There are no limits as such for doing what one wishes to do creatively in life. The only thing needed to realize this in a precise way is to keep exploring the multi-faceted aspects of one’s existence. As per this roughly conscious phenomenon believe it or not, there are clearly certain tasks predestined for us to execute wholeheartedly at some point in our lives. And the living proof of this shining enigma is a famous Kuwaiti-born shoe designer Najeeba Hayat who earlier was far away from thinking of such an innovative thing for herself because her area of expertise was political science and she loved this subject a lot too. Yet she always kept her other interest (that was mostly in the field of dramatic fashion) alive.
In an exclusive interview with EuropeanLife, we caught up with Hayat to find out what drove her to pursue a career in shoe design, what it means to her and much more.
Hayat’s intense love of fashion made her obsessively follow high-profile designers like Miuccia Prada, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Tom Ford. This intuitive instinct led her to memorize fashion, think about it and draw the images of shoes all over her notebooks. She chose to design shoes because they held a particular place in her heart. “I felt there was so much heritage lost. Shoes had become so bland, simple, and formulaic as opposed to the adventurous, boundary-pushing, fantasy designs that defined the 1860s-1950s. I wanted more boots, more laces, more colors, more drama, and more excitement. So I started my own brand,” she said.
Hayat saw a perfect tool in fashion to convey her escapist tendencies, her follies as well as her passion. Soon after, she went to Arsutoria School in Milan to learn the nuts and bolts of pattern making. “I was fortunate to go to this school for my trade. You constantly have to learn how shoes are made (and spend 11 hours a day, every day, making them) in order to know how to design them meticulously,” she said.
It was high time for Hayat to launch her label since she had full knowledge of designing classy footwear now. “I launched my label “Liudmila” in 2014. It was quite rewarding to see my shoe creations picked up by some of the most prestigious shops in the world such as Browns London and Isetan Tokyo,” she said.
Since then, there was no looking back for Hayat, but she impartially admitted that what she has achieved so far hasn’t been easy by any means. “It’s not a very competitive segment, but it’s a very monopolistic one. Initially, shops are very afraid or unwilling to take a chance on a new designer because they always fear that with shoes specifically, their clients don’t want to gamble. It’s a question of understanding how to make the buyers happy, and that’s the key to take note of if you want to make progress,” she said.
Thanks to her gamut of inspiring ideas that come from Victorian illustrations, miniature paintings, observing the lives of schoolgirls and fabulous older women, Hayat has found her way to design amazing footwear. She tends to focus on dramatic, low heels. “I put up my own storybook, Liudmila spin on everyday Victorian shapes. I always have the tight ankle, the delicate points, the curving lines and the sense of atmosphere,” she said.
More or less, she likes her brand to be considered exciting, different and intense that women can comfortably wear every day. “My shoes are replete with little precious details making them easily gel well with everything from street wear to Japanese avant-garde fashion,” she said.
In order to make the best shoes, one definitely needs plenty of finest materials to begin with. Keeping this prerequisite in mind, she never compromises where she sources all of her leathers and fabrics from. “I source them from Italy. I tend to go for more adventurous materials like salmon and tilapia skins, hand-painted water snakes, custom-colored matte leathers, embroidered velvets, and digital-stamped nappas,” Hayat said.
There is one more interesting thing that she adheres to no matter what. “I just love to challenge the idea of luxury by sometimes taking materials people would never believe are luxurious enough and creating beautiful, attractive objects with them,” she said.
Women who constantly show a desire to buy her designed shoes are mainly those looking for something different. For them, it’s all about finding that something powerful enough to sprinkle a little magic into their lives while out having fun. They, she explained, want to feel at ease and comfortable but also look exciting and unique.
“Every single shoe designer claims to design for a “strong sexy woman” and the market is filled with the same products. I’m more interested in being the dreamer, the escapist, and the fantasist. I feel a little bit of that girl exists in all of us,” Hayat said. “We all want to feel something more from time to time and that’s the only reason one should buy luxury. There’s no need to spend so much time, cost and energy making an object if it doesn’t give a sense of something special to your customers.”
Muses in her life
The role models and muses she often looks up to for inspiring thoughts include her mother, Hillary Clinton, and Edward Meadham. “Sometimes, I get inspired by influential characters like Sailor Moon, Gigi, Auntie Mame and Little Dorritt from movies of the same name,” Hayat said.
It’s no wonder that her shoes have been worn by a few Victoria Secret models, Emily Ratajkowski, Chinese superstar Yang Mi and Bella Hadid. Another wish that Hayat would like to come true is when one of her idols from the nineties like Miuccia Prada (although she knows she would never be ready for it) or Naomi Campbell wears her designed shoes. “In fact, I get more excited seeing normal people integrate my shoes into their wardrobe because it’s the people who buy really understand the story behind it and appreciate the design. I get a lot of girls who would not normally be the luxury buyers buying the shoes for their weddings or as a very special treat. That’s more precious for me. I love seeing my designs loved and cherished because I work very hard to make them so special,” she said.
Hayat’s take on celebrity endorsement
Although she buys into the cliché that the concept of celebrity endorsement matters immensely for exposure, Hayat believes it’s ultimately the stores that are pushing your brand before the consumers will make a difference. In her view, when it comes to China, it’s a whole new market obsessed with the culture of celebrity mania. “Chinese celebrities still have this insane power to sell out an entire collection,” she said.
Her SS18 collection is an exciting representation of unadulterated optimism. It’s a fusion of the color scheme from Fantasia with Hillary Clinton’s hair scrunchies and a carnival atmosphere filled with cotton candy and ferris wheels festooned with lights. “I’ve used tons of crystal wheels, giant puffy scrunchies in holographic silks as well as crazy Dalmatian print snake skins,” she said.
For any brand be it the established one or the new entrant, Asia is a huge market to tap into. “Right now, I’m looking for expansion in the Asian market because there is so much to learn and gain from this part of the world,” she said.