Shoe designer Serena Uziyel discusses her passion for craftsmanship and why her designs fit perfectly with Middle Eastern style
Designed for the on-the-go woman who has a true appreciation of fine craftsmanship and handmade designs, Turkish luxury accessories brand Serena Uziyel offers pieces that you can truly treasure for generations. Based on Founder Serena’s love for handmade pieces that have meaning, the brand combines modern styles with old-age labour-intensive craft techniques, making every piece truly unique. The attention to detail and careful choice of materials in each of the pieces can be clearly seen through the unique designs that have a precious sense of history about them. Hours are devoted to each tiny detail and unusual materials such as metal yearn, raffia, and hammered copper are carefully twisted, braided or woven together to create a unique appeal. A single shoe or bag can take up to 50 hours to weave and execute.
Founder Serena Uziyel has always had a passion for craftsmanship. After training at Parsons School of Design in New York, Serena had the opportunity to work with global luxury brands including Moschino, Calvin Klein and Donna Karen. While honing her shoemaking and design skills in Milan and Florence Serena met Grandmaster Giuseppe Joseph Amolo, who helped her learn the technical and theoretical skills of shoe-crafting. In 2019, Serna decided to launch her own brand that would bring together everything she had learnt as well as highlighting her true passion for craftsmanship. Here we discover more about the brand and why it resonates so well with women in the Middle East.
Who is the woman that you design your collections for?
The Serena Uziyel woman is confident, she has a strong purpose, and she has an appreciation of art, discovery and craftsmanship. She is unique.
What can you tell us about the latest collection?
We will showcase our Spring/Summer 2021 Collection for the first time at our new store at the Mandarin Oriental in Bodrum, Turkey. I truly love Bodrum as a destination. I have such fond memories of being there over the years, as it’s one of my favourite summer destinations on Turkey’s Aegean coast. I have often drawn inspiration from the mesmerising nature and coastline around Bodrum, and I feel that there is no better place for customers to discover the Serena Uziyel collection than in this historic city. Situated on a beautiful shoreline, the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum hosts prominent guests from around the world, as well as in the residences on the compound – offering my brand the opportunity to connect with a global customer. The Serena Uziyel Resort collection reflects my idea of serene summer days, crafted with intricate braiding and raffia combined with colourful stones – elements that I feel will fit perfectly in the Bodrum setting.
Can you tell us about some of the craftsmanship techniques that are used in your designs?
The Serena Uziyel Collection is entirely made in Tuscany, Italy, and many of the embroideries are crafted by local artisans in Turkey as well as in India. We source from around the globe to ensure each piece we create is made from the highest quality materials. Some pieces can take up to 200 hours to make, as the process is executed with rigorous precision, intricate weaving, and sewing. The Serena Uziyel Collection balances ornate detailing with sleek and architectural silhouettes. The techniques passed down from generation to generation date back to Mughal times, and find new purpose and flair adorning the collection. The Almeria Sandal sees the raffia dyed and then separated by hand to disentangle each strand, with the crowns on each of the disks twisted together out of a silky viscose thread and carefully closed with hand stitches. The Iris Sandal uses 1,000 metres of copper/aluminium alloy thread and the Bul technique gives tension to the thread, which is then locked in with approximately 200 hand stitches. Such refinement and quality require a unique dedication and mindset.
What can you tell us about your choices of materials – we know this is something very important to you?
It’s curiosity, love and the pursuit of beauty that motivates and informs my process. It’s a method and a passion that thrills me every time: Every piece that comprises the shoe has to be in a harmony with the whole; the heel, sole, outsoles, insoles and embellishments — this process amazes me every time. I think what distinguishes the Serena Uziyel brand is a dedication to the traditions of handcraft. Preferring to begin the design process by investigating materials means all creations are endowed with a luxe, tactile quality. Hours upon hours are devoted to the perfection of details. Metal yarns, raffia, hammered copper, twisting, braiding and wrapping are just some of the materials and techniques I employ which give and an artisanal touch of heritage that enhances our sleek modern designs.
What inspires your design?
One of the most precious values to me is heritage. Heritage to me is found in traditions and rituals. I was raised in a family where women are powerful, inspiring and courageous. Their integrity and moral values are exhilarating and promising. My grand-aunts were millinery makers in the late Ottoman Empire/beginning years of the Turkish Republic. They owned a small millinery shop behind the ancient streets of Beyoglu; they were twin daughters of a wealthy ambassador and they never married. After the loss of their father at a young age, they became entrepreneurs to support themselves and began crafting hats catered to the elite society of Istanbul. These stories from my roots have always been uplifting and inspiring to me. I actually display antique millinery moulds from my aunts’ boutique in our Kurucesme Boutique. At the same time, I find my inspirations everywhere. I am inspired by what life has brought me to this day; mainly through history, my roots and the women in my family. I think all these elements create beauty for Serena Uziyel ‘s timeless yet modern pieces.
Do you have a favourite piece from the latest collection?
