For her eponymous line of shoes, Sophia Webster fuses bold colors with humor and sophistication. After training as a fine artist at London’s Royal College of Art, Webster became Nicholas Kirkwood’s apprentice in 2008. Webster worked with the designer as his right-hand woman for three years and, in the process, honed a certain British eccentricity that is now her trademark. In 2010, Webster won the Browns Shoe Design Award and launched her own label. She showed her first collection at the Spring/Summer 2013 London shows and was awarded the British Fashion Council’s “New Gen” Award.
Inspired by everything from house fronts in Rio, Brazil to contemporary photography, Webster’s creations are for women who aim to express a sense of individuality through footwear. Her styles are named after iconic figures such as Gisele and Yayoi Kusama, and she counts Solange Knowles, Anna Dello Russo, and Rihanna among her clients. Last year, Webster celebrated a collaboration with J.Crew, a pop-up shop in London’s Covent Garden, and a slew of new stockists including Dover Street Market and Net-A-Porter. For 2014, the designer plans to expand into handbags. On the eve of London Fashion Week, we caught up with Webster in her East London studio.
GRACE BANKS: Your Spring/Summer 2014 designs feel like the beginning of spring.
SOPHIA WEBSTER: Yes, they do. The collection was inspired by butterflies, insects, and the work of Mika Ninagawa, who I’m a big fan of. I love the “Flutura” style the most—it has laser-cut butterfly wings on the heel, which create a unique shoe silhouette, which really stands out. I also introduced new styles for Spring/Summer ’14, so there’s espadrilles, “killer heels” so to speak, and jelly shoes.
BANKS: Do you have a favorite?
WEBSTER: I love the jelly shoes; they remind me of being a kid but in a more sophisticated and grown-up manner. The silhouette creates a completely individual shape that really flatters the foot.
BANKS: Is this collection quite different from past seasons?
WEBSTER: Quite often I get very excited about a story or a mood that I want the season to be about and I start researching these ideas. Those ideas are what feed into the collection, so yes, each season it’s very different. For SS14, the story might be triggered by a journey that I’ve made or a book of images that I’ve seen or music that I’ve been listening to. My ideas change a lot throughout the design process, but I always have a definitive sense of the final outcome when I start. Straight after London Fashion Week I’ll start thinking about the Spring/Summer 2015 collection. I have some collaborations coming up that I’m really excited about it.
BANKS: Has your fine art training influenced this process?
WEBSTER: I’m very detail-oriented, which I think is apparent in my designs. Fine art helped me to focus on the more intricate details. I use the methods I learned in art school when designing and always prefer to hand draw my initial designs from scratch. I’m always sketching through the entire development of each shoe.
BANKS: Was it at art school that you started working with Nicholas Kirkwood?
WEBSTER: No, it was after whilst I was studying for my Master’s degree. Nicholas was a judge on a Browns Design Challenge that I entered. He approached me while I was studying, and I worked as his design assistant for three years.
BANKS: That must have been great training.
WEBSTER: It really was. The main thing he taught me was perseverance. If he has an idea in mind, he will exhaust every possibility to follow it through and design it. He taught me that more often than not, design issues can be solved.
BANKS: What is it that makes heels so compelling?
WEBSTER: They’re such a wonderful treat to yourself. If you see a shoe you like, and you can’t stop thinking about it, just go for it! If it’s very high, then pad around your house in it before venturing out. Comfort is very important in my opinion. Finding a shoe that you feel comfortable in will really help walking in it like a pro.
BANKS: There’s nothing worse than hobbling in heels!
WEBSTER: Right. If people aren’t used to heels I’d suggest starting smaller then building up to a higher height.
BANKS: How do you wear your shoes?
WEBSTER: It varies depending on where I’m going. On a day-to-day basis I’ll usually wear them with jeans and a printed tee. I designed espadrilles for my SS14 collection, so I think I’ll be wearing them during summer with a cute dress. The dress will depend on the English weather though!