With neon pom-poms on top

Caroline Issa has collaborated with fashion brand LK Bennett on her first range

It’s been said that everyone has at least one novel in them waiting to get out. I feel the same about designing shoes. So when I was given the opportunity, I jumped at the chance. It turned out to be both more natural and more satisfying than I expected. Here’s how it happened.

My shoe addiction actually predates my work for the past 10 years as executive fashion director of the print and online magazines Tank and Becauselondon.com. In an earlier life, I spent a few years as a management consultant, wearing clothes that blended in with the rest of the pack – safe, classic – except when it came to my shoes, which were an opportunity for fun. Sleek heels, a pop of colour here, a designer pair there; all could be teamed with my corporate suit.

But what started as rebellious self-expression became a habit that stayed even after I lost the uniform. Now I tend to put outfits together starting feet first, and my day dictates my shoes. Running around town means Jimmy Choo biker boots. All-day meetings at the office equal sky-high Alaïas. And a day spent talking to clients about branding and marketing signifies compromise heels such as the crystal and lace kittens from young brand Bionda Castana.

Visitors to my flat often comment on the fact that I display my shoes on my bookshelves (as opposed to, say, figurines), but the truth is, the shoes have ended up there out of necessity. Never mind the closet; the spare bedroom was over-run long ago. I don’t consider my 80-plus pairs to be excessive – the combination of not having changed my shoe size in decades, attention paid to upkeep, and a few yearly purchases adds up – but try storing them in a small London flat (I have books too, in case you were wondering).

My love of talking point footwear has also been well-documented in the not-so-new street-style blogosphere, and this is why LK Bennett, the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite footwear brand, came calling.

They were looking to leverage my appreciation of a fun heel to bring in new customers, while potentially nudging their creative team towards shoes they wouldn’t normally consider. At first I was apprehensive about the idea: with no design training, would I be able to truly translate my vision into reality? Would I even have the time? But that soon turned into excitement about creating something from scratch. Besides, I knew the brand wouldn’t let me make any really egregious mistakes. It wasn’t in their interest.

I had just returned from a trip to a film festival in Thailand and my head was swimming with the intense colours and patterns of the place. I had bought a small clutch from a local market that had been a big hit with friends and party snappers, and decided to use that vibrant colour and pattern in my shoes. Sketches came out copiously. Who knew I had so many shoe illustrations in me?

Admittedly, the neon pom-poms I wanted caused Kim Saint, LK Bennett’s extremely patient head of production, to nervously ask, “You sure you want multicoloured bobbles? How many exactly?” But they willingly experimented with texture and colour palette (trust me, it took a few attempts) until the pieces finally looked right. My Instagram followers seem to agree, from the few preview pictures I’ve posted.

The shoes are now about to hit stores, and I’ve finally received my own pairs. I’m not sure I’ll ever write – or design – a sequel. But I do know that my bookshelves, and my wardrobe, are richer for it.



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