'Anyone who is vaguely interested in fashion will use the word 'love' when they talk about shoes," muses the shoe designer, Georgina Goodman. "You don't say, 'I love trousers'. You might say, 'I love that jacket'. But people always say, 'I love shoes'." Particularly, it would seem, Goodman's shoes.
In a sea of strappy, spindly, high-heeled nothings, her bold, uncompromising creations – squishy, hand-painted thong sandals; patent black-and-mustard platform slingbacks; cube-heeled peep-toe shoes the colour of metallic-cherry car paint – stand out. Voted eighth in Harper's Bazaar's recent poll of the most influential people reshaping the nation, Goodman has also been nominated Accessory Designer of the Year twice by the British Fashion Council (in 2005 and 2006); and hailed "the future of footwear" by the shoe maestro himself, Manolo Blahnik. In two weeks time, she opens a flagship store on Bond Street. Having launched her label just five years ago, Goodman's success is nothing short of meteoric.
"We've always done our own thing and hoped that people like what we do," explains the 39-year-old former stylist who graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2001 with an MA in womenswear/ footwear. "Our idea has never been, oh let's do this because it will really sell. It's more, this is a great shoe. It could be commercial but, actually, it's a really beautiful shoe and it feels right."
Hers is a simple philosophy predicated on ditching fancy strategies in favour of going with her gut instinct. Such a heartfelt approach is also what lies behind Goodman's decision to buck the received wisdom of how one builds a brand (create a product and ensure brand recognition before opening a shop). Instead, she launched herself on to the scene by opening her first shop, in 2002, in an out-of-the-way location in Mayfair.
There, she showcased her exquisite, made-to-order couture shoes that, up till that point, no one had really heard of. These sculptural creations, crafted out of single piece of untreated leather, were an instant hit and redefined notions of luxury. As for her shop, it made Shepherd Street a fashion destination, and Goodman a name to watch.
In 2003, the shoe designer added a seasonal, ready-to-wear collection, which today is her core business. Of course, if a client wants something specially made, Goodman will always oblige, even if this service is no longer the focus of the company. "Our brand has really moved on. We're not about shoes handmade in Mayfair anymore. We're about a new aesthetic in luxury accessories," she says of the four annual footwear collections and 20 non-shoe items she now produces, including cuffs, scarves, cushions and tablemats, and soon jewellery. "That's where we are positioning ourselves now."
It should come as no surprise that, when the opportunity arose for her to open a flagship store on one of London most de-luxe shopping streets, Goodman couldn't pass up on the chance. "There's such a lot of history and kudos to Bond Street, and there aren't that many independent labels on it," says Goodman, who, by opening a shop here, is effectively going head to head with the luxury megabrands ensconced on the street. "It's all owned by about 10 people, practically. In fact, I think there's nobody on Bond Street that's been going for just five years and is an independent retailer."
In the same way that Goodman is unlikely to design anything as mundane as a must-have shoe, her retail spaces are the antithesis of the sterile global-brand flagships that line this street. A former gallery space, 44 Old Bond Street chimes with Goodman's belief that her shops should be a place in which to absorb and appreciate beauty – not be sold to. Cue an interior humming with character: a two-tone smoky, mirrored ceiling, buttoned-banquette seating and vintage touches such as a dramatic, geometric wall-mounted lighting feature dating back to the late Sixties.
"I think Georgina is 100 per cent true to what she likes," states Sarah Walter, River Island's head of fashion communications, who commissioned Goodman several years ago to create a capsule collection of shoes for Walter's previous employer, New Look. "She's not swayed by what's in and out of fashion." Nevertheless, Goodman does seem to possess an uncanny knack for anticipating trends: she designed "shoots" (shoe boots) three years before anyone else, and was promoting platforms a good two years before they eventually caught on.
"I'm not someone who's about an It bag. I'm about, "that looks great, it's pink!'," chuckles Goodman. "You know, something that says something about individuality." Walter agrees. "I don't think anyone else does anything quite like her. Her handwriting is incredibly distinctive. She starts from a very sculptural point of view," she explains, highlighting the objet d'art nature of Goodman's shoes, which are often hand-painted, hand-tinted or crafted out of super-soft kid or kangaroo leather. "She just does her thing, and that's an artistic and sculptural aesthetic. Her shoes are very particular."
In addition to her eponymous range, Goodman is a consultant on Alexander McQueen's footwear collections. While her position has clearly influenced the quality of his shoes, this way of working is a feedback loop that, in turn, appears to have upped the sensuality of her designs. "A couple of years ago, someone said to me that they thought my shoes were great and really fun but not sexy," says Goodman by way of explanation. "Around then, I started working with the Italian shoe company Casadei. Working with an Italian is all about sexy. That was much more of an influence."
Still, as the fashion writer and broadcaster Caryn Franklin points out, you're unlikely to find anything as clichéd as a killer heel in Goodman's range: "I don't look for design that prioritises simplistic sexual allure, with the uniform embellishments of skinny high heels, strappy surround and a suggestion of vulnerability, and neediness. I don't buy into that formulaic shorthand for evoking masculine interest. In Georgina's shoes, I'm powerful, and that's where I get my emotional fix. Her shoes are about the embellishment of femininity and the complexity of being a woman."
The fact that Goodman's shoes are crafted with intelligence and from a feminine point of view is, according to Franklin, another huge part of their appeal: "Part of the attraction lies in the fact that it's a shoe designed by a woman, of course, but I enjoy the subtle sensuality she evokes in her use of earthy woods, fleshy leathers and strident design."
Ever since Goodman can remember, she has been obsessed with shoes. As a child, she played shoe shops. As an adult, she owns 400 pairs of shoes – and two shoe shops. In other words, she is well placed to speculate on the emotive nature of women's relationship with their shoes. "I have a theory about why people connect so much with shoes," she says. "Shoes are a great object for emotional transference. If you want to feel sexy, you put your sexy shoes on. If you want to pull, you put your pulling shoes on. If you want to feel comfortable, you put on slippers..."
Or, if you want to feel unique, you slip on a pair of Georgina Goodman's shoes.
Georgina Goodman's shop opens 12 April at 44 Old Bond Street, London W1Reuse content