Orla Kiely has stamped her signature retro-style prints on everything from couch cushions to ready-to-wear, but this season’s capsule collection of cool-yet-comfortable shoes for the venerable British brand Clarks marks her first foray into footwear. The Irish-born designer dubbed the Queen of Prints by Britain’s Guardian newspaper drew heavily from the annals of vintage fashion to create them. From patent-leather sandals for spring to ponyhair Chelsea boots in the upcoming fall collection, the new line was especially influenced by the look of Swinging London. Kiely, who counts the Duchess of Cambridge, Alexa Chung and Zooey Deschanel among her fans, spoke with Globe Style about how she made the line cohesive, her selectivity when it comes to design partners and the “joy” of mixing decades.
You’ve already worked with big brands like Uniqlo and Target. How did the collaboration with Clarks come about?
We all grew up with Clarks in the U.K. My school shoes were Clarks, so it’s a company that’s full of heritage for me. They really know how to make comfortable shoes, so the idea of designing a collection that’s actually very comfortable was a huge reason. We’re approached by lots of people to do various things, but we’re really careful and pick the companies that we feel share our philosophies, like designing shoes to last, caring about packaging and the environment, the design process from start to finish. And I think [Clarks has] real integrity where their shoes are concerned.
What was it like working with them to make your shoe debut?
It was really great. Of course, my reference points usually go back to the sixties; I think it’s really hard to find shoes [of that style], so we were very clear on the kind of heel we wanted – that we wanted the platform – and what we wanted for the shape of the toes.
How else did your mod-minded approach to design translate to footwear?
We wanted to have very block-like heels; that’s something in the summer collection that carries on through to fall. From the flat shoes to the super-high heel, the idea was that, from the back, the shape of the heel would remain the same as it gets raised. I love those kinds of threads that connect through a collection.
On the runway for spring 2014, you styled your footwear with knee socks and paired them with flared and Aline skirts. Off the catwalk, how do you see your shoes being worn?
For summer, they’ll look so cute with bare feet. I think they’ll work with anything, from a short skirt to a long skirt to a pair of shorts. And they can be dressed up or dressed down. You can mix it up however you like – a very sixties shoe with an eighties look – it doesn’t really matter. That’s the joy in it; how people put things together is all part of it.
In Canada, Clarks x Orla Kiely is available exclusively at Gravity Pope (www.gravitypope.com).
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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