Hailing from Ghana, having grown up in Canada and lived between New York, Paris and most recently London, Richard Braqo picked up a diverse set of experiences before launching his namesake label in 2012. Even though Braqo initially specialized in apparel, the Cesare Paciotti Accessories Design Award he won during his studies at the Parsons School of Design and a subsequent collaboration with the Italian house, pushed him towards footwear.
He went on to become known for his stilettos which he updates with Plexiglass and sharp needle-thin heels, minimalist hardware and a muted palette of luxurious velvet, nubuck and suede. His refined, feminine aesthetic has already appealed to the likes of Madonna and Rihanna, while high-street label & Other Stories approached him for a collaboration before his official label launch, when he had nothing but a moodboard set up. As he increasingly enters the industry spotlight, he talks about his plans to launch an e-commerce site, the importance of craftsmanship and future expansion.
Having worked for Cesare Paciotti before starting your own label, is there a lesson that experience taught you that you’ve carried on applying to your own label?
When working with Cesare Paciotti, I had to deal with international manufacturers, lead times and all the technical sides of producing a collection with a major manufacturer. I carry those lessons daily, as I continue to produce my own shoes in the same factories in Italy. It’s an ongoing learning experience working with them.
How important is craftsmanship and the ‘Made in Italy’ label to your label?
I think that being a young designer and wanting to position the brand on the luxury landscape, it’s important to work with the best people, in order to get the best start. Italian manufacturers have centuries of experience, so they understand the craft and give you the best possible options in terms of production.
The Plexiglass heel really stands out in your collections, is there a story behind it?
I started by doing the ‘invisible’ stiletto but it was copied so much, so the Plexiglass heel came as a response to that. I still wanted to do a very feminine stiletto and by using Plexiglass, I could create something that was easier to walk in, while still maintaining that sense of illusion.
Do you design with a specific type of woman in mind?
I definitely think about the woman who is wearing my shoes. I would describe her as a conscious dresser, someone who likes to look a little different and enjoys a refreshed perspective on classic silhouettes. A lot of our styles can be contemporary interpretations of classic pieces.
How do you go about your design process?
My process is very introverted and very private, I do most of the designing myself and I can pull inspiration from anywhere really. I just put on music and start to sketch. In order to be able to translate that into an actual product, I also have to go through sourcing fabrics and visit a lot of trade shows. It’s a balance between creativity and a lot of thinking of how we can deliver to the customer.
How did you find the experience of collaborating with & Other Stories on a footwear collection?
When I was first approached by & Other Stories all I had was a moodboard, I hadn’t yet launched the company. We went on to work on the collection over the course of the year and the experience was very insightful. I was working with a team with a mass-market approach for the first time. There’s a lot more leeway in terms of design options when you are not dealing with a limited budget and a lot more consideration when you are designing for a wider audience. I was no longer addressing my specific type of woman but every woman, which was really interesting. I find collaborations to be a great way to open up your customer base and scope of interest.
Are there any other designers from the footwear industry that you admire?
I’m a huge fan of Tamara Melon and what she did for Jimmy Choo. Ferragamo is another brand I always look to and love because my parents always wore Ferragamo- that’s probably the only designer brand they know of.
What would you say is your biggest career accomplishment so far?
I don’t have a specific moment I would name as my biggest accomplishment, but I think I feel most accomplished when production is complete and the collection is ready to be shown. When I have a shoe in hand, after it’s gone from an abstract idea in my head, to a sketch on paper and to the completed product, I feel a huge level of satisfaction.
You also had Madonna wearing your shoes, how did it feel when you saw those images?
That was definitely a shocker and so much fun. I love Madonna as well so it has been a really big milestone, both for my company and myself. That shoe was picked up by her team because she wanted to work with young designers and knowing that she was aware of what brands she was wearing and that it wasn’t just a matter of product placement, meant so much more to me.
Would you like to expand your brand into other categories?
It’s definitely part of our plan to expand into handbags and fragrance in the future. Apparel is also in my mind because I started out by studying apparel at Parson. I certainly envision building my label into a lifestyle brand.
What are some of the more short-term goals of the brand for the upcoming year?
We’re looking at building an e-commerce site and at the same time we’re working towards the launch of a very exciting campaign, featuring women within the industry. For the upcoming year we’re placing a big focus on wholesale, trying to put the product in as many stores as possible internationally