Cordwainers, the college of shoe making in east London, has been setting a smart pace in design for a decade. The class of '84 - including such leading lights as Patick Cox, Emma Hope, Christine Ahrens and Elizabeth Stuart Smith - is well established, but several more bright young designers have emerged since then, to change the shape of our footwear.

Lori Duffy (who has had a shoe fixation since the age of four) and Nicky Lawler left Cordwainers in 1989, having been commissioned to make shoes for Joe Casely-Hayford. This proved such a success that they were having to reject orders - because they were making all the shoes themselves.

Lawler Duffy is now the best known of the new shoe design companies. Its shoes are sold world-wide and magazines for the well-heeled - including the influential Harper's Bazaar in America - are clamouring to photograph its Perspex and silver sandals for this spring.

The two designers are attracted by unusual materials, which often dictate the style of their creations. When they used salmon skin last summer, they made a simple shoe, a loafer. For this summer, the loafers are made of more exotic stuff: Patagonian toothfish skin. They have also been known to use denim, unshaven hairy cowskin, and hairy suede.

The glamorous sandals with Perspex (clear or tortoiseshell) soles and silver heels promise to be in great demand this season, but Lawler Duffy has been unable to find a manufacturer, and the designers themselves are having to make them in their north London studio. Their spring collection also includes a new range of hairy leather sneakers.

Hedi Raikamo spent just a short time at Cordwainers before setting up on her own to make plain, simple shoes. 'Detail must be functional rather than decorative,' she says. Her shoes - not just in leather but also in materials normally reserved for slippers, such as wool and felt - look very comfortable. The distressed leather desert boots seem already to have trekked through the Sahara.

Raikamo's favourite design at the moment is her sock-shoe, a cross between a boot and a hiking sock. The knitted sections of the boots are made from old jumpers bought at Brick Lane Market. Raikamo washes, dyes and cuts the jumpers to fit into the shoes. The unisex sock-shoe has sold particularly well in Germany.

She came to London in 1989, after studying fashion in Germany, and was drawn to hard-wearing fabrics. 'I'm quite rough with my hands,' she says, and she liked being able to use a hammer rather than a fine needle.

So rather than continue in fashion design, Raikamo decided to switch to shoes. She had visited London while at college, and returned to spend six months on work experience with Emma Hope, Jimmy Choo and John Moore. And it was there that she learned the craft of shoe making.

Although Raikamo sells most of her shoes in Germany, she prefers to work in London as part of Commun, a small design collective, finding it easier to operate a small business here. Her work has reflected the recession: last summer she made 'potato sack shoes' out of hessian.

The manufacturers who produce Raikamo's shoes also make up samples for Benedict O'Connor, a recent fashion and photography graduate. Like Raikamo, he was disillusioned with fashion, and fell into shoe design by accident.

O'Connor's shoes take up where the brogue and the sports shoe leave off. His classic shoe for the Nineties is a play on the golf shoe, the brogue and the rugby shoe: smart and casual at the same time, and suitable for men and women. 'There isn't a male equivalent to women's fashion shoes,' he says. 'The market is wide open.'

O'Connor learnt how to make shoes as an apprentice with the shoemaker Paul Harnden, whose customers for his antique- style footwear include Bryan Ferry.

Before his apprenticeship, O'Connor knew nothing about shoes, and he was thrown into intensive work. 'It was absolute hell,' he says. 'I was based on top of a mountain in the wilds of the Scotland, where I slept in the freezing cold in a barn with the animals.' There was nothing else to do but learn about making shoes.

After four months, he was ready for a holiday, but could not reject the chance of work with the fashion company, Ghost. He made platform espadrilles, for the catwalk. 'I was terrified that Naomi Campbell would fall in them and cripple herself,' he says. When, a few weeks later, she did fall on the catwalk, she was wearing Vivienne Westwood platforms made by another young shoe designer, Janet Middleton.

Browns has shown interest in O'Connor's work, but at present he has six shoe samples on his hands and no means of putting them into production. He is waiting to see if he has been awarded a Prince of Wales Trust grant. Ideally, he would like to go into production with Adidas or Nike, and combine new technology with traditional leather work and his own styling.

Jackie Leggett, whose shoes are much busier, bright and detailed, has been luckier. She completed her degree in footwear at De Montfort University (the only footwear degree in the country) last year, and was promptly spotted by Helen Storey, who bought a few pairs of Leggett clogs and showed them with her collection for last summer. Now, Leggett's shoes are sold at Office in Covent Garden and in selected branches of the Glasgow-based shoe chain, Schuh. Last year, she sold more than 200 pairs of her hand-made, hand-painted clogs, each costing between pounds 100 and pounds 160. Shoes run in the Leggett family: her father runs a factory in Cumbria, which makes her shoes: 'I like seeing them through from design to manufacture,' she says.

Shoes by Hedi Raikamo are available at Jones (13 & 15 Floral Street, WC2); inquiries, 071- 833 3179.

Benedict O'Connor, inquiries 071-328 6249.

Shoes by Jackie Leggett from Office (60 Floral Street, WC2) and from Schuh (7 Angel Row, Nottingham; 5-7 Sidgate, Eldon Square Shopping Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne).

Shoes by Lawler Duffy, from Jones (as above) and Love (1st Floor, Burlington Chambers, New Street, Birmingham), Ichi Ni San (26 Bell Street, The Merchant City, Glasgow), and Hip (14 Thorntons Arcade, Leeds); inquiries, 071-923 2821.

(Photograph omitted)

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