Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Interview with Bespoke Footwear designer and maker Ago e Lesina

I work with a bespoke shoe maker in London and I know of many others. There has been quite alot of interest in bespoke footwear of late, the price of off-the-peg designer shoes has increased so much, it has almost reached parity with bespoke. So, why bother paying £1500 for a pair of Vuitton shoes when you can have your own unique design made just for you?

Most of the bespoke shoe makers I know make only womens but I recently came across Salvatore of Ago e Lesina, bespoke shoe makers in Italy and I thought I would ask him some questions about his business.

Salvatore says,

''I've been in bespoke shoe manufacturing for the past 15 years or so, I did my apprenticeship in Silvano Lattanzi's own hometown in the Marche region. A "forward thinking" traditionalist I recently decided to finally start a website and join in the virtual business world.''

What kind of shoes do you specialise in? ''I specialize in men's footwear but of course also make shoes for women. I think when you make men's shoes you can make women's but not necessarily the other way around as men's footwear tends to be a bit more technical.''

Do you carve your own lasts? ''I don't, I have them made by a last maker based on the measurements taken, but depending on the need, when the changes to be made are minor, I do modify standard lasts by the addition-removal method to change the form according to the clients' needed specs (adding being leather and removal consisting of the last material).''

Did you make shoes for any celebrities and if so, who are they? ''Interesting question, I have some real vip's among my clients, both in the Italian entertainment industry (TV and radio personalities, two actors and one football player) and politics (three senators, a few magistrates and one Regional President) however Italian privacy laws prevent me from disclosing their names without first attaining written consent. However, there would still be a problem as it would also be considered an illegal conflict of interest and so-called subliminal endorsement which is sanctionable by the antitrust authority (welcome to Italy!)''

What were your favourite shoes you ever designed? ''That's a tough question, every pair of shoes made feel like a sort of offspring! But I once made some plain Monk, one-strap, buttoned, walled chisel toes, made with burgundy box calf leather from Tuscany, a shoe I promised to remake for myself. Unfortunately one of the many pairs I neglected to photograph.''

Which shoe designers do you admire? ''The shoe designer-makers that inspire(d) me are Lattanzi, Ferragamo and Berluti. Lattanzi especially because he's not afraid of crossing what are sometimes arthritic fashion-for-men lines.''

Which decade was your favourite era in fashion and why? ''I think the eighties was my favorite, fashion was inspired by that pop cultural phenomena known as "Miami Vice," which helped bring back elegance and style in popular apparel for men and women, even in casual settings, an option for both young and old. I'm reminded by Sonny Crocket's Armani suits and slipper-loafers worn, against all the rules of bon ton, without socks... and what real shoe lover could condemn that short lived revolution...''

Which is your favourite kind of leather to work with? ''I love to work with box calf, its softness, lightness, beauty and strength make it ideal for luxury shoes.''

What is the future of bespoke shoe making for you? ''After all these years I still find that the smell of premium tanned leather arouses the senses, if they could only make a cologne of it, not to mention the tactile qualities. Bespoke shoemaking preserves these elements the best in the finished shoe. These are things that industrial shoemaking can never really communicate to the wearer and even less the manufacturer, overwhelmed by the odours of industrial glues. And this is why I'll be happy to continue making bespoke shoes no matter what happens to the economy, even if they should become economically unviable. But I think that will not happen anytime soon, as the Asian and Middle Eastern markets are just waking to the reality of what is best in the European footwear industry: Italian hand-made shoes.''

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Am I Freelance or full time?

I 'm often contacted by other shoe designers who either want to go freelance or already are.

Because of the recession, I'd say there are probably more of us than there used to be as companies close and there aren't so many full time roles out there. Or are there?

I want to warn my fellow UK shoe designers to exercise caution when you are approached for freelance roles. Especially if the client wants you to work with them, full time, meaning you cannot take on any other work. If they want you to work in their office, using their equipment and they dictate your holidays and they won't let you subcontract, then, for me, alarm bells would start to ring.


Well, full time freelance is a bit of an oxymoron. In the eyes of the Inland Revenue you can either be a full time employee or freelance, but not both. In a time when companies may be looking to cut costs, I am seeing more and more evidence of what is essentially a ''tax dodge'' by companies. Should you be full time freelance, the initial benefits may be great (freelance rates with full time hours), but lots of risk to you. If the company changes it's strategy, you could be out of work instantly, no pay off, no notice and because you never had time for any other clients, no work. Not good. If the HMRC gets wind of the situation, you and your 'client' could be in trouble.
So, if you are approached about a freelance role or if you are freelance and working solely for one client, you should be aware of this. The onus is on you to protect yourself. Make sure you make it clear to the client that you will work for other clients and ensure that you have time to do this. If they insist you have to book time off (which will be unpaid because you are freelance, can you see how unfair this is?), you should refuse. There are plenty of freelance websites out there where you can ask questions about a specific role and needless to say the one of freelancer or employee is a very hot topic indeed.

