Over the rainbow

Monday 18 February 2013

Designers

WORDS BY ELISA ANNISS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY YARA DE NICOLA

So powerful is the technicoloured trope that Sophia Webster’s shoe collection taps into, it makes grown women want to close their eyes and tap their heels together. Three times.

Like Dorothy transported to the land of Oz, Webster landed suddenly on fashion’s radar. It was last LFW and her stellar debut collection. An ode to Brazil, it captured the imagination of attendees who were treated to a hyperreal, Gary-Card designed installation of scaled-up, life-size doll boxes (Sophia dolls), populated by models wearing Webster’s shoes: a riot of kaleidoscopic-hued kitten heels, spindly gladiator sandals, strappy peep-toes and slides featuring spots, flamingos, palm trees, beading, stripes, bows, ricrac, raffia and intricate laser-cut patterns.

Here was a designer who had everything in place: a mentor and patron (her former boss, Nicholas Kirkwood, and his business partner, Christopher Suarez), a fierce PR and a polished signature. The buzz was huge. But more importantly – and even rarer for a debut shoe collection – it secured Webster a roster of international stockists, including Saks, Net-A-Porter, Colette and Bergdorf Goodman.

Fast forward five months and Webster is the industry’s rising new shoe star. Her creations have netted her the much coveted Newgen sponsorship, a show on the official schedule, a cool celebrity following (including Chloë Moretz) and a burgeoning rep for designing shoe confectionery, from break-up shoes to those that pep up your outfit and lift your mood. “I suppose my pieces are for women who want to express their personality through their shoes,” muses the cute-as-a-button petite blonde. “It’s nice if they make you smile.”

We meet a week before her show and Webster has just returned from Brazil (her shoes are produced there) with samples of her AW13 collection. She’s sitting in her shrine-to-kitsch Mayfair studio, where paint-splodge vinyls decorate the walls and surfaces are covered with doodled illustrations, colourful leather off-cuts, beribboned shoe boxes, more felt tips than you can shake a stick at, light-up neon plastic bunnies and several flamingos. And a lot of pink. “Well, it’s my favourite colour. Not candy pink. Fuchsia or hot pink,” stipulates the former freestyle disco dancer, who only designs when the music is turned up loud and whose every shoe begins life as a hand-drawn doodle.

She fingers swatches of metallic, hologram and tortoiseshell-patterned leathers. “It’s all quite Jackson Pollock meets Marie Antoinette,” she says. Cue a stack-heeled, peep-toe sandal decorated with paint splodges; a Mary-Jane shoe crafted from leather printed to look like lined notepaper, with a lead-pencil- motif T-bar strap. At the ‘let them eat cake’ end of the spectrum, there are flocked, polka-dot mesh-and-leather strappy heels in salmon, rose-print gladiator sandals and metallic-pop leather pumps with a sweetheart-toe cleavage cut out.

Webster’s pop-culture inspirations are eclectic: as a child, she lusted after her big sister’s pink Patrick Cox jellies with Eiffel Tower heels, and the Spice Girls’ Buffalo-branded platforms. She also cites the Nineties Alicia Silverstone classic, Clueless, as the inspiration behind her new-season, hand-drawn tartan-print bootee.

“I love Sophia’s use of colour, her ability to mix materials and her whimsical approach to fashion,” says Elizabeth Kanfer, senior fashion and co-brand director of women’s accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue. She adds that Webster’s exquisite attention to detail plus savvy entry-price-point swing tag (her shoes retail from around £200) has “allowed her to carve out a niche of her own”.

As for today’s presentation, it will no doubt be delightfully bonkers. Webster has once again teamed up with set supremo Card and stylist Leith Clark. “I’m excited, it’s a nice way for people to engage with the brand,” she says, remaining vague but letting slip the words ‘magical rainbow’. Prepare to click your heels.

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