London – There’s no question that the world of fashion has been paying increasing attention in the last few years to the handmade look. In regard to shoe design, a small number of creative figures are trying to move handmade footwear from obscure alternative style to mainstream fashion…
Caterina Belluardo, the creative southern-Italian shoe designer, tells us today about herself and how she has succeeded in getting ahead and making her amazing creative dreams come true. It is impossible to be indifferent to her distinctive shoe designs. Just imagine making a visit to the Tate Modern, stopping at the most eclective and colourful paintings and suddenly seeing them turn into a real, material artifact. This is what happens with Caterina’s shoes: they are the realisation of a high artistic concept into a truly high quality and yet humorous object.
I saw that your background is full of changes and moves from one place to another. Can you tell more about yourself?
Well, you are right. I come from a lovely small city in the south of Sicily, Modica, where my family still lives. I moved to Rome at the age of 19 where I got a degree in set design from the Academy of Fine Arts in 2005. But there was little chance to get a job so I went back to my town because I was offered a job there and to spend time near my family and friends.
What brought you to London?
I have always been very inclined to independence and adventure. After a short time in Modica I decided to move to London to find a new creative direction. I wanted to test myself in a new space and atmosphere, beginning in 2007 with I realised that continuing my education in London could be a great opportunity for me and so I pushed myself to complete my studies with one amazing year in diploma in Footwear at Cordwainers, part now of the London College of Fashion and then finally, from 2011-2013, at the Royal College of Art where I graduated as a Master in Fashion Menswear specializing in footwear. Attending the Royal College of Art was an incredible experience, because I understood who I realy am as a designer.
What is it that has changed in you? What brought you from set design to footwear design?
It is an extraordinary story. Since I was young I’ve always worn weird and unusual shoes. Then one day during a short course at the London College of Fashion which had nothing to do with shoes, someone pointed out my shoes and said ‘Wow! Why don’t you try making shoes?’
I understand how hard and time-consuming it is to do it this way. The world of fashion is competitive and harsh but your experience shows that talent can succeed. What has been your ‘ace in the hole’?
My ‘ace in the hole’? I love my job and that gives me the strong motivation to overcome the natural pitfalls of this career. I enjoy mixing the colours and fabrics, making a new product by resolving the traditional and eternal issues of design. What makes me complete and satisfied is taking an idea through the process of development to fruition.
I think that what shines through in your shoes is the incredible combination of the traditional and contemporary, vintage and creative originality with a particular attention to detail and quality? Do you agree with me?
Absolutely. The focus of my brand is to make a beautiful, comfortable and quality product. I follow the shoe myself, step by step, from the design to production. I test each project personally. Look at these: so nice but comfortable at the same time. I never want to take them off and that’s what I wish for my customers! I pay great attention to the choice of all the materials and I use a small specialist family firm for the manufacture – the best in London. I’m in good hands.
So is it a return to ‘handmade’?
Absolutely. The leather is fantastic, the soles are sturdy, the materials are strong and sourced only in the UK and Italy. All the shoes are handmade in London. This is why I am also a member of the British Footwear Association – the BFA. That makes me really proud.
,Many prize in your carrier: the Montague Burton Design Project during your first year at the RCA, a nominated as a finalist in the Manolo Blahnik Design Competition; you won Who’s Next in Paris and the Intel Design Project; and you were selected for the Camper summer workshop in Majorca where you made a mini collection for Camper. What else do we need to know?
Thanks. Sure, these are all rewards that have made me grateful for finding my way – I have been lucky. Anyway, the shortlisting for the Manolo Blahnik Design Competition was something I couldn’t have imagined, and meeting the man himself was a bliss! That was one of the many advantages of attending the Royal College of Art. For example I met Jimmy Choo too as well as many other amazing people and great teachers. I must admit that attending the most serious and challenging college in the world and make it through helps a lot in terms of self-confidence.
In December 2013 you established your own label together with your business partner, Dale Gatehouse. And this year you have your first collection of your own: MEmphis MEets ME. Could you tell us how this has changed things and also we are curious to know the meaning of the name of the collection.
The launch of my own label gave me so much confidence in myself. Having someone who invests and believes in you is cheering. Now, having the first unisex footwear collection handmade in London, means seeing your dreams come true. It is a deep feeling of satisfaction and has given me a sense of maturity that I didn’t have before. A lot of good things have happened to me during the past year: I showcased at the London Collections: Men in June 2014, at White Milano immediately after, Magic Las Vegas in August and Micam Shanghai in September. These are all ways to get wonderful feedback from the international buyers. The last showcase was Best of Britannia, here in London which has just ended . As for the name – well, Memphis is an 80’s Italian design movement which has inspired me with its geometrical shapes and vibrant colours. So I have decided to call it MEmphis MEets ME .
Do you have any on-going collaboration?
I am pleased that Megan Crook, an amazing self-taught designer, is designing some knits exclusive to my line. And Uncanny Edition made some artworks using the core details of my shoes. Quite amazing!
How do you see your customers?
My customers are men and women that have a good eye for details and want to express their own personality through what there are wearing.
Do you have any advice for people who want achieve something like this?
I have to say that it is a long and difficult road, full of ups and downs. But if you are motivated and sure of your vision, then do trust yourself. I wish for everyone to be able to understand their own selves, their priorities and their talent. When this happens, go straight to your goal. It is never too late.
Do you have a saying for us?
In Sicily we say ‘Cu nesci, arrinesci’ which translates as ‘Who leaves, succedes’.