Shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood's 10th anniversary collection pays tribute to 1980s arcade culture and action heroes
The British footwear maven returns to his gravity-defying roots with his 10th anniversary collection
When British designer Nicholas Kirkwood first appeared on the scene back in 2005 he was lauded as the hottest designer to enter the footwear industry since Manolo Blahnik. He was young, fresh faced and in-demand thanks to his sculptural, gravity-defying heels that encouraged women to start dressing from the feet up and let their shoes do the talking.
"When I started, everyone only ever talked about Manolo Blahnik," says the designer, recently in Hong Kong to launch his 10th anniversary collection at On Pedder.
"It wasn't that he had a monopoly, but so many people were using his aesthetic as their own. That's why I wanted to do something different - to give shoes another angle, make them showstoppers."
A lot has changed since then. For one, the industry has experienced a renaissance, as shoes have become the new must-have item and an untapped source of revenue for many brands and designers.
This brought an explosion of creativity in the market, paving the way for a new generation of talent including Paul Andrew and Sophia Webster.
It wasn't long before Kirkwood was facing some stiff competition, spurring the designer to take his business to the next level.
"Evolving from an emerging name into an established designer is probably the toughest challenge a designer will go through. It's natural, though, just like growing up," he says. "You start a new period - you've found your vision, people understand it and now you can grow on that. If it was up to me, I would have a completely new collection each season, but that wouldn't work."
After years of selling skyscraper platforms, Kirkwood decided to expand his product line by launching mid-heels and flats. It shocked many diehard fans, but his new designs had details ranging from gold block heels to geometric prints that made them stand out.
"I didn't have flats for six years. I wanted to be known first for my heels because that's more of a statement. But I'm aware that fashion changes and your vision crosses different categories. The vision is what ultimately creates the brand - it's not about creating commercial products."
He cites the sneaker as an example. "We haven't done it yet because there are so many out there. It's about doing something that is special and different. I need to be at the beginning of the wave, not the end of it," he says.
Fortunately for Kirkwood's fans, the designer is returning to his roots with his 10th anniversary collection.
Featuring 10 of his favourite shapes and silhouettes from over the years, including his aerodynamic motion platform which has since attracted many copycats, the collection is also a tribute to his childhood, dominated by 1980s arcade culture and action heroes.
As a result, each limited edition pair has its own character. The Pac-Man, for example, (Kirkwood was born in 1980, the same year the game was created) comes decorated with a 3D character medallion made of crystal. Neon City glows thanks to luminescent foil details and laces, while the word "Neon" covers the heels. The pièce de résistance is the Arcade, which combines laser-cut suede with embroidered and coloured frosted glass embellishments and embossed mixed leather Pac-Man and ghost icons.
"It was about looking back at the first 10 years of my collection and my life, and all the things I enjoyed growing up with - everything from arcades and games, to films, toys and Star Wars. It's about the first pop culture that I was physically involved with, but it also resonates so much with my own style - it's super visual, graphic, impactful and maximalist - all the things I love," says Kirkwood.
As he enters a new decade, Kirkwood is bullish about the brand's future. In 2013, luxury conglomerate LVMH bought a majority stake in his business, allowing him to start building a network of free-standing stores around the world, from Las Vegas to China (he says the Middle East and Asia are next). He is also keen to resurrect his short-lived men's line while exploring opportunities with other categories such as costume jewellery, small leather goods and even sunglasses.
While many shoe designers are lamenting the death of craftsmen in Europe, Kirkwood is hoping to utilise new technologies to create a product for a modern luxury consumer.
"There are incredible quality manufacturers out there, but the reality is things are moving too quickly. Of course, it's about old knowledge but for me it's about utilising the best of modern technology like 3D printing, laser cutting and computer systems. That's what's going to move things forward for the shoe industry: technology. That's what manufacturers need to adapt to."