“Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” So said one of the world’s most famous women, Marilyn Monroe, and how right she was. Shoes and feet and the steps we take determine the direction our lives will go. From Paddington’s comfortable wellies that adventured him from Peru to London town, to Carrie Bradshaw’s array of Manolo Blahnik heels that carried her from Manhattan to Paris and back again; it is my belief that anything good starts with a person’s shoes. Which is why I was madly excited to go and meet footwear designer, Vivienne Lopez, at the East London factory where her designs for company, Vevian, are transformed into fashion reality.
I love the keepsake element of the Vevian brand, a footwear line that is to the under-two crowd what Mulberry is to their mothers. Not only are they handmade, right here in London, lovingly crafted by Australian designer Vivienne Lopez, but these exquisite leather treats come complete in their own silk-lined wooden box. Like little cupcakes, each pair – from the brand’s hero style Maria, a classic red patent Mary Jane, to the newly crafted George, a traditional brogue – is delivered to its owner in its very own treasure box. As designer Vivienne says, “Because sometimes mums buy shoes and forget to keep them, by me creating the box as part of my brand it was a way of instantly reminding the mother, just in case you’re going to forget, do keep them because really this is such a special thing.”
Symbolic of those all-important first steps in a child’s life, the shoes he or she wears while taking them must be one of a kind. Vivienne felt this following the birth of her daughter, now five, and having studied the design of footwear – a path she always knew would be the one she’d travel – she started to experiment with making her own. “I wanted a beautiful shoe which I could keep and show her when she’s older,” she said. “But there wasn’t that shoe available, so I started working on my own pair.” This involved a trip to Northampton to sample and buy a pair of lasts – the solid form around which a shoe is molded – along with her very first sewing machine, a large industrial leather thing on which she’d retire to every Saturday to churn out, mostly tragic (in her own words!) mock-ups. “As a full-time mother, I would take those days off to be with my shoes and just get a feel for it and understand what I was trying to do,” she said. Of course, there were practical things to think about as well. “While I wanted to be creative, I also had to be very safe and sensible, thinking of ways to make a shoe interesting for a child whilst keeping it safe and secure.”
Opting to purchase the size range of 0-2, Vivienne hooked onto the concept of the ‘first pair of shoes’ which tends to cross a new mother’s mind between the ages of 3 months and 2 years. Though the most popular age range to buy for happens between 11 and 15 months old (Vevian sizes 3 and 4), typically the time around which a baby takes his or her first steps. Road-testing her creations on friends’ children, taking up a post at a market stall and using every facet at her fingertips to get the word of Vevian out there, the mother of two was overwhelmed with the response. “My shoes were stopping traffic,” she said. A sentiment I can understand as my sartorial taste-buds go into overdrive at the sight of these perfectly delectable creations.
Inspired by the characters that surrounded her in the shape of a quirky sister or a classically-minded friend, Vivienne asserts that they and their style choices for their children have provided the ideal starting point to her design range. With fans including British actress Sienna Miller and a Take That daddy, Vevian’s success is proving that its creator’s move from Sydney, Australia to London in 2004 was the right one, as she sought to take advantage of the flourishing footwear market in the UK.
So, does she have any plans to pitch the perfect present to Britain’s IT duo, expectant royal couple, Kate and Wills? “Looking at Kate’s style, I would definitely choose the Maria because I think Kate likes her classic style and cuts – in fact,” she said, “I’ve already made them in beige patent, because that seems to be the winning colour for her. And if it’s a little prince, I’ve created George, a traditional brogue; a classic English brogue, for a classic English prince.”
And for me, bearing the style crown as presiding Mini Fashionista, Vivienne has specially crafted a pair of the red patent Maria shoes, because frankly, life is too short not to wear red shoes!