Christian Louboutin should be quaking in his red-soled boots. Rising star Nicholas Kirkwood has well and truly usurped the Frenchman’s stiletto status to become the hottest name on the lips (and feet) of the fashion pack…
With a mantel groaning under the weight of his countless awards – the AltaRoma Vogue Italia Award and Swarovski’s Emerging Talent for Accessories Award to name but two – the German-born, London-raised designer has done for heels
what Philip Treacy once did for hats; turned them into cult-level objet d’art that the style-savvy scramble to get their Nouvelle Vagued mitts on. Ironic, then, that Kirkwood cut his teeth in Treacy’s atelier in 1999, before realising that, at a time when the kitten heel was king, there was “space for something else”. Thankfully, that something else was vertiginous, awe-inspiring and exactly what women were looking for – they just didn’t know it yet.
Mention Kirkwood’s name to any fashion lover and you invariably get the same frenzied response – a breathless, ode-like outburst that only a true trophy shoe could ever evoke. So, what exactly is it about Mr Kirkwood that makes footwear fanatics fall head over statement heels?
Kirkwood’s signature style is very linear, focusing on graphic shapes rather than frivolity or ornamentation.
First and foremost, he is a genuine craftsman. His mastering of traditional shoemaking techniques – he trained at the world-renowned Cordwainers College - has meant that his avant-garde designs are deftly brought to life; daringly cantilevered and often suspended as if by magic. His visionary skill has also earned him the respect of fellow designers and fashion lovers alike; joining forces with Basso & Brooke and Liberty of London and counting Grace Jones and SJP among his fans. Not bad for a label that was only launched in the spring of 2005. He owns that rare kind of sensibility that enables him to take the essence of his brand and seamlessly fuse it with the vision of another. It’s this talent that’s seen him mould Erdem’s impressionist florals and Rodarte’s sophisticated primitivism into unmistakably Kirkwoodian creations. As such, it’s no wonder his collaborations inspire such acclaim; his next partnership being with print powerhouse duo, Peter Pilotto. There are also rumours circulating that legendary 80s artist Keith Haring is next in the pipeline.
Secondly, he has a palpable sense of fun; weaving his own Willy Wonka-esque dreamworld where convention plays second fiddle to fantasy and a simple black pump seems like a chance wasted. Here, caged lace-up sandals and sculptural slingbacks exist in a high-octane spectrum of electric blue, neon green and hot pink. Even his take on classic can’t escape the fantastical – neutrals are still spliced with flashes of fluoro and rustic-looking wooden heels juxtaposed against modernist silhouettes. And it’s these architectural lines that deal the final blow; poetic, arresting and guaranteed to melt the heart of even the most discerning fashion fan. There’s an extravagance that people love about his designs that manages to steer clear of flamboyant – a trademark that he would put down to the DNA of the brand and a result of wanting to create shoes “without any excess”. Kirkwood’s signature style is very linear, focusing on graphic shapes rather than frivolity or ornamentation. Embellishment comes in the shape of exotic skins, unexpected detailing and a sensational use of abstract forms.
So what kind of woman does he think wears his show-stopping creations? “Someone with presence and intellect…and a bit rock ‘n’ roll.” It’s this empowering attitude that he stamps on his designs that has won him his fans; his understanding that each pair are a form of escapism, that pink always trumps putty and that life’s far too short to spend it in sensible shoes.
By Olivia Phillips