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Nicholas Kirkwood x Pollini

The innovative shoe designer joins the Italian heritage label as their new creative director

From python skin and laser cut mirrors to hand-printed suede and devoré satin, no one sculpts a shoe quite like Nicholas Kirkwood. For the last five years, this London-born designer has won over the fashion elite with his innovative, detailed designs combining structural fantasy with feminine style. From there it seemed a natural step for this footwear tour de force to join a label that has spent a whole century mastering the art of shoe making. Pollini, the well-established luxury Italian brand, has recently appointed Kirkwood as their creative director, replacing fellow Brit Jonathan Saunders. The fashion house will no longer produce ready to wear and instead will focus on what they do best, footwear and accessories. To kick-off his new role, Kirkwood has also launched the Pollini ‘Forward Designer’ Project, a unique collaboration where five select designers had shoes for their SS11 shows produced by the brand. Those involved included Preen, Manish Arora, Meadham Kirchoff, Louise Gray and Michael Van Der Ham. Dazed Digital caught up with Nicholas Kirkwood to discuss his new role.

Dazed Digital: Your involvement with Pollini started in 2008. What made you first decide to work with this brand?
Nicholas Kirkwood: It was a great opportunity to work with an Italian name that has a history of manufacturing high quality shoes, especially when so many brands have moved their manufacturing to the Far East. As a trained shoemaker I have a responsibility to make shoes in Italy; the skill and knowledge cannot be matched elsewhere. 

DD: What has the process been like incorporating your own signature aesthetic with the traditional style of Italian footwear?
Nicholas Kirkwood: At first, it was hard to think outside of my own head.  It wasn’t natural as I really only had experience working within the context of my own collection. I think now, and for the forthcoming season, you will begin to see a real and evolving identity for Pollini that relates to the aesthetic of my own collection.

DD: Italian fashion houses often have a reputation for being quite closed and family-orientated. Considering your new position, would you say this has changed?
Nicholas Kirkwood: This reputation comes from a position of integrity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And in every creative relationship there must be a trust level. This doesn’t necessarily come at the moment you begin your relationship; it takes time.  I’m in a unique position as I think we both have the will to ensure that Pollini succeeds.

DD: How did the idea for the Pollini ‘Forward Designer’ Project come about?
 Nicholas Kirkwood: When I took on this position, I didn’t have the full season to prepare the SS11 collection, so I decided to focus on two things that I thought could make a difference, one being to define some of the structures that would become signature silhouettes for seasons to come, and the second to work with ready-to-wear designers I believed in, collaborating on their fashion show shoes. 

DD: Why did you decide to involve these particular designers in the project?
Nicholas Kirkwood: Because they are young designers who have an opinion, a perspective, and a growing voice in the industry.  A few of them are also good friends I have worked with in the past, and I thought it could be mutually beneficial for both them and Pollini.

DD: Do you have any favourite pieces from the collaboration?

Nicholas Kirkwood: I especially like Meadham Kirchhoff’s embroidered Mary-Janes as it was a design that people wouldn’t necessarily expect from me. I also liked Louise Gray’s brightly hued vinyl bubble sole sandals, Michael Van Der Ham’s velvet lace-up sandals and Preen’s mesh lace-up bootie and minimal t-strap sandal.   Some of the Manish Arora shoes were incredible as they worked with embroidery in a 3-dimensional way that I had never seen before.

DD: Most designers involved in the project are based in London. Why do you think over the years the city has become such a creative hub for new talent?
Nicholas Kirkwood: I think that the creative community in London is tightly knit, and surprisingly supportive of each other.  People always make things happen and are resourceful.  The schools, like Central Saint Martins, teach their students to focus on developing their ideas and themselves, and not to follow what others are doing. Also, the magazines here are open to what’s creative and new, and embrace it.  All these factors create a unique opportunity that nurtures London’s new designer talent and I have been really lucky to take part.

The shoes produced as part of the Pollini ’Forward Designers’ Project will be available to buy from February 2011.