Friday, 8 January 2010

Interview with new designer Jili Allen

I came accross Jili Allen somewhere on the wild plains of t'interweb and was immediately struck by her designs. I was also impressed by her determination to make shoes as part of her product design degree and her willingness to learn more about footwear design on graduation.

So you studied a product design degree and you got a first class degree. Tell me about your degree show. You made shoes?

Product design wasn’t my first choice, it was in fact International Business & Modern Languages which I completed for a year before feeling the withdrawal symptoms of creativity! I have always been inquisitive and thinking of ways to improve everything, whether it be the usability of a utensil or the efficiency of a process; in this way, product design was therefore broad enough to be perfect for me. I love design, but especially shoes! The flexibility of the course allowed me to design anything and everything and I learnt the skills to be adaptable in my design approach; my greatest passion is, however, footwear and I was lucky enough to be able to create shoes for my Major Project.

I wanted to make something beautiful, yet meaningful; using shoes to highlight the issues surrounding over-consumption in our society. Using the anthropomorphic element, to make us think about what we are doing to ourselves, who we are stepping on. These products are designed to be commercial with a discursive voice; but not one which is forced upon you, subtlety within any message is important; who am I to preach? The degree show was hugely exciting and a great learning experience; when you have so much work that has got you to one piece, I worried that there was more I needed to show. However, it really made me appreciate what is behind every product we use and I have to admit, I find that quite magical. The whole process also led me to understand even more the importance of technical detail, as I made contact with a factory in China to get my samples made; only successful through distinct attention to detail.

*You did a shoe making course? What did you design and make?

I went on to London to study the hand-making of shoes with Paul Thomas for a month, creating my own pair of very much wearable shoes from design to pattern cutting to last to heel design and all the pins in between! This gave me a great insight into the great complexities of footwear design and manufacture and I have never looked at a shoe the same again! It was a fantastic opportunity and I cannot recommend Paul enough! I felt after my degree, it was important to understand the construction of a shoe to appreciate how to design shoes properly.

Luckily, I got my paws on some beautiful Vivienne Westwood fabric; which I contrasted with some soft black leather to create a pair of court shoes with influences of brogue. I wanted to make a pair of shoes that I could wear every day but that were different to your average court shoe, but that had definite class! Art Nouveau is my favourite art period, one which was encouraged while I was in Paris; I love the fluid languid lines that are so gorgeously feminine that when contrasted with brogue detailing which is quintessentially masculine, provides the balance of the working woman.

*How do you feel it differed from your degree course? Were the skills different?

Within Paul’s classes, students are allowed freedom of design; which differed intensely from the set briefs and strict guidelines we had to follow within the degree, as Paul says, “this course does not operate on set styles to make or generic teaching”. The class was also very intimate with only 3 of us within our group, which allowed for lots of one-to-one tuition and a fantastic atmosphere. The skills were very different from my degree, I couldn’t believe how completely physicl the whole process is! I was the proud owner of more that one blood-blister and calluses from the millions of pins used within lasting. Within shoe making, the 3D image is so important from the very beginning, and we were thrown straight in. With 80 hours to complete just one pair of shoes, but one pair of exquisite shoes that are wearable, usable, and created completely by your own hand; I found it one of the most satisfying experiences ever.

*What inspires you most as a designer?
The need to provoke, question and improve.

*Which shoe designers inspire you and why?
Nicholas Kirkwood’s shoe designs are absolutely divine! I remember when I first saw them I was astounded at how beautiful they were; they were so different, and seemed to tell a story. For example, the platform was completely unique within itself and coupled with the hidden pearl within the heel cleft; they was beauty, mystery and intrigue within one perfectly sculpted shoe! Also, a designer that I was introduced to after my graduation was Thea Cadabra, whose shoes are so inspiring; they are like fantasies within themselves, and Irregular Choice has provided this for the high street – beautiful! I suppose my main shoe inspirations are those that are an outfit within themselves; if you can wear all black and your shoes can tell a thousand stories without embellishment, making the clothing an accessory, and the shoes the main event; makes me ridiculously happy!

*What is your favourite pair of shoes?
Obviously I share a special affinity with the shoes I have made, but I love elegance and therefore hunt around the charity shops like a mad lady. I have quite large feet (flippers) and therefore it is difficult to buy vintage shoes. However, I found these beautiful navy blue soft leather peep-toe courts by ‘Renata’ from the 50s (which I was able to stretch). They have a triple layer butterfly on the toe alternating white and navy blue soft leather with a metal butterfly body within. They are so soft and elegant and make my feet look dainty and beautiful. They provide me with a bit of much needed bygone glamour!

*What would be your dream role?
A role that can combine my great passions; design, footwear, fashion, creativity, languages, progression, champagne (ok, maybe slightly wishful thinking!) and honesty. I would love to be a successful shoe designer of my own brand, yet I’m under no illusion that this doesn’t come with a lot of hard work and experience! I am a very determined person and I always promise to give my best in everything I do, and I always will.

Jili can be contacted via her website

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