Tahiti Teal, Wallaby pink, Saxony Black. Richly bled colors that saturate bold, feminine, impeccably designed shoes. Such are the styles that make up British designer Cleo Barbour's flagship footwear collection.
The newly launched AW 09/10 Cleo B line is a testament to the sublime with the infusion of nature's hues based on great Birds of Paradise. The shoes are a mixture of comfort and 21st century style consisting of 20 different designs that include shoe boots, ankle boots, peep-toed wedge and stiletto heels, embellished with swarovski elements, hand-crafted acrylic, suede and leather trimming, and eclectic combinations of fabrics.
Barbour received her education at the London College of Fashion's Cordwainer's college, and trained at the world renowned Salvatore Ferragamo design studio in Florence, Italy. She has assisted in the couture collection for the Georgina Goodman studio, and has proven her capacity for the edgy and the unusual through her extensive involvement with Nicholas Kirkwood and his highly acclaimed Avant-Garde collection.
FA'SHOE'NISTA spoke with the designer about her eclectic styles and the mixture of comfort and high fashion.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: How long have you been a designer and when did you get your start?
Cleo Barbour: When I was a child I had an obsession with a pair of Harrods 1980s gold stilettos which I found whilst delving in the depths of my Mother’s shoe cupboard. I realised there was more to shoes than I had always believed and insisted that they were to sit at the top of the Christmas tree where they can now be found year on year. Since then I've had a fascination with shoes and I decided to get serious and take footwear design as a degree at Cordwainers starting in 2004.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: Your designs are absolutely beautiful. Is it just me, or do I see a forties kind of femme fatale thing going on here, especially in the peep-toe pumps? The mixture of the shiny gold heel and the cone shape at the top and nape of the shoe gives it an edgy femininity. I also love the wedge heels. Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for this design?
Cleo Barbour: You might be right about the femme-fatale aspect - I want my shoes to be beautiful, sexy and feminine with just the right amount of edginess. The wedge heel mirrors the shape of the leg, which makes it really flattering and curvaceously sexy. I like to use fluid design lines which work very well on the wedge.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: Your affinity to the colors of nature is evident in the "names" you give to your designs. When did you first discover all that the sublime beauty of creation had to offer? And why the Birds of Paradise?
Cleo Barbour: The shoes are named after species of Birds of Paradise from New Guinea. They have fantastic majestic names such as 'Splendid' and 'Superb' which I thought suited the colourful shoes perfectly. I first saw the birds by chance on a David Attenborough wildlife documentary and thought they were the most amazing natural creation I'd ever seen.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: What does the design process entail for you from inception to finished product?
Cleo Barbour: I constantly gather images and material that inspires me, then I archive it until I come to design. By this stage I have normally decided upon an inspirational theme and find as much additional imagery as possible to aid the process. Once I have got my ideas on paper I have to choose the best designs and keep on refining them until they are perfect. I then send them to the factory who create a pattern which I then normally change slightly - we keep on working like this, making small changes, until the final sample is finished.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: Color plays such a major role in your designs. As an artist and painter, I can relate to this concept. Out of all the colors you use, do you have a favorite?
Cleo Barbour: Dark Turquoise, Indigo, Deep Magenta and Gold are my favourites. I also like light lime green, coral and certain shades of orange at the moment.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: How do you decide on the types of embellishments to use on any particular design?
Cleo Barbour: I hand sculpted the gold embellishment in the current AW09 collection - I wanted it to mirror the shapes of the heel, wedge and leg. The idea came from looking at the wings of birds of paradise and how they flourish outwards in a similar shape to the embellishment. I like my adornments to be big and make a statement, so I only look for really eye-catching ones.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: What drives and motivates you to create?
Cleo Barbour: The satisfaction of creating a collection which starts as a few scribbles on paper and turns into wearable products that people buy.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: How did it feel to work in couture with giants such as the Georgina Goodman studio and Nicholas Kirkwood?
Cleo Barbour: Being in the studios of these two designers gave me a great insight into the ups and downs of running a shoe business and made me realise what a competitive niche it is. I was always a bit scared I would make a mistake or mess up a job, but I was diligent enough not to! It was a great privilege to have an insight into their companies as I admire them both greatly.
FA'SHOE'NISTA: Okay, fill in the blank. Those who want a career in the fashion industry should…
Cleo Barbour: Get as much work experience as possible and build their knowledge, confidence and contacts. I would recommend you do work experience in all aspects of the industry too, so that you understand the whole process and business side of things.
Thank you so much for taking the time to inspire us here at FA'SHOE'NISTA! We look forward to more of your beautiful designs.