Footwear designer Arsho Baghsarian, whose resume includes more than 20 years as a designer for Stuart Weitzman, has found that being a woman in the industry gave her an edge. “It was a man’s world,” said Baghsarian, “but I felt a woman designer was much better at shoes because I was able to try them on, talk about fit and comfort.”
Baghsarian, who retired from the industry in 2008, is the subject of a new biography by Helene Verin, a professor at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology — “Arsho Baghsarian, A Life in Shoes,” published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
The book features a retrospective of Baghsarian’s career journey, along with sketches and photographs of some of her favorite work. Highlights include an embroidered slingback for Christian Dior and a kidskin flat with arabesque design on the vamp for I. Miller, both from the 1960s.
Over the next decade, she went on to design a peacock-inspired thong for Shoe Biz, and white canvas mules on a wood wedge with a 3-D scene of palm trees carved into the bottom for Shoe Strings. “Big bottoms were in fashion in the ‘70s,” recalled Baghsarian. “For this mule, I was inspired by the tropical climate and scenery of the Philippines, and I had this bottom of palm trees carved in the jungle in 110-degree heat with everyone fanning away the mosquitos so that I could work.”
It was her work with Stuart Weitzman where she left her biggest mark, designing the popular 5050 over-the-knee boot done in leather and stretch fabric. It remains among the collection’s most enduring styles, in the line for over 30 years. According to Baghsarian, while on a recent shopping trip to Bloomingdale’s in New York, she noticed the sales associate helping her wearing a pair and eagerly shared the story of the boot’s creation.
Baghsarian, 79, a native of Turkey, came to the U.S. in the mid-’50s. She attended Pratt Institute, earning a degree in 1962. After a short stint designing for a sportswear company, she was tapped by her former professor, Laura Tosato, for a shoe design job at Christian Dior New York. According to Baghsarian, a shoe design class at Pratt had sparked her interest in the category and a career that lasted more than 40 years.
Here, Baghsarian reflects on her design journey.
FN: What was the biggest change in the shoe industry over the years?
Arsho Baghsarian: “I hate to say this, but shoes became so ugly. In the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, there were platforms, big wedges and a lot of unusual things. But they were not really ugly — they were attractive and unusual.
Today, I see these Gucci sneakers retailing for $1,500 and $2,500 that have everything but the kitchen sink on them including jewelry to feathers. And the bottoms are so bulky. I like clean shoes. I’m a minimalist. I like interesting colors, materials and design, but nothing over the top.”
Who are among the shoe designers you have most admired?
AB: “Roger Vivier did wonderful things, and there was Maud Frizon. I love Stephane Kélian’s woven shoes, but today I think Gianvito Rossi does clean, nice shoes. Giuseppe Zanotti does some nice things and Manolo Blahnik is a classic. I also think Walter Steiger did clean, classic designs.”
How important has comfort been in your designs?
AB: “I always felt design, plus function and comfort was [important]. I tell this to young [people] going into the business. You can make dresses, take them in and let them out, but you have to walk in shoes. They have to fit feet that are wide, narrow, skinny and have bunions, so fit is the most important thing.”
Flip through the gallery for more of Baghsarian’s designs.
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