When British designer Nicholas Kirkwood first appeared on the scene back in 2005 – which, by the way, is considered a lifetime ago in fashion years – he quickly was lauded as the hottest designer to enter the footwear industry since Manolo Blahnik thanks to his gravity defying heels and sculptural designs.
A decade on and his look is still very much in demand. To prove it, he has just launched his 10th Anniversary collection at On Pedder, which features 10 of his favourite shapes and silhouettes from over the years, including his aerodynamic motion platform which has since spurned thousands of copies.
We caught up with Nicholas to talk about shoes, the industry and why he will never design trainers.
Limited edition packaging from Kirkwoo’d 10th Anniversary collection
You are celebrating 10 years in the business – what has been the biggest change for you?
Going from an emerging name into an established designer is probably the toughest challenge a designer will go through. It’s natural though, just like growing up. You start a new period – you’ve found your vision, people understand it and now you can grow on that. It’s now about building a business which means stores, new customers and new categories.
What about the Nicholas Kirkwood look – is it still very much based on skyscraper heels?
The DNA from the first collection is still there but it has changed like fashion has changed. We now have categories that weren’t even there in the beginning. For example, I didn’t have flats for like six years but as fashion changed, I needed to apply my aesthetic to it. At the same time it’s not about creating commercial products. Take for example trainers – we haven’t done it yet because there are so many out there. It’s about doing something that is special and different. I need to be at the beginning of the wave not the end of it.
Tell us about your anniversary collection…
It was about looking back at the first 10 years of my collection and my life and all the things I enjoyed growing up with – everything from arcades and games, to films, toys and Star Wars. It’s about the first pop culture that I was physically involved with but it also resonates so much with my own style – it’s super visual, graphic, impactful and maximalist – all the things I love.
You dabbled in men’s shoes a few years ago – any plans to resurrect the line?
We had to put it on hold due to manufacturing problems but it’s something I want to go into heavier. For men it’s about subtlety – they are super comfort driven more so than women. More than that, they have brand loyalty. A guy will buy the same shoe and buy different colours.
How has the industry changed since you first started?
Shoes have gone through this amazing period of creativity. Fashion brands are pushing their shoe lines, with amazing stuff coming out of labels like Balenciaga and Prada. It was a great time because it allowed smaller brands like mine to get noticed.
Almost overnight, though, it got too much and shoes went in the opposite direction. I think things will start to get creative again but in a different way.
What’s the hardest type of shoe to design?
If it’s your version of a standard classic that’s not difficult. It’s difficult to capture a fashion shoe in a mid height but I love the challenge of it.
Who are your shoe mentors?
It’s between Manolo Blahnik, Ferragamo and Roger Vivier himself. They were all innovators and super forward thinking. Vivier once had to go to Nasa to develop one of his heels because the technology wasn’t available to make it strong enough.
What is your all-time favourite design?
I can’t say! I love the new 10 year collection because we weren’t restricted by cost of heels or techniques. It was a free-for-all with my imagination. I love the type of shoes that have so much going on but that still work in harmony. I call them symphony shoes.
What shoe style should all women own?
I think a loafer – it does the job of a ballerina but doesn’t look like a ballerina. It’s super easy.
Sandals with socks.
Where is the most inspiring place for you currently?
Los Angeles. It seems like an obvious place to choose but the energy there is happening.
What’s the best advice you can give aspiring shoe designers?
Find the right partner factory to work with. Only then can you really start to build a brand.
Complete this sentence: Shoes should make women feel…
An edited version of this interview first appeared in the South China Morning Post newspaper.