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Artisanal Approach & Innovative Forms

Footwear designer Nicole Brundage recently showcased in Paris her Autumn Winter 2010-11 collections, characterised by high quality and innovation

In a way it was only natural for Nicole Brundage to consider a career in the creative industry. The footwear designer was indeed born in Texas into a family with a strong passion for art, design and fashion. After moving to Italy, Brundage set up her own footwear label and launched two different lines; her high-end eponymous one, and the more affordable yet equally innovative Acrobats of God.
The Nicole Brundage Autumn Winter 2010-11 collection features soft suede and aged leather shoes, and boots characterised by a retro edge. Solid curved heels, leather strips that wrap around the ankle and metallic blue, gold, bronze, burgundy and red nuances evoke a muted theatricality and add a touch of burlesque to the collection. Brundage’s new Acrobats of God line is instead dedicated to women in search of something practical yet sophisticated and ironic at the same time. Evoking futuristic shapes, Brundage reinvented wood in a high-tech key, using it to build architectural heels, and experimented with elastics, knitting and weaving them, creating elaborate intrecciato motifs in warm and winter shades for the day and in velvet and lame for the perfect evening look. 

Dazed Digital: When did you start designing shoes?
Nicole Brundage: After graduating from Stanford University I attended the Marangoni Institute in Milan for one year to get a foundation in fashion design and then I did some intern work for clothing at Armani and Zac Posen. While working for the latter in New York, I was given the responsibility of designing the footwear for a catwalk show. This experience provided me with a great introduction to shoe design, also because the samples were sent to the Manolo Blahnik factory. I realised then that some things in the fashion industries, such as internships and collaborations, can go on for years, but you get real satisfaction when you actually take credit for what you do when you are completely independent and I wanted to embrace freedom, so I started my own label. I did a course in shoe design, then I explored the factories around the Parabiago and Vigevano areas. One thing led to another and I eventually found a family-based factory that took me under their wing. I started working on my first collection with the director of the factory who is my age and acts as my technical guide.

DD: Your collections usually include both high-heeled shoes and flats: which ones do you like best? 
Nicole Brundage: For the Spring Summer 2010 season many designers such as Prada, Marc Jacobs and Giorgio Armani proposed extremely low heels and flats. I love the concept of a high heel and I know it makes you feel better since you get the impression you are on a different level and experience an exciting state of mind, especially if you’re wearing high heels for a night out or a glamorous event. That said, I had to wear flats for a long time after an accident and I think that they are very youthful, fresh and young. Usually the higher the heel, the more fatigue you feel and flats can guarantee you gracefulness. So, while I’m all for going out at night in high heels, I’m also in favour of low heels and I know this will become a staple trend since flats offer mobility and comfort. I also think that, from a designer’s perspective, it’s more challenging to make a low heel look cool.

DD: You live and work in Italy, a country with a long-standing tradition of quality footwear: do you feel that this tradition somehow influences your designs?
Nicole Brundage: I live in Milan and, as far as shoe design goes, there is a lot of innovation and there are quite a few forward-thinking designers and factories around here. Pursuing high quality in my designs remains my main aim: the designs from my main line are high-end because of the quality of the leathers and the innovative effects and advanced techniques employed to treat them. Innovation comes with a cost, so the more innovative the shoes, the higher the price. I guess the main principles behind my footwear can be summarised in three words, craft, innovation and wearability.

DD: What prompted you to diversify yourself so early in your career launching the Acrobats of God line?
Nicole Brundage: I always try to do something fresh and not to follow the trends and I decided to start a new line mainly to have another outlet where to direct all the ideas I get. All the designs included in my main line are characterised by one or two coherent themes. Yet I often felt I had other equally interesting ideas that I couldn’t develop since they didn’t match with the main themes of my eponymous collection. Besides I also wanted to have a line that could reach a broader market thanks to more affordable and approachable prices. So far Acrobats of God allowed me to experiment a lot with elasticity. The first collection was 100% elastics, but now the theme is expanding and taking me towards new inspirations such as stretching and form fitting shoes. Another thing I’d like to do through this line is combining together different materials. You may have a classic design in your mind, but if you reinvent it by combining together unusual materials, you come up with an entirely new style. I would say that this new line is setting an interesting challenge for me: developing new ideas and seeing how far I can push them while keeping the final product within a certain price range. 

DD: Which of the techniques you employed so far in designing and creating your shoes fascinated you the most?
Nicole Brundage: Previous collections were inspired by movement, weaving, tying and wrapping materials around the foot, while keeping femininity firmly in mind. I found particularly interesting experimenting with three-dimensional wrapping techniques, while embroidering represented for me a challenge since I didn’t have the experience, but it was exciting discovering amazing craftsmen based in India who opened up a whole new gamut of design possibilities. At the moment I’m focusing on new shapes and silhouettes and experimenting with Lycra, a material that is providing new ideas and incredibly fresh looks.