BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Innovation is celebrated for producing some of the world’s fashion footwear innovators including Jimmy Choo, Charlotte Olympia, Sophia Webster and Nicholas Kirkwood. After meeting several designers earlier this month for our In The Studio series, we talk to Kay Whitehouse and Hester Mortimer for LCFBA16 and our Cordwainers Footwear Class of 2016.
Give us one interesting fact about yourself…
Kay: Up to the age of four I hated wearing shoes and loved walking around bare foot – now I can’t get enough of them!
Hester: I play the cello. If I didn’t study shoe design at London College of Fashion, I would have liked to join an orchestra.
Talk us through your final collection…
Kay: The focus and underlying thread throughout my final collection is ‘home’. The collection merges fashion with philanthropy and the concept that if the collection were to be retailed then a percentage of the profits would be invested in supporting homeless youths. It aims to provide vulnerable people with somewhere they can call ‘home’. I believe that a sense of ‘belonging’ is what makes a home. You belong in your home. My collection brings this sense of belonging to footwear. Today our notion of personal space has changed. We’re able to create our personal space on the go, but our identity always lies in our homes. My collections views the home as a transitional space rather than a destination, by translating aspects of the home within a shoe.
Hester: My final collection focuses on hand embroidery, reintegrating craft and slow fashion within the British shoe industry. My designs are high-end, feminine and aspiring couture, they each feature luxury surface embellishment.
What do you love about what you do?
Kay: For me, I thrive of that light bulb moment I get when I finally have a great design idea. The process of seeing that spark from my head come to life and developed into an actual shoe that people can wear.
Hester: I love exploring ways of modernising ancient techniques and the history behind each method. I also love using it to inform modern design. The actual making process is fascinating to me.
What is the story behind your final piece of work?
Kay: In my third year at LCF I did an industry placement year. During that year I completed three internships, one in London, one in Amsterdam and another in New York. The whole year was a real eye opener for me. I learnt a lot just from the rush hour commute. I was shocked by the amount of homeless people I would pass by every single day on my way to work. This is what initially motivated the idea of exploring the ‘home’.
What techniques or theories did you use to create your final piece of work?
Kay: My collection is inspired by aspects of the conventional home, the roof over our heads, the solid foundations, the cosy interiors and everything in between. For one of my designs I wanted to translate a chesterfield sofa look onto my heel. In order to achieve this I printed a 3D heel design with SLS Nylon. I then chromed the final heels in silver to create a mirror like effect. Additionally, for the sock of my shoes (the part your foot is on), I wanted them to have a carpet texture, for this I explored embroidery and particularly moss stitching to achieve the desired look and feel.
Hester: Hand binding, silk shading and beading. In my research I also explored gold work, stump work and ribbon embroidery.
What’s the best thing about LCF?
Kay: The people, staff and students! I’m learning from the best with the best while studying alongside talented and creative peers. It has been inspiring and made my experience with the college unforgettable.
Hester: The facilities at LCF are incredible, they include all manner of industry machines to help you create authentic products. The technicians are absolutely indispensable with decades of experience and a genuine willingness to help you achieve. The links with industry are also fantastic. Each year group undertakes a live major project with industry partners. In the past, these have included Tommy Hilfiger, Saks Fifth Avenue and Ted Baker.
What’s the best thing about your course?
Kay: The lecturers, tutors and technicians! Over the duration of my degree they have been committed to teaching us almost everything there is to know about footwear. Not only have my design skills advanced but I have also developed pattern cutting, stitching and shoe making skills. By making 3D prototypes of our designs we are forced to put our knowledge into practice, allowing us to develop a deep understanding of how the shoes are constructed and drawing our attention to all the aspects of a shoe that need to be considered when designing.
Have you won any prizes?
Hester: I have been shortlisted for the 2016 Cordwainer’s Student of the Year Award.
Have you been in the media?
Kay: After I was awarded 1st prize for the Saks Fifth Avenue industry live project I featured on Vogue.co.uk.
Hester: I have contributed to a BBC documentary about the British Shoe Industry which will be on in June.
Have you undertaken any work experience or done a placement whilst at LCF? Where and how did you secure this work experience or placement?
