Footwear: Well-heeled

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A new book celebrates some of the biggest names in modern shoe design. Put your best foot forward, say Rebecca Proctor and Sue Huey


Sergio Rossi

Sergio Rossi is not just about prestige and exclusivity, it is also based on a history of craftsmanship and the traditions of the artisan. Edmundo Castillo, senior designer, has succeeded in encapsulating the brand's heritage by focusing on creating feminine and sexy shoes made from the finest materials.

The key to a luxurious shoe lies in its shape. High stiletto heels elongate the leg and correct the posture, while well-shaped uppers embrace a women's foot, feeling glove-like and comforting. The proportion of a shoe is so important that it can instantly transform the way a women feels – making her sexy and confident one minute or demure and intelligent the next.

All this has long fascinated Puerto Rican Castillo, who spent his formative years working in upscale shoe stores in New York. "I loved working in shoe stores because it was there that I learned how women behave when wearing a certain [type of] shoe," Castillo says. "I noticed that as soon as they tried them on, they started behaving differently. Their personalities seemed to change and they started walking differently. It was then that I realised how a shoe could change people and make them feel great."

Pierre Hardy

Pierre Hardy is one of luxury footwear's luminaries, having spent over 20 years at the helm of some of France's most famous fashion houses before launching his self-titled label in 1998 to critical acclaim. The basis of Hardy's style could perhaps be described as modern simplicity. "I try to simplify the design to an essence," he explains. "I love clean lines and sculptural shapes and I try to make shoes as powerful, clear and sensual as possible."

Hardy says that he "strives to express femininity, but in an ambiguous way, mixing it with strength or masculinity, or sometimes with a more provocative mood."

Maintaining his position at the pinnacle of modernity is something he is extremely passionate about.

When creating a concept, Hardy does not work by any predefined methods, rather more by chance, his influences often far ranging and unrelated to fashion. Regardless of the source of inspiration, however, the concept always starts with a sketch: "The initial step is always a drawing, first because most of my ideas come from drawing. Second, if I have an idea in mind, I try to give it shape in the drawing."

While studying fine arts and painting, Hardy would frequently sketch shoe ideas in his spare time, and then a chance career opportunity arose at Dior in 1988. After five years at Dior, he went on to become the head of design at Hermès and then head designer for Balenciaga shoes in 2000.

United Nude

Disillusioned by the impersonal nature of large-scale, monolithic buildings, Dutch architect Rem D Koolhaas came to footwear design after looking to break away and pursue his work in smaller, more intimate proportions. Koolhaas, not to be confused with his uncle, renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, collaborated with pioneering shoemaker Galahad JD Clark (seventh generation of Clarks shoes) to create United Nude. The pair specialise in creating conceptual footwear interpretations of architecture and the fluid lines of quintessential design objects. The name United Nude reflects the philosophy of the brand: "involvement in projects with international teams (united) in an open way with direct recognition (nude)".

On launching their brand, the pair first introduced the revolutionary Mobius shoe, inspired by the eponymous mathematical form, the Möbius strip, and by a desire to reinterpret Mies van der Rohe's "Barcelona" chair as footwear. This shoe, with no beginning or end, comprises one continuous piece, simultaneously functioning as the footbed, upper and heel.

Other styles include the Eamz, which pays homage to the creative couple Charles and Ray Eames; the cast-aluminium foot that is found on a number of their furniture classics is reinterpreted here as the heel.

The Porn design has a functioning footbed suspended through a loop, which acts as both the heel and upper.

Trends are largely ignored by United Nude, but styles are updated seasonally.

Finsk

"My shoes are more like design objects rather than footwear," says Finnish designer Julia Lundsten, whose shoes meld strong architectural shapes and butter-soft leathers with striking wooden heels. All too often wooden heels are incredibly conventional, ignoring the beauty of the material itself, but Lundsten's unique style has drawn critical acclaim from all over the world and has even succeeded in captivating legendary footwear designer Manolo Blahník. "Her work is like nothing anybody is doing at the moment... exquisite, divine and perfect," he says.

In fact, Blahník was so taken with Lundsten's architectural forms that, while she was studying for her Masters degree in Footwear at London's Royal College of Art, he presented her with the prestigious Manolo Blahník Award two years in a row.

Lundsten's interest in design was sparked at an early age when she spent her summers touring Scandinavia, visiting buildings with her architect father and interior designer mother. This experience has clearly had a lasting effect on her as she likens her shoe designs to buildings and chairs: "A shoe is like a chair, the heel and sole being the chair legs and the upper the seat."

She initially studied fashion design but rejected the discipline because she did not like the way that the body plays such a fundamental part in how a finished garment looks. "The shape and look of clothing changes completely with each body and I was always intrigued by shoes as they are related to a woman and her body, but the shape is a shape in itself and it doesn't really change with different 'foot shapes.'" As soon as she started concentrating fully on shoes, Lundsten knew that she had finally found the right combination of form and fashion.

Nicholas Kirkwood

From sculptural, crescent uppers and rhombus-shaped heels, to chevron-patterned, stacked-leather heels and aluminium-plate fastenings, Nicholas Kirkwood's shoes have one common theme: they are evidence of a master craftsman at work.

Despite the hints of modernist architecture and sculpture in his footwear, Kirkwood denies taking inspiration from anything so specific. "I doodle a lot and let my designs evolve quite freely," he admits. "I rarely set out thinking, 'this is what I am going to do,' and, in fact, the only thing I ever try and do is test out new ideas."

He does, however, consider good design to be work that is modern and pushes the boundaries.

Strict linear composition devoid of clutter is clearly central to his aesthetic. He rejects fussy trims, bows and diamantés, describing them as "the gargoyles of the footwear world," and dismisses stilettos for being "too old-fashioned". Instead, Kirkwood chooses to rely on colour and materials to emphasise the graphic constructions of his work.

"I don't use anything that's stuck on to the shoe. In certain ways it's architectural. Old-fashioned buildings like to be very decorative on the outside, but the basic shape is still a block, whereas modern buildings are more concerned about the actual shape of the building itself. That's the way I try to think of my shoes, especially when it comes to the heels."

Kirkwood launched his own line in 2005, aged just 24, following an apprenticeship with Philip Treacy.

New Shoes by Sue Huey and Rebecca Proctor is available now, £9.95, published by Laurence King, www.laurenceking.com

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