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Designer Feature: Ra Synclair

For the next installment of the High Heels Daily designer feature series we thought we’d switch gears a bit and and focus on a different kind of designer perspective. We love chatting with new brands on the rise, but we also recognize that our love for more established labels is driven by behind-the-scenes designers whose names you may not know, but whose designs we all admire.

One such designer is women’s footwear designer Ra Synclair. I was very kindly introduced to Ra by our friends Kim & Marc of Auri Footwear. The New York City-based designer currently works for Jimlar – an umbrella footwear corporation, which includes brands like Calvin Klein, Coach, and Frye. She told me a bit about the difference between designing for clients and designing for her own tastes:

Even on paper high heels are sexier and more fun to me to draw; the lines, the architecture of a high heel are “it!” Although, flats are a challenge in a different way because I think it takes a different eye and sense of creativity to make a flat sexy, or fun, or sophisticated. I’m a high heel girl to the core, however.

Ra earned a BA in Architecture and Studio Art from Smith College in Massachusetts, then went on to study Footwear Design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles. Her education also included working with a shoe repairman, where she learned, hands on, about the materials, history, and process of shoe-making. Being well aware of her love for shoes since childhood, Ra engaged her goal of being a footwear designer with vigor and worked her way up from being an intern then product coordinator at Brown Shoe Co. before landing her current gig as Women’s Private Label Designer at Jimlar. Living and working in a “walking city” like New York has encouraged this high heels lover to make some footwear compromises:

My daytime footwear has changed drastically and I now look for a heel, platform, or wedge with a pitch that stays within a 75-90mm range, that’s like 3, 3 1/2 inches. And I think there are tons of designers out there embracing that. Givenchy lately has been doing some beautiful mid heels, I just recently bought the perfect Prada platform which looks sky high but really isn’t and I can walk in it all day… For night though it’s all taxi cabs so I can strut from the curb to the door in the highest of the high and dance all night.

See Ra’s trusty pair of Prada’s above, which she featured recently on her blog 6 Pairs, 12 Steps. On the blog the designer shares some of her shoe loves, inspirations, and sketches. We’d love to see the below design, which features a “self covered heel with sliver of ‘mirror’ at center back” go into production. Ra’s dream job is to one day run her own line, and when she does we’ll be first in line to try them out!

Designer Feature: Natalia Barbieri of Bionda Castana

Shoe designers Jennifer Portman and Natalia Barbieri are the “bionda” (blonde) and the “castana” (brunette) of the swiftly rising footwear brand Bionda Castana Milano. The London-founded label is a delightful union of British style and Italian craftsmanship, resulting in shoes that are lasting luxury, with just the right dash of fashion relevance.

For our latest edition to the High Heels Daily designer feature series Natalia Barbieri (the brunette) lets us in on a bit of what makes the fabulous brand tick. The former investment banker made a bold career move and studied under an Italian craftsman before launching the label with Portman in 2007.

What’s it like working as a design duo?

Working alongside Jennifer is just fantastic. We are both on the same wave length when it comes to all elements of the business be it designing or future plans for BC, which makes it so much easier and a great environment to work in. Zero office politics and quite frankly, there is far too much workload for just one person.

In terms of our daily seperate roles, I look after the sales and marketing side, whereas Jennifer is more hands on with Production and Quality Control. We both come together to design the collections every season.

Below: a sample of the Bionda Castana Spring 2011 Collection

How did your education and other background lead to footwear design? Did always know you were interested in fashion?

We both studied business degrees which allowed us to understand the fundamentals of setting up our own business. Knowing both how to create an amazing shoe and understanding cash flow and budgets is super important. Both myself and Jennifer have loved fashion since we were little girls so we are truly living out our dream.

You’ve mentioned that you design for “free-thinking” women. How does this perspective affect your design process?

The term free thinking best describes our customer because she is someone who doesn’t follow fashion or trends. She makes up her own mind as to what she wants to wear and how she wants to wear it.

We are effectively women designing for women and knowing what shoes we want to wear and what shoes we need in our own wardrobes – gives us our secret ingredient….we are our own customer.

Our collections are classic with an edge, polished yet tough. Each season we introduce a new shape or heel so that we come closer of achieving our goal of dressing the feet of every kind of woman.

If you could have only one pair of heels in your wardrobe, which would they be? Why?

