After winning ITS8 Competition and the Manolo Blahnik Competition RCA in 2009, British designer Chau Har Lee received praise for her eccentric approach to shoe design. A graduate of Cordwainers and the Royal College of Art, Lee’s thorough knowledge has allowed her to explore and push the boundaries of conventional design, resulting in highly conceptual and architectural pieces of art that hinge on commercial practicality. Her stainless steel and wooden assembled creations inspired the Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize’s panel judges and she was awarded the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN award for her London Fashion Week spring/summer ’11 collection. Lee recently chatted with JC Report about her hometown influence, use of unconventional materials and the process between each complicated design.
JC Report: What made you decide to start your own footwear collection?
Chau Har Lee: Studying a masters degree at the Royal College of Art was a decision to push myself and develop my ideas as a designer. It was then that I realized how much I really loved designing and wanted to continue doing so.
CHL: I love London, and, having been born and raised here, my work is inevitably influenced by the creativity and energy that exists within it.
JCR: What inspired your latest collection?
CHL: So many things inspire me and it’s usually an accumulation of ideas that I have been thinking about for a while. The latest collection was inspired by topics such as vehicle design, products and architecture.
JCR: You work with interesting materials, such as stainless steel. How do you choose your materials?
CHL: Shoes need to support a person’s body weight so part of it was choosing materials that were strong, durable and could bear weight. It usually involves a lot of testing and research to find the right materials.
CHL: The idea came to me while I was researching principles of structure, and thinking of alternative ways to make shoes after considering the many components and processes that are needed to make a conventional pair of shoes. I always design shoes with the intention that they will be worn, but I try not to let the technical details affect my creativity. Although my most conceptual designs are showpieces, they are still built to adorn the foot.
JCR: Who is your ideal customer?
CHL: Someone who appreciates luxury. A strong woman with discerning taste and a sense of fun.
CHL: Sketching and analyzing the foot, research in the form of collecting images and reading up on certain areas of interest and then making lots of mock-ups until I find the right direction to follow. I often employ a crossover of making and manufacturing processes from fields other than shoemaking in order to realize my concepts. This gives me massive scope for creativity in the design stage by removing boundaries associated with traditional methods.
JCR: Governing bodies of design have recognized your work internationally—last year, you won the ITS8 Competition and the Manolo Blahnik Competition RCA, while London offers awards via NEWGEN and Fashion East. How do these awards help designers like you?
CHL: I feel incredibly fortunate to have benefited from these rewards and they have all been invaluable in enabling me to develop my work further, creating new collections and being given the opportunity to show it. As well as this, the mentoring and support I have received has been just amazing.