gold fairy nestled inside the wooden heel, it really tells the story of the collection.
How would you define your own personal style and is it reflected in your designs?
I dress quite casual day to day, with an embellished tee or jumper with a pair of jeans and sneakers. But I do like to dress up when I’m going somewhere special, with a printed dress or skirt and a pair of high heels! I still like to offer products that my customer wants and sometimes this is a pair of sneakers or flats that they can wear day to day, but what’s important is keeping your identity and your vision within these products.
If you could raid anyone’s wardrobe who would it be?
I would have to say Gwen Stefani. I’ve been a fan of hers since I was a teenager, and she has the most incredible, effortless style. When she wore my shoes a couple of times I had to pinch myself!
What is your most treasured item in your wardrobe and why?
I have an Acne leather jacket that I bought in New York a few years ago, which was such a good buy! A good leather jacket never dates.
You have designed many iconic and statement heels, what do you think are the must have pair for the festive season?
My SS18 capsule collection that offers a crystal adaptation of my Lilico story, which make the perfect party shoes for Winter!
What are your top tips for party dressing?
Be bold in your accessories. Glitter, crystal embellishments, luxe velvets, or satins are all perfect for the party season.
What will you be wearing for Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve?
I will probably be cooking the Christmas lunch for my family at home, so something comfortable! For New Years I have a new dress I have been wanting to wear. It’s a long silk full length dress with a pussy bow neck from Markus Lupfer, and I will definitely pair it with my black velvet Natalia platforms with chunky crystal ball heels.
What is on your Christmas gift wish list?
Firstly, a lie in! A Miu Miu crystal embellished Alice Band, a Mary Katrantzou x Disney x Colette’s Sequin sweater and matching ‘Scamp and Dude’ leopard print sweaters for myself and my little girl.
Can you share what makes Christmas a special time of year for you?
Anyone that knows me, know how much I love Christmas. I love decorating the Tree whilst watching festive films like ‘Elf’ and ‘Love Actually’. I make our whole house like Santa’s grotto. Christmas is even more fun now I’m a Mama, especially this year as it’s the first year Bibi really understands what’s going on!