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Meet Footwear’s New Rock Star: Ivy Kirzhner

You can learn a lot about Ivy Kirzhner through the designs in her eponymous women’s collection. She is bright, eccentric and creative. She is fearless and witty. She is a performer with attitude—but the good kind.

“Every risk with the right attitude is an opportunity,” Kirzhner quipped.

It is that particular brand of Ivy Kirzhner attitude that is leading the designer to experiment and succeed with experimental marketing, like turning her SoHo studio/showroom into a gallery-like space chock-full of curiosities. This fall, she’ll reinterpret her unique aesthetic for retail with her first flagship store in Manhattan’s West Village.

“We wanted to not only give our customer a greater and more complete experience of what the line has to offer, but also give our brand a permanent home,” Kirzhner said. “At the same time, we hope to push the brand into a retail-cum-gallery—a curated experience of shoes and art.”

VAMP: Many designers are afraid to try something new, but you’ve been doing a lot of firsts lately, exhibiting your shoes alongside art, introducing handbags for the fall.
Kirzhner: We are definitely taking the line to the next level, refreshing the brand codes and doing more outside-the-box, experimental marketing initiatives. We know what styles put us on the map, now we want to expand the Ivy Kirzhner world and see what else our girl would love. Art is a big part of my personal life and such an inspiration to everything I do. So it made absolute sense to closely tie art and my shoes together, which is why my husband, Alex, myself, and a few partners founded the Crane & Antler Gallery.

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VAMP: You’re also a musician. How has your personal experience as a musician inspired your designs?
Kirzhner: Would you believe that I actually used to play, write, and perform in a metal band for many years? Playing and making music are both an artistic and cerebral process. I do carry a lot of the same process when I design a collection. There’s a balance of loud complexities and delicate subtleties combined to create harmony. The designs also have to be different, unique and catchy. Musical genres have also always played a big part in the storytelling of my designs. Sometimes I look to specific artists—like the legendary David Bowie for FW ’16—or simply take inspiration from a certain musical era.

On a more personal level, performing gives one a boost of confidence and a sense of courage, something that I’ve carried over to footwear. I believe that my shoes resonate with brave tastemakers because my designs strike an emotional chord.

VAMP: Do you see any similarities between the footwear and music industries?
Kirzhner: There are a lot of similarities in the disciplines behind creating music and designing shoes, both can be very technical, both have to be progressive, both have to challenge the market and push the envelope, both have to consistently bring something new and fresh to the table. And most importantly, both demand hard work, passion, dedication, collaborative efforts, and mash-ups of ideas. That’s the only way to make hits.

VAMP: Kesha will be bringing some of your styles on tour, and you already have a strong musician and celebrity following. When you’re designing shoes, are you designing with the red carpet in mind?
Kirzhner: Our celebrity following is really organic, either the stars themselves have bought the shoes or their stylists have reached out to us. There is definitely a “show stopper” quality that resonates with them; maybe it’s my penchant for designing one-of-a-kind hardware. I don’t necessarily design with the stage or the red carpet in mind, but our shoes bring out the inner rock star in women.

VAMP: Which musicians do you find inspiring?
Kirzhner: Joan Jett, Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry definitely stand out for their decade-defining style. There’s bravery to the way they approach style and music, which I really admire. It’s about finding your own voice, not just in music but also in your look and image. I think FKA Twigs and Ellie Goulding have a great look and sound. I admire Kesha for her strength—standing her ground and making her voice heard for all women in the music industry. And of course, the queen, Beyoncé, who is ever-evolving, ever-progressing and who I view as a true artist.

VAMP: Do you want to build your brand beyond accessories?
Kirzhner: I think every designer brand wants to make the transition into becoming a lifestyle brand. Shoes, accessories, fashion, home goods, they’re all avenues for a designer’s self-expression. Yet ultimately, it is not product extensions we are after just for the sake of expansion. What we are after is a meaningful relationship with our audience and followers—offering beyond just product and hoping to bring a new type of experience, all created outside of basic paradigms. After all, we just want to do cool things, break rules and always dare to be first.

VAMP: What’s trending for Spring ’17?
Kirzhner: One trend that I love, and is well-represented this season, is the block heel. I wanted something that was sculptural and stood out as a design feature in itself. We also dipped our heels in metal plating for a subtle disco effect. There is also something more celebratory in the choice of colors—soft gold, electro plum, and, my personal favorite, menthol. We also introduced a new “city sandal” heel in our Lexy and Lovesong styles. They give some height but are low enough to walk in all day. We have always stood out for our signature hardware, plated in 18k gold. For this collection I designed a sculpted metal heart that is sprinkled throughout the collection, from our slip-on bedroom mule, Heartbeat, to the ankle strapped chunky block heel, J’adore.

VAMP: What was your first job in the footwear business?
Kirzhner: I’ve been in the footwear business for 16 years and I actually had a very humble start in the commercial tier. I first started as a young design intern at Kenneth Cole before I landed my first job at Steve Madden. I was an assistant buyer for their retail division at first, shortly before they discovered that I could actually sketch, design shoes and build assortments. I am very lucky to have been trained young and early by some of the very best and most tenacious in the industry, who are still the pulse of the business even to this very day. I already knew how to design and be creative, but I had no idea how to harness the ideas and how it could all apply in the market. A lot of my business acumen stems from those early years of experience.

VAMP: Was there a moment when you knew that you would be involved in footwear for the long haul?
Kirzhner: The moment I designed my first “good” shoe—meaning, it was a hit and was a huge best-seller. I remember thinking I can do it again, and again, and again.

VAMP: Why are you passionate about footwear?
Kirzhner: Footwear is one of the most challenging things to build—both as a design discipline and as a business, demanding a lot of cerebral thinking, problem-solving and a lot of groundbreaking creative expression. A designer has to be both creatively and technically strong, possessing strong intuition. The design aspect is part architecture, part engineering, part fashion, part fine art. Every day is a challenge, and it really forces an individual to grow, to learn something new, develop principles and to constantly evolve. Footwear has become my sport.

VAMP: What are some important qualities to have in order to succeed in the footwear industry?
Kirzhner: Talent will definitely get you noticed, but it’s perseverance and the ability to greet failure and success with the same can-do attitude that will decide if you go the distance. A vision of where you want the business to go, a clear understanding of what your brand is about, how to communicate to your audience, and how you want it to evolve is something that every designer needs to be conscious of. Also being resilient and a combination of having thick skin and fire in your veins.

VAMP: What’s the best part of your job?
Kirzhner: The creative process, the ability to tell a story through footwear and seeing that there is an actual demand for creative original ideas is what makes the industry exciting. Yes, as a business person it’s easy to fall into a place where you try to fill “buckets” and make what you think customers want. But, the art of footwear is really about executing beautiful ideas onto a shoe and providing people with shoes that inspire. Finding new ways to reinvent a classic style or to put my own spin on a tried-and-tested silhouette is challenging, but it is a wonderful creative exercise that, when all the elements line up, is so satisfying. One of the best parts of the process is breathing life into your ideas– executing them for a pencil sketch to actual samples that you can hold, try on, kiss and embrace! That part is like Christmas.

For more interviews like this, check out VAMP Magazine.