"Even though Oscar is not with us everyday, we all keep his vision in our designs" – Daniel Lawler
Buro 24/7 Middle East interviews Oscar de la Renta's VP of footwear
Following his ten-year career in Europe, working with some of the most iconic labels in fashion, including Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior and Balmain – American designer Daniel Lawler returned to the United States in February 2014 and joined Oscar de la Renta.
Coming back with a bang, with his current position as VP of Footwear Design at NYC-based Oscar de la Renta, Lawler has shone a spotlight on the iconic label’s shoes more than ever before.
Buro 24/7 Middle East spoke to the footwear connoisseur on his favourite Oscar de la Renta shoe and the wise words of Mr. De La Renta that will stick with Lawler forever….
Can you tell us for the latest collection for de la Renta did you have a specific inspiration behind it?
Well the shoes usually start out before the ready-to-wear, just because it takes longer to develop them, so I get my own inspiration. Last season I went to two big art exhibitions, one was Jeff Koons: A Retrospective and the David Bowie retrospective in Chicago, so both of those really – without even trying or overthinking it really influenced the collection – they're both so different but have such strong identities, and both Bowie and Koons really came through. So when the clothing started and we started to work with Oscar there were many images of his garden and the flowers, so it was really nice to be able to merge all of these different aspects together, I think it made it a lot more dynamic and a lot stronger.
We are actually very fortunate because a lot of his friends still come to the office, so I get to see these amazing women and I try and picture everything on them and try and make Oscar proud.
So you always design the shoes before the clothes?
Yes, usually shoes and handbags start before the clothing, and its mostly all done in our New York offices, we have our own atelier so they can start and they can see prototypes and work quickly, but with shoes there are so many elements that need to be designed and developed and molds that need to be made, so it does take quite a while...But I'm used to it. It's nice because it gives me an opportunity to really instigate the ideas and trends and themes, where as I might not have that opportunity if I was developing a product that starts a lot later so I really like that.
Can you tell us what has been your favourite shoe that you have designed? Whether it is a style or a shoe from your previous collections?
In the last collection I did a style called 'Talina', I just love it. It very much looks like a Jeff Koons sculpture – if he were to design a shoe. I used a really simple technique where we sliced it and pinched little bows but I did it with the factory on this platinum mirrored metallic, and I did it in a way that there was no stitching so the entire thing just looks like it has been dipped in metal and we pinched these little bows all over it, which really gave it this amazing three-dimensional ,really rich quality, I mean you have to see it to understand, but it was such a difficult process to make. The end result just looks amazing even though it was such a simple idea and I think that that is such an important thing with shoes, its all about the simple ideas that can really transform a shoe.
To date what do you think has been the most iconic Oscar de la Renta shoe?
I mean to be honest there is this shoe that I designed for last spring that isn't in the stores yet but I think it is going to be the most iconic shoe. It is called 'Aylissa' and it is an embroidered pump and I honestly don't think I have ever done a shoe that has gotten the reaction that this shoe has. Everyone who sees it has to pick it up, has to try it on, it just looks beautiful from every angle, it was a huge feat to make it. I had the idea in my head to take lace and put it on clear PVC so it looked like the lace was floating above the foot but I couldn't find any lace that would work so I ended up just designing the lace myself and making the entire thing as a hand-threaded embroidery. The result was better than I think I could ever have expected.
the first shoe i drew i knew it worked, it was easy and i think that first day, i drew about 100 shoes and never looked back.
Do you have certain methods that you usually stick to each season, a certain process or silhouette for example, or do you let things develop spontaneously?
Well there is definitely certain silhouettes that we need to follow, with shoes you build around an existing base, but every season you can develop new bases, like the new toe shapes and the new heels so it is very much a combination of the two. I think at Oscar I'm in a very exciting position where I am helping revamp the brand and really reinterpreting it, so I am in a position where every season I am really developing everything from scratch and everything is new.
Did you always know you wanted to go into footwear or did you ever think maybe I should try designing clothes?
I always loved fashion design, the shoes came quite late. I think I drew my first shoe ever when I was 24 so it was quite late but I knew I loved fashion and I knew I wanted to go into it but I didn't know how or what it was in fashion that was my calling and I tried so many different things. I struggled drawing the body when I had to draw the clothes and it just took too long. But when I drew a shoe it was instantaneous, the first shoe I drew I knew it worked, it was easy and I think that first day I drew about 100 shoes and never looked back. I mean it sounds so very cliché, but its true that is exactly how it started and I was so confident and I just knew that's what I wanted to do.
What do you think is a common mistake when it comes to making footwear or is there a shoe that you see and you just think "You shouldn't be wearing that?"
