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Well heeled

Vanessa Lees talks to shoe designer Jonathan Kelsey about killer heels and why Amy Winehouse has proved to be his road tester.

Published on October 26th 2007.


Well heeled

Marilyn Monroe once said: “I don’t know who invented the high heel but I owe him a lot.”

Forget diamonds, the shoe maker is a girl’s best friend. He does things for our derriere, posture and confidence that would make a plastic surgeon weep.

Jonathan Kelsey is one such man. After years of training with the godfather of shoes Jimmy Choo, he has now launched his beautiful art-deco inspired first collection which can be swooned over at Harvey Nichols, Manchester. I catch up with him to discuss my favourite subject……shooooooooes.

So Jonathan, how did you get started in making women’s shoes?
I designed women’s wear for different designers in London and also the High Street including Debenhams but I was really interested in doing shoes so I decided to go back to the Royal College of Art to do an MA in shoes. They only have two places each year and I got accepted. But that same week I got offered a job at Jimmy Choo, so I thought hmmm, ok I’ll take the money and from there I learnt everything on the job.

Jimmy Choo? Nice work. How have you made the transition from working for such a big name to setting up on your own?
I left Jimmy Choo, knowing that I wanted to set up my own collection but thought it was best if I did lots of freelance work and design in other styles apart from Jimmy Choo as you get quite into the one particular way of working. I did stuff for Gina for a couple of years, a couple of seasons with Strenesse in Munich and two seasons with Cacharel in Paris. I started my own collection this time last year and found a really great factory outside Venice who make Chloe and Marc Jacobs who said they’d be happy to manufacture my own line. The first selling period was Feburary/ March and it went really well. I set myself a goal of selling 1000 pairs and we did exactly that.

How would you describe your style?
Doing something different was what I was really conscious of because I was entering a market that was already flooded with different designers doing amazing shoes. Touch wood everyone says my collection doesn’t look like anyone else’s as they quite distinct. They’re very bold looking shoes. Very sexy but not in a Jimmy Choo sexy way. Sexy in a strong, modern way. There’s one particular shoe in the first collection called ‘Amy’ which has done really well. I named it after Amy Winehouse because I’m a big fan of hers. I sent her a pair and then when I met her by chance at the Harvey Nichols store in London, she was wearing them. I said to her: “They’re mine. They’re named after you.” And she groaned something back. She was drunk. Obviously.

Would you agree that your shoes can look quite fierce?
They are quite tough looking but they look less dominatrix on the foot and quite classic and very wearable. All girls should be wearing the ‘Amy’ style this season, it’s an absolute winner. All of my friends have bought them and all the press in London.

Most of your heels are 4 ½ inches. How high is too high?
It depends on the way that the shoe is put together and the balance of the heel and whether the platformed front is there. I think women are much more used to wearing very high heels then they were five or six years ago. I’ve tried to make sure my shoes have gel cushioning inside which is basically like a refined version of party feet. They’ve been road tested by quite a few people. The night I saw Amy Winehouse, I met her at 11pm and then the next day I saw pictures of her house going back into her house at 3am still wearing them. She’d changed her clothes but was still wearing the shoes. That’s a good sign.

Can you tell a lot about a person by their shoes?
Definitely. I don’t judge them though. Shoes are a really good way of a girl expressing her mood at the time. If someone is in a ‘don’t look at me’ kind of mood they’ll wear a particular type of shoe, but if they want to go out and feel confident they’ll wear a shoe that would restore their confidence. You use shoes to alter how you are perceived rather then how you are inside. So it’s much more of an external thing. I’ve known girls put my shoes on when they have a really important meeting to go to so they’ll feel 4½ inches taller and stronger.

Any tips on how to walk in high heels?
Funnily enough I’ve had no experience.

Which celebrities have fab taste in shoes?
Amy Winehouse does.. now. The Olsen twins wear really cool shoes. Even though they are 20 years old, they have a really good sense of style. On the same night that I met Amy I met one of the Olsen twins and she said that she’d just bought a pair of my silver sandals. So I was very pleased about that. Madonna wears really good shoes too. I use the editor of Dazed and Confused Nicki Bidder as, not necessarily my muse, but when I’m designing a shoe I’ll always ask her if she would wear it. If she says definitely not then I’m always a bit wary of it. She is the girl who wears great shoes.

Where’s the future of shoes heading?
There’s been loads of round toe shoes around but I’m thinking next year spring/summer going back to pointed shoes. But they’ll be short points like 1940/50s pointed court shoes. So fingers crossed that that goes well.

The Jonathan Kelsey collection is available at Harvey Nichols, Manchester

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