Cordwainers Grads Go It Alone

Atalanta Weller, 30

Line: Atalanta Weller

Launch season: Spring ’10

Manufactured: Portugal

Background: After graduating from London’s Cordwainers College in 2002, Weller worked for several major brands, including Clarks, Hugo Boss and John Richmond, as well as avant-garde ready-to-wear labels Gareth Pugh and Sinah Stanik. Since spring ’08, Weller has collaborated on shoe collections with hip London designer Henry Holland, who she met through mutual friends. She recently received London Fashion Week’s spring ’10 NewGen emerging talent in accessories award, helping to fund the launch of her namesake collection for spring ’10. “It’s fantastic and very valuable support,” Weller said of the award.

Design philosophy: “Balance is the key to beauty. With that in mind, [I try to] push everything else as far as it can go.”

Signature look: “A bold, architectural-yet-futuristic feel, but always with a touch of elegance.”

Inspiration for spring ’10:
“My inspiration swings from the past to the future and back again, from the colors of Pompeii to the aesthetic of ‘Star Trek’ and the architecture of Le Corbusier. I’ve also been listening to [music by] Bat for Lashes. [You’ll see] strong geometric shapes and swooping curves, with bold yet tonal colors.”

The Atalanta Weller girl: “She is a bold, intelligent woman who is not afraid to make a statement. She wants something a bit different, but always wants her shoes to make her feel fantastic.”

On going solo in a tough economy: “It’s certainly a bigger challenge, but I really feel this is an exciting time for new and creative brands. While they are perhaps more careful in the choices they make, women still want amazing shoes.”

How working for big brands prepared you for your own line: “It’s given me a great breadth of knowledge when it comes to design, development and manufacturing in different countries, and showed me how each company works entirely different.”

Retail range: $575 for shoes to $658 for boots

Distribution: Browns Focus in London

Cleo Barbour, 25

Line: Cleo B

Launch season: Fall ’09

Manufactured: Spain

Background: As a student at Cordwainers, Cleo Barbour gained early experience working for designers including Nicholas Kirkwood and Georgina Goodman. Upon graduating last summer, she immediately set to work creating her own collection. She launched Cleo B during London Fashion Week in February, and this fall plans to show there and in Paris. Her collection made its retail debut in July at London’s Dover Street Market. “I’m thrilled and feel very lucky I’ve gained recognition from such an iconic store at this early stage,” Barbour said.

Motivation to start your own line: “I’ve always had the ambition to launch my own brand. I knew I could make my designs distinctive, and those years spent in school and [working for] companies made me aware of where I’d position my brand.”

Design philosophy: To create “wearable and flattering styles that are eye-catching with a universal feminine appeal.”

Signature look: “Curvaceous design lines, wedge heels, bold colors and my fetish for large, eye-catching adornments.”

Inspiration for spring ’10: “The collection is inspired by the dramatic shapes and ornamentation of art deco architecture in New York. The color palette varies from muted neutrals and shades of metallic-gold to shocking fluorescent-pink and radiant purple-blue. The collection has a new feeling of sophistication and grandeur, while still offering key styles for both casual and evening wear.”

The Cleo B girl: “[She has] great taste and a feminine sense of style and dresses to subtly stand out from the crowd. She buys luxury, but keeps a close eye on the price tag.”

On going solo in a tough economy: “[In a climate like this], price points are important to me. I want to make high-end design more accessible for all.”

How working for big brands prepared you for your own line: “I learned a lot about the production and sampling process, and I assisted designers with drawing up styles for meetings. These experiences helped me form my own production [plans].”

Retail range: $309 to $523

Distribution: London’s Dover Street Market, Jon Ian in Cardiff, Wales, and Cleob.com




Heather Blake, 41

Line: Heather Blake

Launch season: Fall ’09

Manufactured: Italy

Background: Heather Blake has spent most of her career as a freelance designer. Before launching her namesake collection for fall ’09, she worked at a range of companies in the U.K. and Italy, including bespoke shoemaker Fosters & Son, Armani, Alberta Ferretti, Salvatore Ferragamo, Biba and Dune. She also teaches footwear design at Cordwainers, her alma mater. “It’s a great place to be, surrounded by fresh energy and people who are enthusiastic,” she said. Blake named her debut collection Black because, apart from pops of red, gold and anthracite, it is the dominant color. She will unveil her spring ’10 line at Micam next week.

Motivation to start your own line: “The desire for creative freedom and the satisfaction and challenges of independence.”

Design philosophy: “For me, it’s all about the process of shoemaking, as well as the exploration and experimentation of materials and ideas.”

Signature look: “Flowing sensual lines, interplay of textures and forms and dramatic sculptural heels.”

Inspiration for spring ’10: “Möbius strips and the Uroboros, the flowing spiral shapes that represent infinity, are the inspiration for the new collection. Leather and satin loop and curve through the uppers and heels, revealing tantalizing glimpses of the foot. Soft suede is mixed with satin, kid and nappa in fresh color combinations of light copper, coral, nude, violet and chartreuse, underscored by rich black.”

The Heather Blake girl: “A strong, confident woman with a distinctive personal style.”

On going solo in a tough economy: “It’s now more important than ever to create shoes that are distinctive and well made.”

How working for big brands prepared you for your own line: “I got to see how fashion and footwear work together.”

Retail range: $580 to $1,080

Distribution: Dover Street Market in London

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