Wallflowers step aside, Nicholas Kirkwood’s menacingly seductive heels are for legs that demand a bit of ogling. Never a kitsch frill or bow in sight, these angular kicks channel 80s power stilettos with jumped up sex appeal, rejecting ornamentation in favour of sculptural glamour. Sitting back on a sunny afternoon, London’s most promising young shoe designer got talking with Indigo Clarke over a glass or two of champagne in his South London pad.
“Chicks dig it – and I can drink champagne whenever I want,” says Nicholas Kirkwood with a laugh, “designing shoes and working for myself is good in that way.” For a self-confessed ‘leg’ man, the job couldn’t get much better. Ladies throughout Europe and the US are snapping up Kirkwood heels in a frenzy, with Kirkwood’s own female friends proudly sporting his distinctive wares over the competition – one of them declaring at a recent gathering, “I made Nicholas courier a pair of his shoes to me at my last birthday party – I didn’t want to wear the heels I had on, they were Galliano, but they just weren’t right.”
His characteristically dark and feminine aesthetic from the outset attracted the admiration of style icons and fashion industry professionals. From the inimitable songstress Grace Jones to Visionaire’s Cecilia Dean, femmes of substance and style are avid fans. But it’s not just, “Women with presence and intellect,” (his desired audience) that are jumping on his bandwagon – luminary photographer and art director Jean Paul Goude is one of many to feature his brazenly sculptural heels in a recent fashion shoot, while the house of Chloe got in on the action with Kirkwood designing their Autumn 07 pre-collection.
Eying Kirkwood’s last few collections, stacked haphazardly in his endearingly plush and disordered studio, it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about. From vertiginous heels to platform wedges, his designs take direction from bygone eras, resurrecting noir mystique with a decidedly modern slant. With a fusion of unexpected materials including lizard, stingray, watersnake, python and buffalo horn alongside severe, architecturally inspired contours, it’s evident that Kirkwood takes an artisinal approach to design, with meticulous attention to detailing and construction. “I wasn’t always interested in shoe design – it could have been anything design related,” says the 26 year-old of his career choice. “I’ve always been interested in design and form – most of my friends got into clothing design but I didn’t want to pursue fashion.”
Undertaking degrees at both St Martins and the prestigious Cordwainers College, Kirkwood began his career in design working under renowned milliner Philip Traecey at 18 – doodling shoe designs on the side. “I worked with Philip for five years, creating shoes at home by hand in my spare time,” Kirkwood explains. “I hand-made the majority of my first collection – I went in gung-ho, I had a vision to create shoes that were different and not at all commercial. They were designed to attract attention – not necessarily to be worn.”
This first collection, released in 2005, was more object d’art than wearable (none of the shoes were for sale), but nonetheless catapulted him to cult stardom, winning him the coveted Conde Nast Footwear Emerging Talent award of 2005.
Kirkwood followed with a wearable range of dramatically angular heels sans decoration– his trademark style, that debuted on the shelves of exclusive retailers Harrods, Browns Focus, Selfridges, Dover Street Market and Bergdorf Goodman, as well as on the pages of international style bibles British and Italian Vogue, The New York Times and I.D Magazine.
“My heels are like modern architecture as opposed to Baroque – there is no pointless decoration,” says Kirkwood, downing champagne and sitting back in an antique gilded chair. “Decorating for the sake of decorating is a really old-fashioned notion, I’m more about form and function. Some of my heels look quite aggressive, but they are always feminine – not girly, you won’t find any bows or diamonds.”
Walking all over pretty and tossing frou frou and pastels aside, Kirkwood has reinvented the classic stiletto, platform and wedge for AW07 in dark, muted tones interspersed with lilac and metallic khaki. As always, his latest offerings – equal portions glamorous and formidable – are intended for the feet of, “Women with presence, with a bit of rock’n’roll,” says Kirkwood. “I’d like to see yummy mummy’s wearing them, but only if they’re really yummy.” With so many dishy heels on offer, has a gal any excuse to flaunt flats? “High heels should be worn all the time, no exceptions,” Kirkwood begins with a boyish grin, “…except at the beach maybe.”