During her recent visit to Dubai, shoe and handbag designer Sophia Webster shared with us a mix of inspirations, which range from Brazil to Gwen Stefani, her dream clients, and her thoughts on the Middle East.
On the day of our interview with Sophia, which also happened to be the day of the young designer’s 28th birthday, we discovered a life-sized Barbie doll box on display beside her collection in Bloomingdales at The Dubai Mall. This thoughtful detail, honoring Webster’s ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’ collection, is just a playful example of the exuberance of Webster’s footwear daydreams.
A look around Sophia Webster’s Spring/Summer 2013 shoe collection reveals a patchwork of inspiration and imagination: the intense orange hues of a Rio De Janeiro sunset, heady Aztec prints, uber-feminine polka dot appliqués, neon glass beading inspired by tribal headwear, and several heels punctuated by a peppering of bubble-gum pink – undoubtedly Barbie-approved – bows.
But don’t be fooled by the bows and doll boxes – Sophia Webster’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection is no child’s play. Deemed by many as Nicholas Kirkwood’s protégé, Webster worked as his assistant before starting her own label. Today, Webster’s shoes are as compelling and refreshing as the eclectic range of inspirations from which she shapes a single collection.
Welcome to Dubai, Sophia. When did you get here?
The day before yesterday. I was in Brazil before, where my shoes are made, so I went back to the UK in the morning and then flew out to Dubai in the evening.
Have you been to Dubai before?
No, never. This is my first time.
So what brings you to Dubai?
I’m hosting an event tonight with Bloomingdales. It’s actually my birthday today, so it’s a birthday party too. I’m turning 28.
Happy Birthday! What is your impression of Dubai so far?
Thank you. I really like it. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve had a great time so far.
Have you done anything fun yet?
At first, I just relaxed because I haven’t had a day off in a month. We went to a water park yesterday and had a nice dinner at the Palace, where I’m staying. We had a view of the fountains. I am not bored of it yet. The people I speak to who live here are like, “Oh, God…” and I am like, “Oh, I love it!”
What do you think of the women in Dubai?
They’re very chic, very glamorous, and polished.
What feedback have you received from Middle Eastern clients on your collection?
I think it’s been doing really well. The pre-collection has definitely been selling well. I think that women here appreciate something that is unique, that’s a bit different, colorful. The feedback’s been really good, really positive.
So why shoes? What’s the story?
I was not really into fashion or shoes when I was growing up; I was into art. I was doing a foundation course in art and design in London. We did a day of still life illustration, and fashion illustration, and I found myself really drawn to the shoes. I just carried on drawing shoes, not even thinking about actually doing that for a living. Then, one of my tutors told me about Cordwainers College, and how they can train you in shoe design. I applied to Cordwainers and got accepted, and it went from there.
Do you still find yourself into art?
Yes, I love it.
You should stop by Art Dubai this week.
It starts on Tuesday, right? I definitely should.
Coming back to shoes, can you tell us about your inspiration process?
I don’t stick to one specific thing. It’s just the feeling or the situation I might be in at the time, like traveling or just chilling on a Sunday near the pool. It can really be anything.
I spent a lot of time in Brazil where the shoes are made. While I would wait for the prototypes to be ready, I would go to Rio and just hang out. I spent two weeks there with my fiancé. Everything about Rio is totally inspiring – the stadium, Santa Theresa, the views. I just thought it was so amazing that, even in the parts with the most poverty, they still painted the houses in bright colors. There is so much vibrancy and energy even in the worst parts. The color palette was so inspiring and I wanted to reflect the energy of the people in the collection.
In your Spring 2013 collection…
Yes! There’s a pair of Rio sunset shoes and one with a landscape of the mountains. Some wedges are yellow and reflect the arty pictures and fantastic colors everyone paints their houses in. It was inspiring.
You’ve said in the past that you aren’t a fan of platforms. Are there any rules you keep in mind when you’re designing?
I do have some platforms in the collection, but I generally prefer, and think it looks so much fresher, to do things on a single sole. I guess single soles are always really chic. I love bows and lacing into bows. I love a special detail on a lace so that there is never just a boring lace. Polka dots are always good. I think mixing lots of colors is always a good thing.
What about height?
I think anything over a hundred for a heel becomes quite uncomfortable for a woman. I think being a woman when designing shoes for women is actually really useful. I know what I can stand on. I don’t go over a hundred. It becomes too high and it’s just not comfortable.
Is there a specific woman that you design for?
I’d say there isn’t one dream line or a muse in particular, but there are lots of women who I’d really love to see in my shoes, like Anna Dello Russo or Solange Knowles – I think she’s really cool. I love Charlotte Reid, the model with the pink hair. Gwen Stefani is my idol! I used to be obsessed with her. If she ever wore my shoes, I would probably faint. I did actually faint at her concert in Brixton. I was only 14. I fainted and I missed the whole thing. It was so embarrassing.
Have you ever designed a No Doubt shoe in her honor?
I love black and white, and I think it’s because I grew up as an obsessive Gwen fan. When I do black and white stripes, that’s definitely inspired by her.
So other than Brazil and Gwen Stefani, were there any other major influences behind this collection?
There was a bit of Yayoi Kusama. She is a graphic artist. She uses a lot of polka dots. I also looked at this Southeast Asian tribe called the Hmong, and they have really amazing and elaborate beaded headdresses. All the beaded elements come from researching this tribe.
What was your last big shoe splurge?
I don’t really buy shoes. I get free Nicholas Kirkwood shoes – I worked with Nicholas for years – and I wear my own designs.
How were you inspired by your work with him?
Nick is a real dreamer. He would dream something up and then he would follow it through. If people would say to him, “That can’t be done. You can’t do that,” he would just look for a way until he had exhausted all the possibilities and made it happen. It is very hard to say no to him. Making anything possible – that’s definitely something I’ve picked up from him.
In the movie about your life, who would play Sophia Webster?
Oh, Kate Hudson! She was so funny in How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. She is just really funny and very blonde.
Lastly, what does Savoir Flair mean to you?
I guess Flair is how you express yourself.