She may be a stunning brunette, but it’s hard for eyes not to dart directly to London-born Deborah Lyons’ shoes when you meet her. The designer behind the up-and-coming luxury shoe brand Mechante of London, Lyons is quickly developing a following thanks to celebrity fans (including Isla Fisher) and a prominent place in high-end Meccas like Harrods and Matches. Known for her fashion-forward sculptural shoes, we spoke to Lyons to find out about some of the unique challenges of designing shoes, what she thinks every aspiring shoe designer should know, and more.
The Fashion Spot: What is it about shoes that you find so appealing?
Deborah Lyons: In designing them and as a product, I love the sculptural element; the smells of the leather, brand new soles, pretty much everything about them! In seeing them worn, I love how a pair of shoes can totally transform a woman's attitude and appearance.
tFS: Can you remember the first time you put on a pair of high heels?
DL: My mum tells me I used to stumble around in her shoes from around the time I could walk. I can't remember…
tFS: What was your first big shoe spurge?
DL: A pair of Miu Miu ankle boots.
tFS: What is your design background/training?
DL: I studied at Parsons and started making shoes from a factory in rural Italy not long after graduating. Since then, I've also been fortunate enough to have worked with, and am working with, a number of designers that I have enormous respect for.
tFS: What are some of the biggest hurdles in having shoes manufactured?
DL: The thing with shoes is that they take so long to make. It may be a problem pretty specific to manufacturing in Italy where all of my shoes are made, but ordering the heels, soles, platforms, etc. takes about six weeks alone. It’s also not the kind of thing that can be fixed at home on your sewing machine. If something doesn't work, the whole shoe will be off. It’s a true craft and it takes a lot of learning and wear-testing to get it right at the beginning.
tFS: Can you take us through the process of designing a shoe through getting the final sample?
DL: Unfortunately, the design process is the shortest part. I normally have two weeks to design and I lock myself away from the world until I'm done. Then, I go to Italy and choose all the materials which takes me a few days of decision making and elimination. From there, we have the lastes made [the mold the shoe is built on] – each style of shoe requires its own. Then we cut the patterns, order the heels, leathers, soles, etc. At that point, everything goes into the factory to be put together and the sample is done.
tFS: Women often complain about shoes being painful. How do you work to make sure yours are not?
DL: I wear them!
tFS: What's your take on flats? I see your new collection has a number of them.
DL: By day I'm almost always in flats, at night always in heels. I always make my shoes to some degree with myself in mind just so I know I'm covered for the season!
tFS: Given that you are producing on a small scale, your costs must be tremendous. Can you tell us a little bit about how you work to keep your costs in check?
DL: I do almost everything myself. This is good and bad as there's a lot that I don't have the ability or patience to do that well.
tFS: What are some of the biggest challenges in getting your designs into stores? How did you go about it?
DL: In a lot of ways, I got very lucky. I was fortunate enough to get into Harrods in London in my first season as Marigay the fashion director was a huge supporter of the brand from the get-go. That entry really helped kick-start everything. Still, it takes a huge amount of work and time to maintain stockists and grow.
tFS: How important is it to hire a PR agency?
DL: It depends really. Some can promise the moon and not deliver. I've worked with a few publicists I really respect though. At the moment, I'm with HPR in London. Harriet who runs it is amazing at what she does. I think, for the most part, if they know the right people and believe in you then having a strong PR company in your corner can be invaluable for supporting your brand and opening up doors.
tFS: What are some ways you've worked to get the word out about your brand?
DL: Flown around the world alone…shlepped through cities carrying 20 pairs of shoes in a huge bag while wearing 5" heels and trying not to look disheveled…had desksides with editors…had trunk shows…made a short film in the forest…had Janice Dickinson in my living room…shot a lookbook in eight feet of snow…Tweeted…Facebooked…blogged…guest edited…dressed celebs…dressed my friends…
I'm working on an "un-fashion" film now with director Wayne Yip, of Misfits and Secret Diary of a Call Girl, that will star some amazingly talented British girls including Zara Martin, Gemma Chan, and Sunday Girl.
I guess you have to do whatever it takes, really, but most important is to stay true to your brand.
tFS: Do you always wear your own designs?
DL: Always. Except for sneakers, which I love. I hope to make sneakers soon, too.
tFS: What's one thing you think anyone looking to become a shoe designer should know?
DL: My first publicist once told me that to be a designer you either have to be rich or be prepared to live on a park bench. At the time I didn't think too much of it. Sadly, I'm still not rich and fortunately, I'm not homeless, but still there's a lot of truth in it.