London College of Fashion has some of the worlds most celebrated Cordwainers courses, producing renowned alumni that include Jimmy Choo, Sophia Webster, Charlotte Olympia and Nicholas Kirkwood. MA Footwear is the one of the most creative postgraduate courses available at the university, blending craftsmanship with technology to create a specialist course with an international reputation of excellence.
LCFMA16 will be featuring the wealth of talent from this years course in our Graduate Spotlight series ahead of LCFMA16 Exhibition. Canadian designer Niki Jessup is next up on the campaign, she created a collection of handcrafted unisex shoes inspired by Birds of Paradise.
MA Footwear student Niki Jessup. Photography credit: Hung-Chun Wang and the stylist is Yun Nam Ho
Where and what did you study prior to your MA at LCF?
I studied Maroquinerie (leatherwork) at the Centre des Métiers du Cuir de Montreal, Canada. Although the programme was decorative arts based rather than fashion based, it gave me the necessary skill set to embark on MA Footwear. I also have a BA with Honours in Interdisciplinary Religious studies, which has a strong influence on my work.
What made you want to study MA Fashion Footwear?
I always wanted to study footwear design/making because I’ve always had a thing for shoes. They are our first point of contact with the ground and they affect our posture, confidence and behaviour. Since there was no Footwear related education in Canada, I took up working as a cobbler in Montreal and followed a three year Leatherwork course. I was really happy when I got accepted to study MA Footwear at UAL because I’d finally learn how to properly design and make my own shoes.
MA Footwear student Niki Jessup at LCF’s Golden Lane site.
Tell us about your Masters project?
My final MA Footwear collection was inspired by Birds of Paradise, and is entitled Sexual Selection. Its made up of six pairs of handcrafted unisex shoes that allow the wearer to seduce their infatuation. I am interested in the recent cultural phenomenon of gender identity in fashion today because it opens up the discussion of acceptance and removes dated stereotypes of traditional gender roles and sexuality. Wishing to participate in this movement, my collection is made up of handcrafted shoes that transcend gender boundaries, allowing men, women and people who associate as a gender, bigender, transgender, pangender, genderfluid, genderqueer, etc., to feel confident and seductive wearing these shoes.
Contrary to other designers exploring this concept – I aspired to make the individual feel unique rather than neutral or uniform. The collection was based on materials and craftsmanship, combining traditional shoemaking and saddlery hand stitching techniques with modern materials. Using digitally printed vegetable tanned leather, I used a variety of constructions and stitches for all pairs. I used tones of pink and blue, colours that challenge traditional gender normative codes. The thread serves continuously from one shoe to the next, the imperfections reminding the wearer of our collective humanity but also of our individuality.
Can you describe your work in five words?
Handcrafted, juxtaposed, quirky, strange and vibrant.
Why did you choose LCF?
I knew LCF had a leading program in Footwear design with alumni including Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox. I also liked the cultural diversity at LCF, for instance, in my course, we all came from a different countries, with only one student from the UK. I’m really interested in people and their views, its been amazing to share this experience with my course. Finally, I really loved the idea of being in London while completing my studies. London is such a vibrant city with intense clashes between tradition and modernity, which is also present in my work.
Does studying an MA help you develop a personal style and express creativity further than a BA?
Yes! I would say the MA is all about developing a personal style and learning to express ourselves in our own way. Throughout the course we set our own research methodologies and worked independently towards our goals. That said, we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other and getting advice from the technicians in the workshops, our course leader and external designers who come to look at our work. In the end we all developed very unique studio methodologies and final outcomes.
What are your plans after graduation, has studying MA Fashion Footwear helped you realise what/where you want to be doing?
Its certainly helped me to narrow it down! The ultimate goal is to open up my own small brand in which I will design and make conceptual footwear for performance, exhibitions and installations as well as bespoke and small batch footwear. For the time being, I plan to work in an existing brand to improve my skills both in footwear design/making and in business management.
What advice would you give to anyone considering studying an MA at LCF?
I would say to prepare as much as you can prior to starting your MA. For instance, start doing the research in the topics that interests you, and find out what is currently being done in that field. The MA goes by really fast and this way you can get the most out of it. That said, be open to experimentation and change, because your project will certainly evolve as you go along, potentially not even resembling your initial ideas.