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My name is Phèdre Julie Calvados, lots of people call me “P”. I am a Parisian born Caribbean footwear designer and maker. I like to introduce myself as an octopus woman: I am a practitioner as well as a professor for varied international design universities. This year I have been appointed as one of the footwear course leaders at the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) in Paris where I guide MA Footwear students through design consulting. Initially, I studied Applied Arts (ENSAAMA Olivier de Serres) and Fashion Design (Atelier Chardon-Savard) in Paris, before moving to London to assist McQ and Alexander McQueen’s design studios within their footwear and accessories department. This experience has been instrumental and considerably shaped my career into the footwear area. I enjoy pushing the definition of wearable-art through footwear, I creatively bend its limit by creating functional highly sculptural work. My practice is rooted in traditional craftsmanship, where the focus is placed on quality materials and precision. It marries with innovative experimentation throughout my design process and a dash of individual artistic vision inspired by my stories and emotions. I specialised into luxury footwear after deepening my knowledge working for McQ by Alexander McQueen and more recently Burberry. It feels like the most welcoming place in the field where designs can be 101% extra. I hold a BA in Fashion Design from Atelier Chardon-Savard and a Master’s Degree in Fashion Footwear Design from London College of Fashion Cordwainers University, where I later worked as a footwear technician for BA and MA students. With my hybrid background in sculpture and garment making, my shoe construction skills are broad and I can extend them outside of the box. I am currently running my own studio practice working on several independent projects alongside teaching fashion students in Parisian Universities (IFM and Mod'Art International). In the upcoming months, I should be starting as a Mentor for UAL as well which I am very excited about!
After spending a full year as an Accessories Design Assistant at McQ’s Laser House, I applied for jobs but was told I didn’t know enough technically. Drawing a beautiful colourful shoe is one thing, constructing and understanding its anatomy is another. I was doing odd sales assistant jobs in high-end boutiques or at Selfridges whilst hoping for another design opportunity. One day, drained, I called my Dad and told him “Papa I am coming back home for a while. I want to have a higher diploma. I want to be taken seriously. I will work, save and get a master degree from a top school”. To this day, I love how he agreed with my decision and did not even question it one bit. He did trust me.
I knew I had to target LCF which had the best results at the time. Jimmy Choo had been there, Nicholas Kirkwood (my shoe hero) had too and Charlotte Olympia. It was the one! But I needed one back up (just in case). Dad always taught me to have a plan A, B, C and D. I travelled back to London during open days for both LCF and RCA. I wanted to be sure of my decision. Funny enough, the footwear course leader at LCF was an RCA alumni. During my visit, the smaller, more intimate structure of Golden Lane (LCF) really seduced me. Everyone seemed to know each other. Like in a friendly community. Also, I was looking for the best university that would allow me to express my creativity without technical boundaries. I was not wrong. I have never regretted my decision to this day.
As far as I can remember… yes! I earnestly had no clue I would end up sucked into the footwear universe but fashion, yes definitely. As a little girl I would always make and remake full outfits for my dolls. Mum would repeatedly ask me why my Barbies were naked. For me, there was no point dressing them up if they were going to change outfits 8 times in a day. I was mocking-up full outfits, they had to be fitting-ready, haha! It was a very special privilege when my parents allowed me to sew with their “adult” Singer sewing machine. They tried to distract me by purchasing a few kids' sewing machines. Those never worked and never lasted, so I'd continue begging for theirs. Finally for my 7th birthday, Mimi (my Grandmother), decided to offer me a very own real sewing machine! I have never stopped creating since then.
Growing into a pre-teen and a young adult, my parents were very conservative and protective trying to get me away from a career in fashion. It did not work. I would be bored and feel lifeless in everything else I tried. I worked 3 different jobs at the same time to fund my BA. I had to make my own wish come true regardless of their opposite point of view. I worked my *** off, then saved, paid for my studies and got my first degree. This was probably the first time they finally believed my dedication to it. The next year they let me lead. They were reassured.
Being able as a human to solve individual problems and to serve deep footwear desire has been for me the fuel to having a set brand. My best moments are definitely when working on bespoke pairs for individuals with a story behind it. It could be for an event, irregular sizing, a desire for true uniqueness... Shoe making has this magic. I mean you can literally create a pair of footwear from scratch for anyone, any shape, any colour. For yourself too!
