Zoe Lee may seem a fairly new name in the world of footwear but she is in fact one experienced designer. After studying fashion at St Martins she was chosen as one of two to work under Manolo Blanhik’s tutorage at the Royal College of Art. An impressive start that led on to working for household names Vivienne Westwood, Erdem, Basso & Brooke and Betty Jackson before launching her own line in 2012.
One year on and Lee has already carved out a distinct style that makes her shoes instatnly recognisable. We caught up with the designer to find out more about her career so far...
Where are you from and how did you end up designing shoes?
I am half Canadian and half Japanese but I am also a British national. I've been in the UK since 1990 before that I lived in Asia and Canada (where I was born).
I originally was interested in fashion and studied womenswear at Central St Martins). For my final year project I had to produce eight to ten outfits and I took a greater interest in producing the shoes for the show than the clothes. Instead of working after graduation I went on to the RCA to do the MA in womenswear footwear. I've been dealing with shoes ever since...
Was it something you always wanted to do?
Not specifically footwear from the beginning (that would be weird) but a hands on skill or craft based mediums have always interested me. It's not surprising that I got into footwear but I think I could have easily fallen into other forms of design such as furniture making or ceramics.
When was your first "memorable moment" with footwear and what sparked your love of shoes?
My mother showing me how to draw the heel of her boot that she hung outside my bedroom. The first shoes I ever loved were a pair of pink jelly shoes that I hid in my schoolbag and swapped my trainers for on the bus ride to school.
Do you remember the first shoe you ever made?
My first ever shoe was made with my own hands for the RCA interview 12 years ago – unwearable with a leather covered plasticine heel, faded denim coloured pigskin, cheap stuff but quite charming. I based the pattern on a size 6 but it looked more like a size10. You got the gist though. There was some imagination there, execution needed more attention...
Can you talk me through a little bit of the process of creating footwear?
Creating footwear is a combination of design, being realistic, knowing your materials, knowing your factory and your suppliers and hoping that they are all friends. I start with texture and colour then silhouette. I enjoy researching leathers and showing them off in their best light.
How would you describe your work?
I like creating new contexts, quietly.
What do you look to for inspiration and what inspired this season?
I would love to know what triggers inspiration... photography, books, friends, cities, travel, food, family, sleep, conversations, living … somewhere or something in that list is what makes me design every season. I suppose if I think of SS13 I am reminded of a flower in Tuscany that I saw, the purple suitcase of a girl barging past me at the airport and the sky in Copenhagen. I suppose I design more through instinct and memory. I am not an inventor.
To design more shoes. To make a small film. To think about bags...