Both my mother and my grandmother are collectors of art, jewellery and antiques. Through the generations, they have tremendously honoured the family traditions and kept these collections that have appreciated enormously. Nowadays these collections are part of our family heritage. My grandmother has a precious jewellery box that I played with every time I visited her. There would be always new unique pieces that I would discover and I loved to play with her them and mimic her elongated hands with perfectly polished red nails holding a cigarette. So I created a vanity bag inspired by that small box with three compartments and a mirror inside.
One of my other favourite elements throughout the collection is our signature ‘Catena’ chain detail. I especially love it in the high-heel mules. Each chain in the new Serena Uziyel Catena collection is hand-embroidered with four antique golden silk threads, which are woven together to give each accessory’s chain a three-dimensional effect. With the appearance of no beginning and no end, the golden chains of the Serena Uziyel handcrafted Catena clutches and sandals are classically refined, sustainably sourced and designed for timeless elegance while simultaneously protecting the earth’s natural resources.
You learned from some of the best – what is the biggest lesson you have learnt throughout your career?
I do believe that every major brand has a secret maestro behind them. Giuseppe Joseph Amolo who passed away two years ago was a grandmaster shoe crafter in Tuscany. Meeting with Giuseppe was an important milestone in my life. I had a huge opportunity to learn a lot about how to perfectly construct a shoe. Structuring the shoe step-by-step while combining each component such as the insole, the outsole and the heel within harmony and most importantly, to be able to do that with an architectural approach, are the key tools that I took away from my experience with him. This experience played a major role in my desire to launch my own brand and to bring my designs to life. Through my training with Giuseppe, I was given the opportunity to experiment with every phase of the shoemaking process. Giuseppe always said “a shoe is to be put on your feet and not under your arm,” meaning that a shoe should be aesthetically appealing but it must also be comfortable. He taught me the importance of combining aesthetics with comfort. He had a serious personality but he also knew how to relish in the joyful moments of life as well. One of the most important things that I learned from Giuseppe is that shoe design and shoemaking is much harder than it looks, you need to give the most of yourself to build a unique shoe. Even though he was tough, he took me under his wing and taught me every aspect of shoemaking. I am forever grateful for his guidance and kindness. I remember the day I crafted my first shoe and showed it to him, it was an intimidating moment for me, and I could not initially understand from his facial expressions if he liked it or not. He turned the shoes over and over, and then asked me to try them on and walk; only then did he nod and say “Bravo” in Italian. Thankfully he liked them, which was a great relief.
What are the biggest challenges you face today having your own brand?
Travelling with restrictions is the biggest challenge currently, but we are connected thanks to our long-lasting relationships via great technology. Adapting to the new norms of working has been a process, but I have learnt that I can solve issues with practicality. There have been many surprises during this time, it is not always very easy to predict the future but there have been some great surprises as well! I believe that the pandemic has made people take a step back and slow down. Women are seeking one-of-a-kind, timeless pieces for their wardrobe that they can keep for generations. I think that as the world opens up again, accessories will play a major role in how women make statements through dressing – especially with heritage pieces that have meaning. Perhaps surprisingly, one of our best sellers at the moment (which has sold out and even has a waitlist) is the Catena Ankle-High Sandal, which is an embellished heel that can be worn day to night. I feel like women are wearing Serena Uziyel shoes and handbags as their jewellery, and I love this connection. I think this trend will grow once we have more freedom to go out and socialise again.
What would you like to achieve with the brand that you haven’t done yet?
I feel very motivated and empowered every time someone from a different part of the world discovers the Serena Uziyel collection and appreciates the inspiration and the craftsmanship that goes into making every piece. My dream is for Serena Uziyel to become a staple in each new customers wardrobe each season. Hopefully, over the next five years, we can expand the Serena Uziyel footprint by opening brand boutiques in key markets, to reach as many inspiring women around the world as possible.
Why do you think your designs resonate with women in the Middle East?
Statement pieces with ancient glamour are one of the aspects that Middle Eastern customers seek the most. They value the brightness of the colours, handcrafted pieces, combinations of several shades of silver and gold and the positive energy of the shine. The ancient special wrapping technique is used for Catena Notte chains with three shades of gold and three different shades of silver threads. The intricate process of making and creating took almost 35 hours to create one full pair of chains which inspires the Middle Eastern customers as well as inspires me a lot because a unique and unidentical pair of shoes are created. High-quality materials and craftsmanship with particular details are what we offer for all of our customers.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
Do my best possible to pursue my dreams. My design philosophy is “Be true to yourself, do it with a purpose”.
What is a message you would like to send to your fans in the Middle East?
The Middle Eastern accessory market is innovative, rich in design, and extremely inspiring to me. As a designer, and lover of travel, I am always focused on the culture of a country or region, and I have found that the Middle East has a deep appreciation of couture, luxury, and creative expression. I am so happy to share that we have great partnerships in the Middle East such as 51 East and Sole Avenue in Doha and Level Shoes in Dubai and our collection will be sold very soon at Ounass as well. We launched Serene Uziyel Collection on Net-A-Porter in December 2020 and our launch has seen really strong results thus especially with great feedback from our customers in the Middle East. Net-A-porter has already placed replenishment orders on the best sellers – which is a really great sign! We have more newness for the next seasons for our Middle Eastern customers and we are always open to different opportunities in the region.