British designer Nicholas Kirkwood is known for his architectural python, laser-cut leather, and calf-hair heels, but the 31-year-old actually began his career in headwear, working with famed milliner Phillip Treacy for five years after graduating from Central Saint Martins. (Through Treacy, he met Isabella Blow, an early supporter.) Kirkwood launched his first footwear collection in 2005, which caught the eye of Visionaire’s Cecilia Dean. Since then, he has designed runway shoes for a slew of labels — Rodarte, Peter Pilotto, Erdem, and Phillip Lim among them — and his footwear has been trotted out by fashion-savvy celebrities like Rooney Mara, Michelle Williams, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kirsten Dunst. This week, he designed the runway shoes for Prabal Gurung and Suno (click ahead to see a close-up from Gurung’s fall 2012 show), and is gearing up to open his first New York store in the meatpacking district next month. We caught up with Kirkwood to discuss his upcoming boutique, frustration with awards-season dressing, and take on fall footwear trends.
You’ve collaborated with designers like Rodarte and Prabal Gurung for Fashion Week. Who are you working with this season?
Prabal Gurung and Suno in New York and Erdem and Peter Pilotto in London.
What footwear trends do you predict for fall?
You’ll be seeing more of the pointy toe. Also, quite a lot of texture, I think, be that through prints or by mixing different sorts of ready-to-wear fabrics — not just leather and suede, but satin and lamé and jacquard. I think we’re going to start seeing a less prominent platform, so people will make up for it with wilder textures or color combinations in the upper. Of course, you can still do really sexy shoes that are not quite as high.
Will flats continue to stage a comeback?
It’s something I’ll be expanding on. I think that girls are getting bored with the basic ballerina; it’s been a bit of an overkill. Slippers and flat lace-ups are replacing the ballerina flat. They’re just as easy to throw on and they add a bit of structure and color.
Your heels are gaining popularity on the red carpet as well. Is there a celebrity you most like to outfit?
Rooney Mara is great. But the shoes usually get chosen at the very end.
Were you pleased when Michelle Williams and Kristen Wiig wore your heels to the Golden Globes?
I was flattered that they wore them, but actresses wear such giant dresses to those events that you can’t ever see the effin’ shoes — they might as well be going barefoot. You’ll be lucky if you see the toe of a shoe peeking out from under the hem.
What can we expect from your upcoming New York store?
I’ve always had an exhibition within another store, so the boutique will have a kind of gallery feeling, but without being too cold — it’s going to have some elements of texture.
Your current spring collection was inspired by Bali — lots of florals, bows, and neon colors. What was the design process?
There’s a kind of feminine edge to the collection. I wanted to find a way to reinterpret the bow so it has an architectural, structured feel to it. The way the bow is constructed, it looks almost as if you’d unraveled it from one side.
Do you have a favorite style from the collection?
That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child or something; I don’t want to upset the others. But there’s a style that has an almost cartoon-esque sketch of flowers on them that are in the window at Saks Fifth Avenue now.
What’s in store for the fall collection?
I’m still working with quite a lot of color, as well as waves and folds to create some movement. There’s a sense of twenties French glamour, like Midnight in Paris. It’s quite decadent, with bouclé fabrics and prints.
Your shoes are so artistic, often futuristic. Do you feel the need to design a simple black pump as well, to cover your bases?
It’s something I’ve been trying to do slowly, to appeal to a wider audience. But most people who come into our store want the signature look. I always want there to be an element in my shoes that’s not quite the norm; that’s what makes them exciting. As a small brand, I need to be able to show a little differentiation from the core basics of most brands. So my black pump will have a small wave in the heel to set it apart.
Do you think Nicholas Kirkwood shoes are readily identifiable?
I’ve been trying to build the brand around an aesthetic rather than a certain design element. The recognition of something like [Louboutin’s] red sole is fantastic, but I’m trying to work out a way to be recognized by small touches, rather than obvious branding.
What’s your highest heel?
130 mm or so [a little over five inches], but that’s with an internal or external platform, so you’re still only walking on 100 mm. I’ve also introduced a more mid-height heel for spring. I do think there’s a customer who wants to buy into the look, but isn’t confident in such a high heel.
How high is too high?
A few seasons ago, in some of the big shows, the models just couldn’t walk. That was the pinnacle of how far people could push shoes. If you have two or three girls falling over in the same show, it’s a bit too much.
Has a model ever taken a runway spill in your shoes?
Not yet, but I’d be extremely lucky if it never happens.
How important is comfort?
I’m not really testing them out myself, but I do test them on my friends and get feedback from the stores. I find that if you add a couple of subtle millimeters to the width, it makes a huge difference. Of course I want women to be comfortable, but I’m not trying to make orthopedic shoes. There’s got to be a balance between that and shoes as torture devices.