I recently interviewed one of my favorite shoe designers, Brian Atwood during his first trip to Dubai with Level Shoe District (yes, the largest shoe store in the world). I spoke to the charming designer on his trip to the Middle East, what makes a good shoe and what advice he would give up and coming shoe designers.
Hi Brian! Welcome to Dubai!
Thank you very much. I’m glad to be here, it’s my first time!
How does it feel to be here?
It’s great! I can’t wait to go out and see more of the city. I checked out some restaurants last night, and tomorrow, we’re going to go to the desert.
Is there anything specific that you’re planning to do while you’re here?
I think besides the desert, the souq for sure, and seeing this beautiful place [Level Shoe District] makes me want to shop for shoes.
How did you get into the whole shoe world and become a shoe designer?
I started off in designing clothing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and it wasn’t till I was modeling back and forth from New York to Milan that I decided I wanted to stop modeling and finally work as a designer. I handed my resume to Versace and Gucci, Versace called me that day for an interview with Gianni, and it just happened — it was a life changing experience. When I started designing clothes for Versace, they asked me to design shoes for their couture, and that was my first time really designing shoes, but once I got my hands on it, I fell in love with it.
What inspired the current collection – Spring Summer ’16?
It definitely from my trips to Mexico — it’s like a big fiesta! I take inspiration from Frida Kahlo, from Tulum where I was, and from Aztec ruins. Some details and beadings, some patterns are just in the kind of the spirit of a Mexican fiesta — this explosion of colors and celebration of life.
What makes a good shoe?
I think the construction and balance of the shoe are key. Great construction is obvious, and you need balance, especially if it’s a thin stiletto as you’re supporting body weight on it and you need to be equally balanced as much as you can on the shoe. The wearer also needs to practice in her high heels, and know what she can wear. It’s always painful to see women who are like every step ‘ahh’ — take them off! Know what you can wear and know which shoes are meant for running around for 8 hours and what shoes are meant to be worn to sit down in.
What is the best thing about designing shoes?
I think it’s always exciting going to look for a new season, it’s like I see a blank canvas on the wall, and it’s all blank, so I start fresh and I start with inspiration colors and then it all take shape, and for me it’s really that point that matter. Then you start sketching out shoes, making samples and start seeing them come to life. For me it’s like Christmas, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, and I get so excited about that.
When designing shoes, do you have someone specific in mind when designing your collections?
Because we usually attach certain icons to the inspiration of the season, it’s definitely a very stylish and confident woman that is always consistent throughout any collection.
What has been your career highlight?
I mean, let’s see… so far, I think winning the CFDA award (Council of Fashion Designers of America) for footwear designer of the year, and just watching my business grow every year, especially as I see it now, with social media — how the world is changing!The consumer is so much more demanding, they don’t want to wait.
Is social media important to your brand?
Absolutely, I love it because I do it all, so it’s really personal, all of it. I used to have someone do it, and it became so commercial and stale, but it’s a lot of work. Sometimes you’re inspired and sometimes you’re not. If I’m not inspired I just post one picture, but if I am then I’ll do more, but it’s definitely coming from me and I think my followers can tell that it’s genuine.
What advice would you give for up and coming shoe designers in our region?
The industry has changed so much, it’s oversaturated with shoe designers, but it’s like any industry, I think if you have a strong voice, a strong opinion, and a strong style, stick to it and become individual in your style and really know what your customers want and believe in it. If you do, then there is no reason you should fail.
I DJ on the side, what is on your current playlist?
Alright! The new Beyonce album is amazing. I also love Drake, and I’ve always loved Red Hot Chili Peppers, I like every genre and music is very important to me, as I listen to music when I design.