A pair of our ROISIN studded booties from the AW10 collection in either black suede or grey leather. Stunning and real show piece that will dress up any outfit. (seen below in black suede)

Who are some other designers (shoes/heels, if applicable) whose work you admire?

Sergio Rossi is definately an icon of mine. His designs are what inspired me to start my own range of shoes and in fact, he was the first luxury shoe designer I bought a pair of shoes from. They are so beautifully crafted and timeless.

Who would you most love to see wearing your shoes?

I am totally in love with Kate Bosworth at the moment. So feminine, gracious and never makes a fashion faux pas. Beautiful.

photos: livincool.com, vogue.co.uk, becauselondon.com, zimbio.com

Designer Feature: Barri Budin of Madison Harding

Madison Harding is an exciting young brand founded by designers Barri Budin and Hilary Rosenman. The New York City-based duo met at a liberal arts school in upstate New York where they bonded over common cultural interests. Both ladies would later move to NYC and work in the fashion industry in various capacities before eventually launching their footwear line together. The two sought to produce high fashion shoes that were accessible and still attractive to downtown city girls. The results are collections of chic, modern shoes, with just the right amount of vintage flavor. The mix has attracted such celebrity fans as Chloe Sevigny, Rihanna, Leighten Meester, and Lauren Conrad.

If you could have only one pair of heels, which would they be?
Right now Hilary and I are both obsessed with our black Val boots from Fall 10. They go with everything, are simple yet chic and VERY VERY tall without being uncomfortable. THey make you look and feel amazing! They were such a hit that we brought them back for Fall 2011. (Val Boots are pictured above)

What’s it like working as a design duo?
Hilary and I do all of the designing together. Since we have a very similar asethetic, its really fun to bounce ideas off of each other and get inspiration from our own unique sensabilities. Everything else in the business is divided, I work on press, Hilary deals with internal back end and finance. All in all, we are both involved in every aspect of the company.

How are you inspired by New York City?
Fall 2009 was very much inspired by the art and music scene in the lower east side 80’s. The collection was very “Rocker Girl” and all the shoes were named after female artists who reflect that time and energy. All in all we are constantly inspired by everything we see on a daily basis living in NYC, from people’s personal style to found objects and old vintage books and magazines we collect from vintage shopping.

Which shoe brands do you admire?
We love Pierre Hardy, Lanvin, Miu Miu, All Vintage 70’s shoes and 80’s Charles Jourdan

What do you think about difficult high heels on the runway?
I personally think high heels go hand and hand with all woman’s fashion. Nothing makes a woman feel more sexy, beautiful and put together like a great pair of super high heels. Everyone falls from time to time…shit happens…maybe the models just need to be more careful;)

At what age is it appropriate for a girl to start wearing heels?
I didnt really start wearing heels till I was in my 20s. I think heels should be saved for teenagers and adults. Kids should be kinds and not concern themselves with body concious accessories.

Do you have any other past or current career ambitions?
I have always loved fashion and all things expressive and creative. I actually got my masters in Art Therapy and will probably revisit practicing one day in the future.




Above are a few beauties from the Madison Harding Spring 2011 collection. See more at the brand’s website, madisonharding.com. The site is crisp and clean and, as a bonus, there’s an adorable paper doll game that let’s you play dress up and “try on” different shoes from the collection.

Designer Feature: Kim & Marc of Auri Footwear

It’s the Holy Grail of fashion: a high heeled shoe that’s both fabulous and functional. We lovers of heels regularly sacrifice comfort for style, but thanks to dedicated designers like Kim Dingman and Marc Scepi of Auri Footwear, suffering for shoes may soon be a thing of the past.

Marc studied industrial design at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, then an internship at New Balance led him to the world of footwear. Meanwhile Kim studied footwear design at FIDM in Los Angeles and later launched Jen + Kim – the customizable shoe brand that we discovered last year. The pair bring together ingenuity and creative vision with spectacular results.

The designers say that one of their ultimate ambitions is to “become internationally known for fusing technology with high fashion in footwear.” From the looks of it, it seems they are well on their way!


What was the first high heeled shoe you ever designed?
Marc: They Betty G from our Fall 2011 collection
Kim: The 1940’s from my personal collection at Jen + Kim Shoes.

What’s it like working as a design duo?
We have a good balance. One of us is however more technically oriented (Marc) while the other is more fashion oriented (Kim). We have a mutual level of respect for one another that lets us be open minded and free with our ideas.

