How does an award-winning architect specializing in bridges crossover to shoes? By happy accident, says designer Julian Hakes.
After participating in a series of design competitions, including placing second in a major U.K. retail re-design project, Hakes decided to switch gears and invest in projects of his own. He recalls staying late at his studio one night in 2006: “The rest of the design team had left and I started to wrap drafting paper and scotch tape around my foot. I drew around the paper and realized that as soon as the heel is lifted off the ground, there is no need for a middle.” Many sketches later, the ‘Mojito’ was born. A 3-D visual of the heel—often compared to a ribbon or lemon peel— made its debut in 2009 on the blog Gizmodo and became an overnight success, registering more than 100,000 hits and comments and attracting global attention from techies, designers and models. “I could put my name in Google and find no mention of my bridges or teaching, but plenty came up for the Mojito,” Hakes says, bemused. “I don’t think the shoe would exist today if it weren’t for the attention it received on blogs.”
The shoe, which retails for $195, made its official trade show debut at the August edition of FN Platform in Las Vegas and has since been scooped up by U.S. and international dealers. Hakes reports black with pewter, silver or gold lining as a best-seller, while London’s Harvey Nichols took a liking to black with pops of neon lemon and fuchsia. Bright royal blue and lime green are capturing the eyes of U.S. retailers.
Made from a composite of many materials, which Hakes describes as “a cross between a sports car and snowboard binding,” the shoe’s smooth texture and sheen heightens color intensity. “It’s very sculptural and organic. I call it poetic radicalism, beautiful but different,” Hakes explains, but most of all this jack-of-all-trades calls his first stab at footwear “comfortable.” “Despite its appearance, it is very easy to wear. Even I can stand on this heel,” he laughs.
What’s been your first impression of the footwear industry? I’ve realized how big the world is outside of architecture. It’s been a lovely process and I have been showered with support from the U.K. trade industry, in particular. I’m really surprised and grateful for how everyone has been eager to support a new designer like me.
How has your architectural background influenced your footwear design? With shoe design, there’s too much focus on the outside. Architects start in the center and work their way out. I think that approach has been in key in designing a shoe that is functional and comfortable.
What do you have planned for Fall ’12? I’m working on a boot, some funky wedges, a shoe with a mid-height heel and a lower bootie. I would also like to introduce a men’s style with a sporty look.
Where do you see your line in five years? By looking at a new range of materials, I think we will move into different price points. For example, you might see bamboo, wood or pure carbon fibers for a super-light shoe.
What else would you like to design? I see some eyewear down the pipeline and maybe a small collection of jewelry and handbags.