From Manolo Blahnik to Christian Louboutin to… Nicholas Kirkwood? Possibly – in any case, the Rodarte sisters are among those who have changed from Louboutin’s red soles to Kirkwood’s futuristic creations for their collections. Kirkwood’s star has been on the rise since 2005. He is uncompromising and his designs will not suffer from indifference. His look is avant-garde, sculptural and rock-glam for the strong, self-confident woman.
Ironically, he started designing shoes while working for the hat maker Philip Treacy during his years as a student at the Saint Martins School: “… women would come into the shop looking to finish an outfit. They’d bring in clothes, and they’d bring in their shoes. At the time, it was just this sea of kitten heels and really girly, pretty things. It seemed like there was a space for something else.” He went back to school, this time Cordwainers, another one of England’s most prestigious design schools, to study shoemaking.
Kirkwood had a vision about shoe design from the very beginning. His concept has always been to create a shoe without any extras: “it was always about finding a way to create shoes that didn’t have any excess. That’s the DNA of the brand.” He focuses on the silhouette, works with negative spaces and abstract forms. Decorative elements, when used, are integrated into the architecture of the shoe, rather than just placed on the surface. He admits he even avoids using fasteners whenever possible.
In 2005, he won first place in Condé Nast’s young talented shoemakers competition, despite the fact that his models were perhaps better suited for a gallery exhibition than the pavement. The prize pushed him into the spotlight and the question on everyone’s mind was, would he be able to bring together his avant-garde footwear sculptures with more banal, commercial considerations.
Condé Nast’s decision was a wise one, apparently. Kirkwood’s following collection was a success: clean, assertive lines, no flourishes, nothing baroque, new volumes, a new interpretation of the platform and heels, heels, heels.
He began to find fans among those women with a certain strength of character and daring fashion sense, e.g., Grace Jones, the late Isabella Blow, fashion icon Daphne Guinness (heiress to the Guinness family fortune) and Cecilia Dean (art house publication Visionaire). The French photographer Jean-Paul Goude (Jones’ ex and father of her son, Apollo) used them in his fashion shoots.
The designers also started paying attention to him, too, e.g., Tommy Hilfiger, Chloé, Phillip Lim, Zac Posen, and more recently, Rodarte.
Several years into his career, Kirkwood has a better understanding of how he works. A “story” begins in his mind that may take several seasons to mature before it is fully manifested in his creations. For example, for fall 2008, he began with a single pearl imbedded in the heel; for the following spring, that story evolved into a woman standing on a string of pearls. Simultaneously, he began a new story based on origami, which was further developed for Fall 2009.
Since then, the awards have been piling up: AltaRoma Vogue Italia Who’s on Next award, 2007, Swarovski Emerging Talent Award for accessories, British Fashion Awards, and the Footwear News Designer of the Year award, New York, 2008. Kirkwood has recently received another high-profile nod of approval from the one-and-only Sarah Jessica Parker, who has been seen recently in his creations.
In December 09 she appeared at the New York film premiere of Did You Hear About the Morgans? in a black dress and Kirkwood’s “Web” slingbacks (heel height = 5.5”, retails at $1600). SJP does not save her Kirkwood’s for special occasions, though. In April 2010, she was seen strolling in the streets of New York on a lovely spring day, this time in a simple white dress and a pair of Kirkwood blue suede open toes with python details.
Kirkwood’s spring/summer 2010 collection is, as always, show-stopping. True to his word in 2008, there are now many ultra-low flat-soled models (he has said that shoes are either “super-high or super-low… no point messing with anything in between”). His strength still lies in his vertiginous heels that he compensates with his signature cut-off platform.
His shoes are absolutely to be tried on before judging. For those who still find his designs disturbing, keep in mind that the way they look in the photos have very little to do with the way they can look on the woman; i.e., the angle from which they are photographed is not likely to be the angle from which they are seen on your feet. In the photo of SJP, the view from the back is of a long leg made longer with a beautiful high stiletto and a simple black band across the back of the ankle. From the front, her foot is wearing an intricate, finely cutout print and the ball of her foot looks like it is resting on a jewel, not on a strange clunky cutoff platform.
Also to be noted in his new collection, many of the stiletto models have lost the platform altogether, perhaps in an effort to move away from his “suspension bridge” idea and onto more “refined, lighter, more feminine look.” However, the absence of the platform has been compensated with an added strut for the heel, giving the stiletto a bit more strength. The heel of flats rests on a round pebble, recalling the jeweled platform of the older model stilettos. In any case, Kirkwood’s challenge is still to strike a balance between two opposing aspects of femininity: assertiveness and softness.
His dislikes? “Any kind of sport shoe with a heel, for instance. I mean, ew. And I’m pretty much over the five-inch-high platform and girls tripping all over the place. Granted, I’ve been responsible for some of that.” His muse? The “woman with presence and intellect… and a bit of rock-n-roll.”