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Meet the U.K.’s Next Big Shoe Designer, Next Up at Barneys

Growing up, Rupert Sanderson was always interested in creative pursuits, whether working on sets for a school play or designing invitations for parties. And when he graduated university, Sanderson channeled this passion into an advertising career only to find that it wasn't particularly satisfying. "I always thought it was the best way to be creative but it was a big mistake!," he recalls now. "I didn't know I could make a product, [even though] I always found myself drawn to shoes." Sanderson decided to enroll in the well-regarded Cordwainer's Technical College, where notable footwear alumni include Nicholas Kirkwood and Sophia Webster. During his summer break from classes, he took a tour of Italy to learn more about their shoe-making tradition; post-graduation, he was soon back in the country working for Sergio Rossi and Bruno Magli. 

In 2001, Sanderson returned to London and founded his namesake brand. Now, more than a decade later, Sanderson has stores in his hometown along with Paris and Hong Kong. He's also gone on to win multiple industry awards, including the British Fashion Award's Accessory Designer of the year in 2008. He counts Kate Middleton among his fans and his shoes have grown to become a street style favorite. And this fall — though his shoes are already carried stateside by Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue — Barneys will add them to their gleaming shoe floor. The Cut caught up with the designer to hear his thoughts about K-Mid's sense of style, how his shoes get named, and why he'll blog but not tweet. Don't miss the slideshow previewing his fall 2013 collection.

You've been in the business for a long time. To what do you attribute your longevity?
It's understanding that it is minute changes which help develop a brand over time. You slowly add to your collection. [For instance] we didn't introduce sneakers and handbags until this past season. But also it helps that I'm very involved in every aspect of my business from design to production — we even own our factory in Italy! It's this experience that I brought when I worked with Fashion Fringe in 2008 to nurture young talent.

What do you look for in an emerging designer?
Above all, it's talent! The winner, Liam Fahy, spent ten months working in the Italian factories and I provided guidance so he would have a deeper understanding of the business. It's expected he would take that knowledge and work in the industry, or in his case, start his own line.

You waited until recently to delve into bags. What inspired your bag collection?
Brands like Proenza Schouler, Balenciaga, and the like have very classic bags that they make minute changes to season after season. I wanted a bag that would stand the test of time so I developed mine after a bag I used to carry sheet music in as a child. It has strong hardware but it is also simple and looks timeless. 

What about your fall 2013 shoe collection?
It's everything from Japanese kimonos to Lalique crystals to thinking about Kill Bill and Hong Kong triads. I was also inspired by masculinity and girls who like to dress like boys in suits and kilts. I used interesting materials like oily surfaced leathers and I had some retro references like the fifties block heel and the pointed pump.

Speaking of a masculine shoe, men don't always get why women are drawn to them. What is appealing about a woman in a mannish shoe?
Mannish shoes imply confidence because they are for the woman who can embrace that Annie Hall, masculine-meets-feminine vibe. But really the definition of accessorizing is that you are adding to any outfit, be it a heel, wedge or mannish shoe. I want to design for a woman who buys things to enhance her wardrobe, regardless of her style. 

I read that you name your shoes after daffodils. Can you explain?
I came across a junk shop in London and there was a book of all the names of the different daffodils. There are about 18,000, so I thought "Well, my work is done!" Naming your shoes gives them more of a human quality, they're not just some code number.

Kate Middleton has worn your shoes in the past. What do you think of her style?
Yes, she has worn our shoes before; as you know, she has a very conservative sense of style. So she will choose our gray suede Malone pumps and wear those when she’s not in her nude LK Bennett’s. I don’t think she would be very interested in the more fashion-forward shoes. She seems to be different from her [deceased] mother-in-law who was more involved in fashion.

You've blogged in the past for Vogue U.K. Do you enjoy writing and do you think it's important to be engaged with your customer?
I believe in crafting and writing blog posts. I’m not a Twitter person because the spontaneity and the instant ability that it requires is not for me. I prefer to spend time working on a well-written post and engaging with my customers that way. I’m not big on Instagram either. I will send out a few pictures but I believe in taking my time to digest information, showing a product after a few months. I understand the need of an editor or a stylist to share their thoughts but I think designers need to spend more time to develop their products versus how instant the world has become.

Photo: Courtesy of Rupert Sanderson

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