How do fashion trends influence your design process?
They are so important, as if you’re off on what will work for the season, the whole collection looks off. You have to be in the lead with trends, not too fast because people then don’t understand your collection, but not too slow because then people think of you as dated.

What do you think about difficult high heels on the runway?
I think, if AURI made them, they’d be super comfortable and the models wouldn’t have to worry about any runway fumbles.

At what age is it appropriate for a girl to start wearing heels?
Kim: 16? I wanted to wear heels the moment I saw a pair but it takes some time to develop balance and there is nothing worse than someone wearing heels who doesn’t know how to walk in them.

If you could have only one pair of heels in your wardrobe, which would they be?
Our Fall Leona. They are honestly the most comfortable pair of pumps I have ever put on and the taupe sand snake is a perfect color for Fall AND Spring.

Find out more about Auri Footwear at aurifootwear.com. Also visit the brand’s Facebook Page and follow them on Twitter.

Designer Feature: Yotam Solomon

Israeli-born designer Yotam Solomon has a thriving ready to wear brand characterized by sexy, modern clothing, but it was his footwear that got our attention. Not only are his designs sophisticated with a streamlined edge, but the FIDM graduate also has an intriguing perspective on the world and a commitment to social change. You might remember the name from last fall when we did a quick blurb on the Yotam Solomon Oil Spill collection for Spring 2011 (seen above). The collection is available now and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to clean up efforts in the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. High Heels Daily was lucky enough to chat with Solomon about his upcoming collections and his career as a designer. Check out the interview below.

Have you always wanted to be a designer? Do you have any other past or current career ambitions?
I actually play the viola and most people don’t know this about me, but before fashion I was going to be a professional musician. The change took place for two reasons, one being that I was always great with styling tips, I knew the trends, and everyone always told me I would be a designer. Growing up I use to also sketch architectural structures and build them using different materials. The most important factor that drew me into designing fashion is the fact that you can empower others and target an issue. Designers have a voice and they express it with their creations, in classical music your always limited to expressing the composer’s ideas.

Why is Sustainable Luxury important to your brand?
Sustainability is more than being eco-friendly it means that everything you use and create is recyclable and will be able to be reused just like in nature… Most people have no idea that when they buy a pair of shoes their purchasing a product that has parts made in at least 5 different countries and so many chemicals and man-made materials its hard to count them all.

How do fashion trends influence your design process?
Being that my inspiration comes from nature and social issues I don’t see a need to explore trends, on the other hand when I do shop it’s important for me to observe new details and unique techniques in both new and vintage fashion as I always keep learning.

Your Fall 2011 collection is titled ‘Drugs & DNA.’ What message are you hoping people will receive by the theme?
I hope people understand that what ever they do is O.K. (As long as they don’t hurt anyone else by doing it) since life is a big experiment it’s nice when people say it’s O.K. to make a mistake or that its fine that we are not perfect. With a larger picture in mind this collection is again about raising awareness and understanding that whatever we do we must take care of our body and health and overdoing anything can be harmful. Drugs are infamous, dangerous and even sexy to some people and through this collection I hope people explore and think about everything they do that involved this subject. Below: The Jet Stilletto, The Altered Pump, and The Pill Boot.

What do you think of the crazy high heels we see on the runway during fashion week?
Runway shows don’t always showcase wearable fashion which is OK since for luxury fashion its about showing the ideas, Couture is a perfect example since it’s one of the most divine industries in the world being that it creates the most amazing fashion in the world yet many few people buy these creations and possibly wear it once. I do want to make sure most people understand that couture can only be made in Paris and be licensed from the French government to do so, if you see a fashion company based outside of Paris and has the name couture added to it, its not it -sorry. People need to understand that this super high heels are made to showcase and idea and not really to be worn. I personally don’t think heels over seven inches should be made since there is no point to it, but it does make a statement at the end of the day.

Who would you most love to see wearing your shoes?
I’m very proud to say that I was fortunate enough o work with one of my favorite icons Mrs. Victoria Beckham who is an amazing person. I would love to dress Vanessa Paradis as I find her extremely talented.

See the Okino – the first heel Yotam ever designed in the video below. It’s available at ShopFlick with other styles from the designer. Find out more about the Yotam Solomon brand at yotamsolomon.com. You can also connect with the designer on his Facebook page and on Twitter.