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Scintillating Shoe's with Eileen Shields

Friday, 7 March 2008

It's not often an Irish woman makes a success of herself in the U.S of A- but this lady has really hit the big time in the world of shoes. Stars such as Penelope Cruz and Jessica Biel have just ordered from her new collection and the hottest TV shows in the world are cramming their wardrobes with her shoes- today we meet Eileen Shields and find out what the secret is to her success!

Eileen Shields- Shoe Designer to the Stars!
Born in New York, Eileen Shields grew up in Dublin, Ireland, and graduated from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. She has been living and working in New York since 1988 and was, for over a decade, footwear designer for Donna Karan.
The 'EILEEN SHIELDS' label was launched in February 2004 and has continued to grow exponentially each season, with the opening of a New York showroom, a Dublin store, and a new NYC store opening in May of this year. The label is sold at over 40 high-end boutiques and department stores across the US, Europe, and Asia - and EILEEN SHIELDS is a featured designer at Harvey Nichols in London, Dublin and Edinburgh.

Celebrity fans of Eileen Shields shoes include:-
Bono, Halle Berry, Samantha Morton, Courtney Cox-Arquette, Eva Longoria, Wynona Ryder, Penelope Cruz, Jessica Biel, Drew Barrymore, Andie McDowell, Amy Ryan, Patti Smith.

Tell us about the very first pair of shoes you ever designed.
Eileen was about 6 years old and made newborn slippers for her neighbour's child. She really started making shoes at NCAD. Made platforms out of cork etc. Her professor spent four years telling her not to design shoes, telling her it would break her heart. She was told that shoes were not part of the curriculum-but on Philip Treacy's coat-tails, he having made hats, she made the shoes.
How did you decide to focus 'solely' on shoes?
Eileen just kept drawing women with bigger and bigger feet. It's the nature of the 3D sculpture part. Always worked in 3D- rarely sketched. It's not as important as the actual making. The tradition is so old and it hasn't really changed. Computers have come and gone when it comes to designing shoes. The very first of everything is done by hand. The people that work in the factories, the more experienced you are, the higher up you are.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Generally from people, customers, clothing they're wearing- a lot of it comes from watching old movies and period films. Eileen lives vicariously through customers so makes shoes to reflect that. Generally silhouettes inspire her. The revolution of the flat shoes for women happened at the turn of the 21st century. Everybody is wearing them right now. We'll look back on this decade as the flat shoe decade.

How exciting is the celebrity end of your business?
 It scares Eileen to think that celebrities are putting shoes on with her name on them. She loves that side of it but it's not the most exciting part.  Eileen gets really excited when she's walking down the street and sees an average person wearing her shoes. She loves to hear stories about people wearing her shoes.
. Eileen's shoes have been featured in a number of Desperate Housewives episodes.
. 7 pairs of Eileen's shoes were sent to the wardrobe of the new Sex and the City movie, selected by stylist Patricia Field. They include the Bette, Elaine, Bella, Eva.
. Actresses Amy Ryan and Samantha Morton wore her shoes at the 2008 Oscars.
. Winona Ryder will be wearing several of her shoes for in her upcoming film 'Corporate Headquarters'
. Penelope Cruz and Jessica Biel ordered shoes from the Spring 2008 collection, which will hit stores next month.
. She is custom making boots for singer Patti Smith and shoes for Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth.
. Eva Longoria wore the Bette in red haircalf and the Eva in purple suede (the shoes were custom made for her)
. Other celebrity fans include Bono, Halle Berry, Drew Barrymore, Courtney Cox-Arquette, Andie McDowell and PJ Harvey

What kind of shoes did you make for Bono?

