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How I became a wedding shoe designer

How I became a wedding shoe designer
29th April 2020 Diane Hassall
In Behind the Scenes

We all spend time too much time on our phones, according to a recent survey up to an extra 5 hours a day at the moment whilst we’re social distancing, personally the stuff I like to read most is about real people…….. especially the story behind their brand or business. So, I thought I’d share my story with you, of how I got involved in the  weird and wonderful world of wedding shoes.

Cornflake box shoes

Shoes were always my thing….going way back to my childhood in Derbyshire, at the tender age of 5 or 6, I was making cardboard sandals with silver foil buckles from cornflake boxes, when everyone else at school was making houses and cars!

My favourite shopping trips into Derby or Nottingham with my Mum were always for shoes…..school shoes, dance shoes, best shoes, it really didn’t matter to me, and it was always my mission to be wearing the latest new trend or brand before anyone else. My Mum was amazing, birthday gifts were often shoes and she always helped me save for the next pair on my list even though I’m sure she thought I was quite mad at times, spending all my money on shoes from such an early age.

As soon as I got a Saturday job I started saving for more shoes, I still remember most of them……. designer shoes weren’t really a thing amongst the young then, not in the way that they are now,  for me it was more about the latest trend …Kickers, Pods, Nature Treks, moccasins and particularly Dr Martens were all important phases I went through whilst growing up. I particularly remember  a pair of boots that I saved and saved for, they were a butter soft khaki leather which was ruched down the leg with leather soles and linings, I really loved those boots and wore them to death, I think it was then that I realised it wasn’t just about the look for me, but also the quality, they had to be beautifully made too.

Fashion and textile design …….a career?

So it wasn’t a total surprise that as I grew up my interests were fashion and textile based, I was always making or embroidering something. You’d think living in a small village in rural Derbyshire that wellies and riding boots were more suited to my life, yet it was always fashion and shoes that rocked my world.

I have a lot to thank Mrs Shields for, she was my textiles teacher at school …..she opened my eyes and made me see that it was actually possible to earn a living being a creative! I came from a family of teachers and never imagined being able to make money in fashion. I studied Fashion and Textiles at University in Birmingham and geared most of my work towards fashion accessories and ultimately embellished shoes. I was lucky enough to do my work placement with Emma Hope in London, a super talented shoe designer who was one of a new breed of young creative British footwear designers emerging in and around London. Emma made the most exquisite chiselled slippers in velvet and embroidered silk, trimmed with beautiful grosgrain bows and ribbons, I still love her work today and really loved the work experience, it was so exciting for a country loving girl from Derbyshire.

Jimmy Choo and Emma Hope

During this time with Emma I took many a trip across London to a tiny studio in the East End where many of the samples were hand made by an amazingly creative and lovely chap called Jimmy Choo, yes you heard right, I did say Jimmy Choo! At the time Jimmy was a little known shoe designer and maker, clearly so talented and a total craftsman, hand lasting and finishing shoes in a way rarely seen today. Like Emma he was very kind to me, and so encouraging, I’ve never forgotten that.

I was lucky enough to work on some more samples with the lovely Jimmy during the final year of my degree and ultimately my final collection of embellished shoes were made by Jimmy Choo, with some help and advice from Emma Hope, how lucky was I! I remember going to London to finish and collect them, a very nervous student, totally terrified, they were both so complimentary and commented that there was nothing to stop me making my own shoes going forward ……. that  was my lightbulb moment, I remember travelling back from London on the train that day in total disbelief and amazement that they believed I could do it for myself.  Emma Hope and Jimmy Choo gave me the self belief that I could, and indeed should, pursue shoe design as a career, without them I really don’t think I would ever have had the confidence, because to be honest I really was pretty lacking in that department!

 

Imposter syndrome

After leaving Uni I did a business course for graduates and moved to London to set up my business in a teeny weeny studio in Clerkenwell. Initially I was making niche embellished fashion shoes for small designer boutiques around Carnaby Street and Newburgh Street in coloured suedes and velvet, with long chiselled toes and shapely Louis heels, pretty radical and very trendy back in the day….honest! …… but most of the time I suffered from a serious case of imposter syndrome… I kept feeling like someone was going to call me up and say “but you’re not really a shoe designer!’ Looking back I think I understand why, I had trained in fashion and textile design but not strictly speaking footwear, I learned my craft from Emma Hope, Jimmy Choo, and various small shoe factories and individuals that I worked with over the years, but not in an academic setting and I think the result was that I never felt quite good enough.

Discovering the wedding press

As part of my degree collection I had made some beautiful cream silk and ivory velvet mules embroidered with hand beaded silk tassels, I showed them to a stylist from Wedding and Home magazine and was called in to meet the editor who was getting married herself. I was quite overwhelmed, I had never met anyone from the press before, but she was absolutely lovely and asked me to make her own wedding shoes. There were to be three separate features about the wedding over the coming months, and as a result I was featured in various shoots and features in other bridal and fashion mags too.

The answerphone was full

When the first magazine featuring my shoes went on sale I arrived at my studio the following day to find my answerphone was completely full! This had never happened before, it was bride after bride asking where they could get my shoes from and if they could arrange a consultation with me, I simply couldn’t believe it, I suppose this was the affirmation I had been waiting for, I was on an emotional high for days. After that it was all about wedding shoes for me, lots of things started to happen and I became so busy, I pretty much left the fashion side behind, wedding was and still is such a happy place to be.

    

The Wedding industry chose me

Since then I have always felt that the wedding industry chose me, rather than the other way round, things happened, I fell into it, it wasn’t planned but I have never looked back. I’ve been designing wedding shoes for over 30 years now and still love it, I’ve worked with so many wonderfully talented people, and still do, I’ve won various awards and have loved every minute (well almost!). It’s a very lovely and quite small industry, most people are very welcoming and friendly and I am still in touch with so many of the people I met in those first few years, it seems that once you get into wedding you never leave!

So here I am still happily designing shoes for brides in my own niche way, this is me!  I feel it’s a privilege to be involved in someones wedding day in whatever capacity, and if they choose to walk down the aisle in my shoes, well that’s just wonderful!

Di x

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