Kay: I completed a placement year in my third year at LCF. I was lucky enough to secure three internships for this year and the summer. Two of the internships were awarded to me from the industry live projects completed in second year, at Tommy Hilfiger and Saks Fifth Avenue. The other internship was at Dune, this internship was advertised with LCF Careers and I applied through them.
Hester: I completed several placements, including freelance embroidery for Disney’s West End production of Aladdin. Studio Assistant at Luna Be (Couture Bridal Hair Accessories), Studio Assistant and Embroiderer at Freya Rose and Office Assistant at YB International (high street accessories supplier).
What did you learn on your placement?
Kay: At both my 6-month internships at Tommy Hilfiger (Amsterdam) and Dune (London), I worked closely with the footwear and accessories design teams. I assisted with the researching, developing and designing of upcoming seasons. Both of these placements taught me the importance of fusing desirability and commerciality into my designs. At my third internship at Saks Fifth Avenue (New York), I worked alongside the footwear buying team. This gave me an insight into the business side of the industry and during my time there I learnt a great deal about operations after the design process. This combination of design and buying internships has enabled me to develop an advanced understanding of the industry, enhancing my design capabilities.
Hester: Through these various placements I learnt a great deal about the running of a small company, from meeting clients and supplying products directly to a client’s brief. How to manage workloads and employing/managing a small team of embroiderers. The importance of correct communication and understanding exactly what is required of you. I learnt various craft techniques and gained a knowledge of materials. How to create shop reports and specifications to industry requirements.
Have you met or been inspired by any speakers from the industry whilst at LCF?
Kay: During final year I was lucky enough to have Georgina Goodman as my tutor. Her extensive experience and knowledge of the industry is aspiring. She has really helped me push myself with my design work this year.
Hester: I met Nicholas Kirkwood at a university lecture and his history and humble attitude really showed me that normal, kind people can make it in an industry that isn’t known for these qualities.
Describe your work in five words…
Kay: Imaginative, playful, elegant, sophisticated and precision-crafted.
Hester: Handcrafted, luxury, feminine, elegant, embellished.
Do you have a muse? If so, who and why?
Kay: Sophia Webster! I am inspired by her success, she was sitting in the same workshop as me not many years ago and has gone on to become a famous shoe designer whose name is known around the world.
Hester: I’m not sure if this counts as a muse but I really love and respect the costume designer Colleen Atwood’s work. She really infuses her designs with stories, every colour thread has importance and each bead is positioned for a reason. But if I had to pick someone to wear my shoes, I would choose Maisie Williams, the young Game of Thrones actress, she has an incredibly cool style and makes couture look modern and fresh.
What inspires you?
Kay: I’m inspired by the notion that footwear has the power and influence to do much more than simply supporting our feet.
Hester: I am constantly inspired by stories, epic films, characters and illustrations. I also love old, intricate fabrics like Venetian wall hangings or the work of Mariano Fortuny. I hope that I can portray all of these art forms through my shoes in one way or another.
Where do you want to be in your career in five years’ time?
Kay: I hope to have developed a vision for my own brand of footwear after gaining experience.
Hester: In five years time I would like to be a designer for a womenswear footwear company whilst providing a freelance embroidery service on the side.
How do you think your course and LCF will help you achieve your plans?
Kay: LCF offers great opportunities for connections to be made not only through the university but also through my fellow peers on my course who are the future of the industry.
Hester: I hope everything I’ve learnt throughout my degree from, the making process, the design process and what I have learned in my placement year will help me to realistically apply for work and be a strong candidate for future employers.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to study your course?
Kay: Jump at it! But be prepared to work hard in order to benefit from the wonderful opportunities offered.
Hester: I would advise people to get as involved in every aspect of the course as humanly possible. Make the most of the technicians and open access and throw yourself wholeheartedly into every live industry project. Always enter competitions because you never know what may happen, but you definitely won’t win if you don’t try. Also, I would definitely recommend doing a placement year. I was so shy and timid when it came to looking for experience but I’m much more confident in myself and my work as a result of the experience. People are not as scary as you think and most likely, they really want you to succeed.
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