Bono wanted shoes for when he was on tour-Eileen's sister works in the music business- she got his feet measured. Everyday shoes. At the time she was making a lot of men's shoes.
Do you get to meet many of the stars who wear your shoes, or is it done entirely through 'people'?
90% it's through their people. Rarely does she get to meet them. Some celebs are buying them from the website. Their stylists sit them down and they pick them together on the website. Eileen has met lots of famous people through her work in shoes-more stuff in Donna Karan. Demi Moore, Barbara Streisand, Goldie Hawn.

I understand you produce your shoes in Italy, is this to do with the quality of leather?
It's to do with the craft-shoes without too much glue, breathable leathers. Attention to detail and finesse is really what Eileen strives for. Bigger brands are really weeding out smaller brands- it's the last stand now for smaller brands and Italy is the perfect place for this.

Do you have a personal preference when it comes to the shoes you wear?
Eileen wears her own shoes. People look straight down at her feet as soon as they meet her. She either wears those or all black canvas 'Vans'. Always brings flats with her on nights out.

Have you ever thought about branching out into bags & other leather accessories?
Eileen has been working on it and researching how she can build in other aspects to the brand, She really wants to do Mens' shoes. And not necessarily just handbags but all sorts of leather goods. Maybe even furniture.

How do you find life in New York compared to Dublin?
Eileen is in Ireland 2-3 months of the year anyway. She feels as though they're morphing into the same place. It's a really cosmopolitan city-it has lost a little of its charm but it's been inspiring to see how Dublin has evolved. New York is quite a close knit city and not as daunting as you think it is. New York is like a showroom to the world- the world does come to NY. You can access the exposure to Hollywood etc.

Would you judge people by the shoes they wear?
People make a joke of Eileen as she subconsciously looks at peoples' shoes before she's even met them. On dinners out, Eileen can tell everybody what shoes they're wearing under the table! Eileen doesn't judge them but can see their mood for the day or what they're influenced by. Would judge the person more by the trend they're influenced by. Can often tell someone's age by their shoes.

What makes shoes expensive?
A couple hundred components go into one collection. The shoe factory itself is just an assembly point. Eileen is very much an ambassador of fairtrade and every part of her shoes involve workers who are fairly paid. She knows her workers, she's been to their houses; they don't sacrifice family for work. The second thing is time- lots and lots of time goes into the process. For such a small brand, quality is essential; all of these things make shoes expensive.

Do you personally own lots of expensive shoes?
If something is a perfect design, it's not about price. Eileen's Vans cost €40. It's horrible to wear smelly, plastic shoes-nothing better than falling in love with what you're going buy and taking it home afterwards.
I understand you name your shoes after children in your son's class in school- how did this come about? VIZ SS SONS (pic of Eileen's sons)
Eileen's sons are 5 (Sam) and 2(Jamie). "Olde World" names are really popular right now and intrigue Eileen. Her sisters and mums are in there too, but she's wary about giving shoes the names of people she really cares about incase they don't sell and then the person is offended!
I know you've had commissions from Eva Longoria but anyone else?
Lots of people get commissions for their weddings etc. Eileen's dream would be to have an Atelier where she could make bespoke shoes alongside the international side of her business. Men sometimes make requests for her ladies shoes in much bigger sizes.

Your new store is due to open in May of this year-how is that going for you?
Eileen is holding lots of meetings this week and is hoping to have more concrete information by Friday as to what's happening.

Hasn't happened yet. There have been lots of high points, but hopefully many more to come.

What would you hope for commercially in the next few years?
Getting the store open in NY and expanding the business into other categories and opening in London. It's such a passion it's a hard ladder up-not for the faint of heart. That's why Eileen continues as there really aren't that many in the business so if you can stick it through the hard times, you could really make it.
Eileen did a second collaboration with the NY-based designer, Maria Cornejo for Fall 2008. Their spring 2008 received rave reviews in the US and will be hitting stores next month.

Can we ever see you moving you and your family back to Ireland?
Easily, could happen next month.
Very much family business - dad, husband, sisters. Sisters are so critical, she trusts them to tell the truth-even if it hurts!

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