Impossibly high heels, exotic fabrics, glistening metal and weird shapes make Nicholas Kirkwood’s creations for women closer to works of art than to shoes. They are priced accordingly, routinely hitting four figures.
He launched his women’s line in 2005 and just unveiled his first collection for men.
Ranging from $520 to $950, most of the shoes are in some variation of black leather and wouldn’t look out of place with a suit.
When we met in his buzzy downtown showroom, the 32-year-old German-born, London-based designer was wearing an unstructured blazer over a crewneck sweater, jeans and a pair of beat-up Balenciaga sneakers.
Tarmy: What are some of the challenges of designing for men, as opposed to women?
Kirkwood: You can’t be as inventive with men’s shoes. Guys like to understand that it’s a lace up or it’s a Chelsea boot, whereas women are very open to abnormal shapes.
With men’s shoes, it’s more about subtleties and little details.
Tarmy: Why are men’s shoes so much cheaper than women’s shoes?
Kirkwood: I wish I knew. No, seriously. There’s still a lot of work that goes into them -- sometimes more work than goes into women’s shoes.
Tarmy: Are men simply unwilling to pay more?
Kirkwood: There’s a price limit on what guys want to pay. Even I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable spending much more than 500 pounds for shoes I know I’m going to trash down the line.
If it’s something special, like Berluti lace-ups or something bespoke, I can understand spending on that.
Tarmy: Do you collect shoes for yourself?
Kirkwood: I’m my worst customer. I typically wear the same pair of shoes every day. I buy shoes, wear them until they’re dead, and then I buy another pair.
I normally only have about three pairs, but now I’ve made all the samples in my size, so I’ll have quite a few more.
Tarmy: Your women’s shoes are insanely high. Have you ever tried to walk in a five-inch heel?
Kirkwood: Yes. I tried to walk around in them, and it was impossible until I was told how to do it: Just imagine you’re tiptoeing, and walk on the front of your feet -- don’t try to use the heel.
Then it was quite a lot easier, but I wouldn’t try to do it every day. I guess women condition themselves.
Tarmy: I’d have thought once you tried it, you wouldn’t design 5-inch heels anymore.
Kirkwood: Absolutely not. Sometimes girls even ask, “Can you make them higher?”
I’m like, “Okay, sure!”
Tarmy: Do you worry about structural stability when shoes reach a certain height?
Kirkwood: They do a test at the heel factory to see how many tons or whatever it takes to bend it or snap it. It’s almost like a car test -- I never even knew that they did it.
I thought you just make the shoe and keep your fingers crossed.
(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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