bal harbour blog

Wunderkind

Q&A
Nicholas Kirkwood

By Tali Jaffe

For those who build their outfits from the feet up, a pair of Nicholas Kirkwood heels are a must. To the uninitiated, the Germany-born designer who calls London home has quietly made a name for himself thanks to his sky-high heels that put an ample dose of seduction in their wearers’ step. Having just won the BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund award—a bit like a British version of the CFDA awards, except there’s only one winner each year—Kirkwood is on a skyward trajectory with little signs of slowing down.

We caught up with the young designer as he was getting ready for his Bal Harbour appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue.

First off, congratulations on your recent BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund award.
Thank you. I’m really happy about it!

So share with us what it was like for you to win.
Well they only give one award each year, and you’re up against ready-to-wear designers as well. Actually, the other nominees were all ready to wear, so it’s pretty fierce competition. And in addition to the cash prize, which is great, it also is a real boost to your recognition.

It should be a pretty big year for you then. And what about the mentorship aspect of the award?
The mentorship is something that, as a small business, you can’t necessarily afford on your own. It helps bring your brand to the attention of people in the industry. And to have someone of that stature who can guide us is going to be really helpful.

Have you been assigned your mentor yet?
I’m not sure yet who it will be. It could be someone whose focus is perhaps on a certain market or, maybe it will be toward our general business strategy. Whatever the case, it’ll be incredibly helpful.

You’ve been producing your line for more than seven years. I remember first seeing a friend wearing them in 2006 I think.
Do you remember the shoe?

Yes! It was sort of like a dark butterfly, and they laced up and had some sort of metallic or shine.
Oh that was really early on...

Right. So the first I saw your shoes at Saks, I was almost giddy—like I had a personal connection. How do you feel about having your shoes carried at major department stores?
Well, there were bumps along the way. It wasn’t an instant success. There was a lot of trial and error. I think it may have been too early for certain styles, for example; we worked with several different manufacturers to get the quality right, and so on.

And how do you keep your name buzzing, I mean Saks has a lot of shoes!
We’re focused on a strategy to support the brand’s presence. We meet with the sales floor staff at all of the stores. We do PA’s. We interact with the people selling our product as much as possible and we teach them about the brand so they have a story to share with our clients. There’s so much competition out there.

So you must be on the road a lot then. Are you still based in London?
It does mean a lot of traveling. I’m based in London and I spend 1-2 days a week in Italy making sure things are happening and in order at the factory. We’re always trying new things, developing new products, figuring our what’s working and what isn’t.

You put out a major collection every season. I think this one has more than 100 looks, right?
I’m trying to cut back on the number of looks and do more variations of a particular style now. That’s something I’ve learned, that sometimes when you have too much choice it’s more difficult for the buyer. Plus, by limiting the number of styles, the customer will more easily recognize the shoe. And, it’s more straightforward for production.

Do you have a signature look?
Well, there are definitely elements that are quite signature to our shoes. Always a graphic element mixed with femininity. They’re not purely graphic or too hard looking, and not girlie by any means. I think the signature is the tension between the hard and soft lines.

When did you begin to intro shorter heels and flat sandals?
For the first five years it was just high heels. Then we introduced two styles of flats. A sandal and a sort of Oxford flat. The first season they barely sold. It just wasn’t what the buyers were looking for. And then we pushed them some more and the flats became one of our best sellers. Then, two or three seasons ago we started to do mid-height heels. They’re a really important category for a lot of the bigger stores.

Who were some of your earliest adopters?
One of the first was Cecilia Dean. Actually, she was our first customer in the U.S. She requested a pair of shoes for a shoot, and they sort of hung out in her office for a while… Then I met with her when I was visiting New York and I made a few looks for her. She’s been a real supporter all along.

So when you decided to open a store in New York, how did you pick Meatpacking District?
I’ve always liked the area. I looked at so many places in Manhattan, but when we found that space it just seemed right. And we were really able to do what we wanted with it, with the garden in back, the skylight; we were able to make it a flagship store. And, that particular part of the neighborhood (Washington Street) was less developed than1 14th Street and then when the Whitney opens I think it will really make it a vital area.

And is this your first trip to Miami?
No I’ve been to Miami a few times. Love it there. I’m only in town for a short time, but I’m going to try and go to the beach, check out The Standard and a few other stops. Last time I was there was in December for Art Basel, but for less than 24 hours. To be honest, I was sidetracked by the beach and didn’t even make it into the fair. So I’ll definitely be coming back this year.

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