No, you know I love shoes, I love ugly shoes and I love plain shoes, I think shoes have gone through such a renaissance in the last 10 years especially the 10 years that I have been designing, I think it is such an exciting time to be in shoes because every rule that used to exist 10 years ago has been completely thrown out, everything has been done in so many unexpected ways. It is so exciting, I think the ideas are endless and fortunately the customers are endless and there are so many customers who want to try these daring crazy interesting styles. I try not to be too judgmental because you never know what I might design in the future so I don't want to cross anything off the list right now, just in case I end up doing it in the future and it comes back to haunt me.
Since Oscar passed away last year, do you try and keep him alive in every collection that you create, his spirit and his ethos, what he loved?
Of course, Oscar hand-picked everything, from the jewellery and the shoes to the bags to the clothing, and I think he really surrounded himself with designers who shared his vision, who shared his appreciation for beauty, who shared his confidence, who really understood how he thought and it is a very specific vision...
Even though Oscar is not with us everyday we all keep his vision in our designs, I think it really is who we all are too, as designers. My designs in particular have really come out in this company and I've never really been pushed as much as I have here – to make the most exquisite, amazing, and beautiful shoes. I think that in the seasons I did work with Oscar he was very excited and I don't think he had every really been excited about the shoes before, so it was really exciting to see that and have that dialogue with him. Understanding what he thought and what made his customer his customer.
He needed to picture it on them and if he could not think of a friend that would wear it then he knew it wasn't right for the label.
Was there any advice that he ever gave you that has stuck with you or anything that he has said that you remember when you are designing?
I think the first week that I started at Oscar (he didn't say it to me specifically) he was talking to somebody but he said that he needed to envision every single outfit that he desigend on one of his friends because he had the most glamorous friends in the world. He needed to picture it on them and if he could not think of a friend that would wear it then he knew it wasn't right for the label.
It really showed that he knew the customer and it really stuck with me. I've tried to implement that when I am designing and think about every person in Oscar's life. We are actually very fortunate because a lot of his friends still come to the office, so I get to see these amazing women and I try and picture everything on them and try and make Oscar proud.
What has been your most career defining moment so far?
It is when I started at Oscar, right when we presented the resort collection, which was my first collection. Oscar set up an interview for me to have and it was the first time in my career that I had been interviewed, and you know it is very rare for an accessories designer to be interviewed or any designer really in a company to be brought forward into the spotlight and to be given a voice. It showed who Oscar was as a person, that he had confidence in me and he was proud of me and he wanted me to get that recognition – it was a really humbling experience.
What has been the greatest advice that you have ever received, can you think of anything that has stayed with you, even when you were at university?
Well I didn't really attend college, I was very fortunate as Jimmy Choo pulled me out of university after about one week to start working for them and Sandra Choi taught me how to design from a women's perspective. I think that has really become a major part of who I am as a designer, understanding all the different perspectives.
Going back to inspirations are there any particular movies or plays or songs that are inspiring you right now?
Yes, I just saw Big Eyes the Tim Burton movie and if you know anything, Tim Burton is inspirational, it is such a visual experience and I love art and I love movies so it was really a perfect blend of the two. I don't really get inspired by the details but I love just the feeling and the whole mood of it. For music lately I have been listening to a band called War Paint and I have been listening to them on repeat...
As you're based in New York do you have any favourite hot spots that you go to?
I love the High Line, it is an abandoned train track which is raised at the west end of the city near Chelsea and they have redeveloped the entire thing, and because its elevated you can see the entire city from a very different perspective. It's also right at the heart of the Chelsea markets so you get the best of everything, amazing people (I love people watching), incredible views, and great food. It is also just nice fresh air, which I think is very important especially working in fashion.
At Oscar de la Renta this year do you think there will be a bigger focus on shoes or a dedicated campaign?
At the moment, internally there is a huge focus on shoes at Oscar, I think for the past few months it has been the one category that everyone sees us having the most potential for growing, our ready-to-wear is so established and were pushing it globally and nationally, but for the shoes I think that the world is still discovering it. We have an in-house PR team which is great, and not every company has that, and they have been dedicating a lot of time to that and we have some projects in the works at the moment. We have a lot of shoe driven angles coming up. I don't think people realise how much energy it takes and how many different departments and people it takes to build a brand, even a brand that has a name that as iconic as Oscar de la Renta, it is still a massive undertaking and I am excited.
We are so excited to see what is coming up! Can you tell us if you made any new years resolutions for 2015?
Not officially, but I am newly married, (its been two years) and we have a one-year-old daughter and that has changed my life and the priority/resolution is definitely to figure out more of a work life balance. I want to make her proud, I want to make both of them proud but I don't want to sacrifice too much to get there. There is so much newness in my life at the moment in so many aspects so I am really taking advantage of it all.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
That is a very good question. I love Tilda Swinton, I love what she represents, I love her style and I would love to make shoes for her or work with her on a collaboration, she is such an iconic figure and I think she has really defined herself which is exciting.