Published by PINK magazine
Issue 140 - 21st June 2016
Fashion Story - Fashion [foot] forward
Step into interior designer Désirée Azzopardi’s shoes as she herself steps into the world of fashion, leaving her creative mark on footwear. It’s all about the power of personalising; about custom-made over mass production for that individual touch that has your name on it.
How much and in what way have your parents influenced your line of work, your father being an architect and your mother an art teacher? How important do you think their impact on your work choices was and what would you be doing if you were born to someone else?
Greatly influenced, without a shadow of a doubt! Starting off with the house I’ve lived in for the past 20 years, designed by my dad; it’s full of queer angles and interesting shapes and triangles. Subconsciously, I’m sure this affected me, being exposed to these odd creative forms every day. My mother, on the other hand, apart from being an art teacher, in her free time sits in her sewing room and adds and removes interesting things onto clothes, jackets, bags, frames and whatever happens to cross her path. Whether it’s ribbon, lace, buttons, figurines, pottery, she modifies things, upcycles old materials and broken objects and gives them a new lease of life. She also used to give pottery classes at home to children in the neighbourhood during the summer months. Our basement would be transformed into a buzzing hub of happy children, letting their creative juices flow, making their own items to proudly take back to their parents. So yes, I do believe they both left their own mark on me unknowingly. However, they never interfered in my choice of subjects at school and left me very free to choose my own path. In terms of being self-employed, I completely copied my father. He loved his job, and we often described him as a slight workaholic.
I definitely took after him here. Being employed, I had found, used to stifle my creativity. I would much rather spend this one life I have doing what makes me happy and fulfilling my own passion and dream than someone else’s. If I were born to someone else, I’d probably be doing whatever I may have been exposed to as a child. I do believe a lot in the butterfly effect; it’s only natural, I guess.
You are a full-time interior designer. At what point and why did you also switch to fashion and your canvas become shoes?
I’ve always loved fashion and anything related to design and creativity. A few years ago, I launched a collection of hand-painted, washable scatter cushions. I also used to paint and exhibit my works in various places. Over a year ago now, I was going through some changes and had just returned from a long trip – I find travel extremely inspiring.
I returned to Malta feeling a bit empty and refused to go back to the norm.
I was looking for something new and exciting; something that would fulfill me. It was then that it came to me to modify and personalise my own shoes. From there, I dived head-first into months of extensive research and experimentation to create designs that are long-lasting and durable on various types of shoes through different processes. The idea took off when people repeatedly began giving me their shoes to jazz up. From that point on, it became a love affair more than a business.
You recently launched your first collection of modified Aldo shoes at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Malta. How would you describe the collection in a nutshell? What is the concept behind these 10 pairs?
I believe shoes – just like the other things we personalise, including mobile phones, cars, interiors and clothes – should also be an expression of our own style and personality. For this reason, the collection was based around different personalities, with each pair illustrating a person.
What is it about customising things and the idea of something being unique that seems to excite people no end?
When people buy something off the shelf, they are as different as the other million who bought the same object around the world. Mass production can never compete with anything exclusive. When you own an object designed solely for you, it’s always a cut above the mass-produced version. The feeling is completely different. This was explained to me by a client of mine after receiving a surprise pair of personalised shoes.
What about a conservative person? How would you customise their shoes without putting them off?
The approach I use for both interiors and shoes is always the same, regardless of the style of the person. The aim is to create something that reflects them while giving it my touch. Therefore, I first analyse their style, personality, likes and dislikes to get a feel of what may reflect them, and then I go about planning and designing. Generally, a conservative person would choose something a bit more subtle and subdued, yet still stylish, classy and different. It all depends on the person’s tastes, really; perhaps their initials only, or a motif that means something to them. It’s based on the same reasoning of a person getting a tattoo done; it may not mean anything to someone else, but it reflects who they are.
Since your goal is for people to be able to identify themselves with their shoes and for the latter to be a reflection of their innermost self, if you had to draw on your own, what would it be?
Very difficult question… Designing an interior or a pair of shoes for myself is the hardest. I am my worst client. I like everything and I like nothing at the same time. It would probably include metallic gold in terms of colour… But that’s about as far as I know!
You also like your work to complement the original shape and style of the shoe. How do you make sure you achieve that?
I first begin with the style of the shoe, plan a concept that complements this; then, taking the shape of the shoe, I plan the layout of the design in a way that would enhance the cut by creating accents. The process is the same as when you apply make-up and want to emphasise features like cheek bones. At the same time, I pick colours that match the shoe and are easy to match with various outfits.
The shoes have a name and a story. Tell us one.
Free-spirited: As the name suggests, this detailed pair describes a woman who is wild, untamed and free. She is random and unpredictable. She will go to unfathomable lengths to chase her dream. She knows no limits. She does not live up to anyone’s expectations. She keeps no track of others. She will run like the wind till she finds her satisfaction. She does not settle. She does not give up. She is a rolling stone on the pursuit of happiness.
Can every shoe be modified in this way and what is the starting point; when you are about to draw freehand on a pair?
No, not all shoes can be modified. I don’t work on satin and some types of suedes. I also don’t work on thin strappy sandals since there is not much surface to work on. The ideal shoes to customise are plain and don’t have any decor on them – no patterns, glitter, studs, textures, etc… A plain canvas is ideal. I always start with the main section and work my way out into the other parts of the shoe.
Have you considered customising other fashion items, or using your art in other ways?
Yes! The next step is to customise bags, providing clients with both shoes and a bag to match.
When it comes to dressing up, how important are shoes on a scale of one to 10?
Some say your shoes are the first thing people notice. I would say 10!
What shoes would you not be seen dead in?
Crocs [with or without white knee-length socks].
When can a pair of shoes break an outfit?
When they break the line of the body and do not complement the shape and cut of the clothes. However, in the world of fashion, odd things also become trends, which some people follow blindly. I also think that having a pattern on your shoes and on your clothes can sometimes do more harm than good. Shoes should never have to compete with an outfit for attention – it’s either one or the other.