Interview with shoe designer Atalanta Weller

Interview with shoe designer Atalanta Weller

A woman designing for women

Since she began in 2009, Atalanta Weller’s eponymous brand, now in its 7th season, has been steadily captivating its global fan-base.  Described by the fashion industry as one-to-watch, Weller continues to make the transition from hot young thing to fully-fledged designer brand.

Show-stopping collaborations with avant-garde UK designers Gareth Pugh, Henry Holland and Sinha Stanic led directly to Atalanta Weller’s first solo collection and instant NEWGEN recognition, which she won for three consecutive seasons.

For Weller the technical aspects of shoe design are the first and foremost when constructing shoe. This drives the creation of her exceptional, beautiful and luxurious shoes. Whether a flat or a 6-inch stiletto it must be comfortable.  She is a woman designing for women.

Atalanta Weller Portrait

Atalanta Weller Portrait

Well known for her avant-garde concept shoes, her creativity sparks from the cross-pollination of London’s fashion, art and design scene.

Atalanta’s innovative style has developed from experience acquired through work with Clarks, Hugo Boss and John Richmond, and others. Weller is already inspiring the next generation as a guest lecturer on the MA course at the London College of Fashion and was guest judge on the prestigious panel of the Footwear Friends Award 2011.

Atalanta Weller’s designs will be on display from the 11th until the 29th September at Westfield Shopping Centre London as part of a pop up exhibition from Northampton Museum and Art Gallery’s shoe collection. Atalanta has chosen a vintage shoe from the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery archive which is displayed alongside a shoe from her current collection.

The interview below with Atalanta was conducted by Ellen Sampson, Cinderella project Curator. For more information on the ground breaking Cinderella project go to http://www.northampton.gov.uk/thecinderellasyndrome

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Where do you design and what is your workspace like?

I was based in East London for 12 years, but I recently moved to a new studio in Notting hill, which I love.

I have many shoes all over the studio walls, from different decades and countries and each has a story to tell…

I work at two desks, one from where I manage the business side of the brand and the other is my designing space/ work shop where I can draw, make clay models and come up with new ideas.  It’s great to have the split between the two.

How does your design process work?  

I usually begin with three starting points – the Shape, the Material and the Feeling; the end purpose for the shoe and how the wearer should feel in it. I tend to work on all three at the same time.

I start with some research, in galleries, museums, books, films, things and people I see on the street. I collect images and sketch ideas, both on paper, and on the Last (the form the shoe is built on). I then make models in clay and in paper and in leather and once I’m satisfied with the first prototypes, I go to the factory either in Portugal or Spain where I work more on the shoes with developers over the following couple of months to perfect each idea and shoe before it is finally shown to the buyers and press.

What inspires you when you design?  

The desire to create fine luxury shoes for amazing and inspirational women around me. I’m inspired by many things – sometimes a new design come from a feeling, or a shape, something I see on the street, or in a museum. I love to reference films, usually something with a modern, yet retro feel with an element of fantasy. 

My background is in sculpture, I’m a great fan of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth and also Salvatore Ferragamo, but I am drawn to the technical complexities of shoes and finding an aesthetical balance. It is a constant quest to create something that is new, but also comfortable and wearable. My ultimate mission is to create a shoe that in turn inspires the wearer to do great things.

How do historic/vintage shoes inspire your designs?  

When I was a sculpture student I found an old pair of Palter / Deliso 1940s shoes in a charity shop. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, I fell for the simplicity, the lines, the shape and the functionality.

From then on I knew what I wanted to do and my path was set – by an old pair of shoes!

Shoe making is such an ancient craft, and it’s always both humbling and inspiring to see what was done before,  e.g. specific techniques, crazy styles, stitching, pattern developments, or something technical which has pushed material boundaries in that time.

It’s inspiring to try to follow in that tradition, to build on that knowledge and to create new shoes

Describe the historic/vintage shoe you picked?

The shoe I have chosen is a men’s welted oxford lace up with the ¾ vamp in Vinyl.  I love how this traditional men’s style becomes something totally new when made in Vinyl.

Why did you pick it? What do you love about it?

I picked it for its combination of traditional shoemaking craft, which, when combined with an extraordinary material becomes something completely new.

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