''Because of the potential tax benefits enjoyed by freelancers, and the reduced liability for companies who use their services (instead of hiring employees), sometimes a firm might hire a freelancer to do what is basically a full time job – the would-be employee agrees to forego some of the security that comes with employment because of the tax breaks. Be warned though, the Inland Revenue doesn’t like this, and can force companies to convert full time freelancers into employees. As a general rule freelancers should only be hired because a certain skill or general manpower is needed for a short-term project, not as an alternative to properly employing a workforce. Should a freelance contract you’re being offered sound like a quasi-full time job, then it might be worth getting advice from a lawyer or accountant as to what the tax man might say. ''

From this link:

More here on our goverments website:

and here

Thursday, 22 October 2009

New Jumbuck range now available at Shudoo

Right now I'm working on storyboards for Jumbuck for next winter, but I already helped shudoo to develop the winter 2009 collection and it's now online and available to buy.

My favourite is the Studded Fringe Cherokee (£120) pictured here on X Factor contestant Rachel.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

One for my fellow Twitterers

Ok, this is a shoe /freelance designer blog, but please please please may I be allowed to add this? Please? Because it's tights, which are kind of close to shoes (in distance).

Twitter tights. These are great. I''ve become a bit of a Twitter addict, amazing what I've found on there. Funnily enough this came from a Tweet. So here they are 'Tweet tweet.'

Buy your own on Etsy and thanks to SaveOurShoes for the Tweet.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The difference between a tribute and a knock off

Shoe news today is that Steve Madden is being taken to court by designer Alexander McQueen. Quite frankly, looking at the knock-off that they've done, (black shoe boots - top pic), I'm really not surprised.

But I'm not angry at the designer either, (ok, ok I meant the person who sent a picture of the McQueen shoe to the factory in China). I've worked lots on the High Street and the value market, I know it thrives on catwalk trends and that your employer doesn't want to see your amazing creative idea for a new shoe boot, they just want to see a version of whats on the catwalk.

Some design houses are very litigous indeed, some to the point of being a bit obsessed about it. Jimmy Choos' original account on Twitter was just full of Tweets about who was going to get the 'cease and desist' letter next. Cannot find it anymore, but I'm certain they 'went after' a kiddies train ride for having the name Choo Choo?
Some brands do not seem care at all, see Prada, who I've heard, had a deal with their outsole maker to sell the outsoles to other brands once they had done with them.

But then there's 'The Tribute', which I quite like. See my last post about Insa Heels, you'll notice that one of the designs is for an heel that looks like a pair of legs. This was probably heavily inspired by Thea Cadabras' 'Maid Shoe' from 1980 (bottom shoe pic, above), but I like the way it has been updated for the Noughties, you will note that the heel is now size zero! If I was Thea and I saw this, I'd be flattered, not mad.

Insa Heels

I've just had my attention drawn to Insa Heels, a London brand which puts out limited editions of it's designs, which are a collaboration between Designer Ruth Shaw and artist Insa. I used to work for the same company as Ruth, I'm not surprised she did her own brand, she is an amazing designer. I love the upper print and I especially love the kit, lovely tall slim heel and platform, very balanced.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Platform reaches it's zenith

Because I do lots of trend forecasting, I'm fascinated with how trends work and love to follow the cycle and forecast the waxing and waning of a trend. Platform shoes is a trend that usually lingers for at least three years, I think because once you've worn platforms, got used to your elevated status and have appreciated the way they can make you look skinny, then it's incredibly hard to come back down to earth.

So, just like in the early to mid nineties, when we last had a platform trend goin' on, everytime it gets to fashion week, I await more photos of skyscraper heels and clunking platforms.

But I reckon this trend has peaked and is now about to fade. Why? Look at these boots on the catwalk at McQueen, they are so OTT, it's as if a line is being drawn under the whole trend.
It's as if he is saying, 'enough is enough, have this monster shoe girls and then you can have no more.'
It's a platform overdose and I dunno about you, but it makes me wanna to go cold turkey.

Freelance Switch

Just had my attention drawn to this excellent blog for freelancers. Thanks for the link, Loafer!

Some great articles, reading lists, advice and cartoons!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Homeys now available for girls!

I helped Dan realise his dream for a cool slipper for the famed British Sport of staying in. Now we all know that whilst staying in, eating pizza and loafing around is a popular man sport, we girls also love to lounge.
So after much nagging and hassling, Dan is now making the Homey in girls sizes and at long bloody last I can actually wear the slippers which I have longed for since Dan and I worked on the prototypes.
Available from the website and also from Office, Schuh, Topman, Topshop, Sole Trader and