The most enjoyable part of it is being able to work upon referrals only. It means what you produce is appreciated and the love and dedication I put into the pair continues to live after I deliver it. This is a blessing for me. I do not think I could ever top such a response from the world. Merci! Thanks for your trust.
A lot of my creative practice went into writing. During the first confinement I ended up in a place with no equipment for creating, all my freelance jobs had been cancelled, I was in a different country… All I had left was my best tool: my own brain. I took this special time to remove every single idea and note from my mind, with a lot of kindness and without judgement, I wrote them down. All of them. I later organised and filled them. I was making plans of what and how I would do things as soon as I was in a studio environment again. Today I can literally go through a very personal “Library of my Universe”. It helps me daily with tuition I gave, designs I developed, understanding better my identity or putting together a new collaborative project. Once I had been able to settle and get a studio space, I worked full speed on the different areas of my studio practice and this kept me “alive” for sure. My vision was clearer, I simply followed.
Very fun story. I also ended up carving a wooden pair of chunky chopine-inspired footwear with hand tools for Violette Villeneuve of Central Saint Martins. We were working on her collection's footwear when the pandemic happened. I ended up in the countryside at my Uncle's house - who is a landscape gardener. I took timber blocks from his chimney wood stack and started carving in the sun. It obviously took ages and I had very sore arms yet I love how resourceful this has forced me to be. In this moment I enjoyed the slowness of the production as much as the great problem-solving situation unfolding.
Wow, I thought we had banned this question since March 2020, haha. Let’s see... In a few years, I still believe in art (and fashion) as a wellness tool and am still running my Footwear Design Studio, partly making bespoke footwear and partly teaching upcoming creative talents. As a matter of fact, in a few years I have established a beautiful Moroccan riad-inspired Footwear Maison d'Artistes (Footwear Art Residency). On one hand, with small-scale bespoke work I focus on an Artisan x Artisan work philosophy to be able to continue curate craftsmanship locally as well as worldwide; on the other hand, with an Artisan x Human approach, I am still creating objects of desire for individuals trusting me to materialise this investment pair that will fit their personal story. In a few years, I will keep studying, learning my craft and still adore mentoring students. On a more spiritual note, my art, creative journey and positivity touch and inspire - at least a bit - every young creative issue from minority groups living in the suburb. It shows and proves to them that the label society puts on them has nothing to do with their capacity and talent. It gives them the strength to believe and never give up. It pushes them to inspire and help others coming after them.
Definitely my tutors! Those fantastic expert humans. I earnestly do not believe it would have been the same without their insights, their loving and fun personalities and their approach to teamwork. I still cannot stop raving about them when reminiscing about my years at Golden Lane (LCF). A pure combination of generosity, benevolence and uniqueness. Their life stories and background are so inspiring. They have been the best part for sure.
Undeniably it would have to be my MA final collection. Although I applied to a footwear course my background is very art-oriented. I knew from the start I would not produce conventional shoes. Two years prior to starting my MA I even took a metal work apprenticeship and started shaping what could look like footwear. It has been a true salute being able to develop in an environment where my craziest ideas were not judged or cancelled but simply considered. During this project I really enjoyed giving myself discipline and learning, from the experts, the art of technical problem-solving. This project's concept came from emotions and family anecdotes I had to materialise using metalwork, garment pattern making skill, traditional shoe making, wood sculpting and 3D modelling. I absolutely love love love the fact that I could merge all the fascinations of my creative mind and that the university structure has been able to help me deliver it. The open-mindedness and resourcefulness of Golden Lane definitely matched mine. A love story from which my collection “Resilience” emerged. I remember adjusting my patterns 7 times for my super thigh-high boot. Working in hospitality throughout the years to fund 3D printing that was more expensive than my own rent. Getting a weird look from men working in a hardware store when picking up my metal bars. Sweating in front of Rhinoceros, forcing myself to understand 3D modelling software from scratch. Feeling relieved and very proud when mastering a crisp pair of pumps. All this has been a beautiful combination of my many interests. Discovering there is a place for my polyvalent mind and deep questioning.
Gee Law said “you are a professional now. You will make no mistake. A professional shoe maker does not do mistakes!” with a solid smile. My oldest friend asked me to make her wedding shoes, it was also my first pair. I chickened out during the process and was scared to ruin the pair. It went perfectly well. She said they are the most comfortable heels she owns, danced all night and still pop them on sometimes when we meet up.
Two of my favourite French words: “Patience & Persévérance”. It's all in these two words.
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