Meet the Footwear Designer| Rae Jones

Most new mothers look as though they have not slept in a year (most, probably haven’t) and are about to join the cast of 28 Days Later as an extra, but not Rachel Jones. Sitting here in a spritely white, open conservatory in East London, looking out onto the greyness of an extremely damp Friday morning, she literally glows. Dewy face, rouged lip, exuberantly curly, raven hair; Rachel is both warm and humorous with not a dark circle in sight. Donning a pair of her own mauve ‘Dietrich’ flat sandals with capri pants, you would never have guessed that just three weeks ago, she brought a son into the world.

But I suppose when you are a design and trend consultant for highstreet stores including Kurt Geiger and Office, a leading forecaster in trends as Footwear and Accessories Editor at the prestigious WGSN and are a successful footwear (and handbag) designer, with your own thriving brand about to go global; a little thing like having a baby will not stop you. Who said you cannot have it all?

Congratulations on the new addition! How do you have the time to fit it all in?

I have no idea! I just don’t sit down, just keep going. My brand is my main focus but I like working and talking with people so if I just had my brand, then it would be just be me, which I would get extremely bored with. I have my job at WGSN which is only two days per week and is great; it’s like my family, my home now. And I enjoy what I do, so it comes surprisingly easy!

How do you think motherhood will change your work ethic?

I think I will have to be more organised!

So how did you and ‘fashion’ first meet?

It was through my mum when I was a little girl. She used to teach me knitting and was always making clothes for us out of crochet. Then I went on to do a Textiles Degree at Glasgow School of Art. Everything I did there was really three dimensional before doing a footwear project for Reebok and realising, “Oh, I quite like that!” I was never really into squares and textiles, which I was pushed to do, so I came to Cordwainers College in London and specialised in footwear. It was a one year course and absolutely amazing; everything from designing, making and pattern cutting.

How did you decide footwear was the career choice for you?

It was kind of a guess really. That year (at Cordwainers) was great because it really taught you how to ‘do’ shoes. It was the and only place in Britain to study footwear.

As well as a footwear designer you are a trendsetter, what is the process of this job?

I started at WGSN shortly after I finished at Cordwainers as I was really interested in how trends come about. I started on a placement with them firstly, then I think I just bugged the hell out of them for a job; I am still there nine years later! We look at everything from what films are coming out in the next five years, what expeditions are on; all that information is released quite far in advance. As well as having meetings where people come up with gut feelings about what is going to happen creatively; it’s amazing how many of the same ideas get brought up. It just forms really. I know people think we just sit there and make it up, and of course there is that to an extent, but there are other crucial aspects too.

Can you give us a tip off, of what is going to be huge in footwear?

Cut-out detail, especially on a Chelsea boot with sections missing, is really going to take off. They are great as can be work in both winter and summer conditions; there really are such interesting designs out there.

Where does your inspiration come from with your own label?

Things I am interested in, as well as what I feel is right for the season. I go and source leathers twice a year at fair’s in Italy and Portugal, which is where my shoes are made. I choose the textures which I think are important and then colours that are interesting. This comes from my textiles background; I definitely do not want it too plain. I doubt I have ever designed a plain black shoe; there is enough out there already! But at the same time I know I can go a bit overboard so I need to reel it back on occasion. I always presume people want a lot of colour. Then again, these days; with trends like colour blocking, people are more confident and open to wearing brighter colours on their feet, way more than they used to be.

What would you say your signature style is?

Interesting but wearable; I do not mean comfortable in a Clarks shoes sense but comfortable in a mid height heel sense. I think that is pretty crucial. If I designed higher shoes then I have a chunkier heel; I would never do crazy angular wedges for instance, as that is not my style.

Who do you have in mind when designing?

I suppose I would say myself. The age group; between mid twenties to early forties, who are a bit arty and enjoy being a little different and on trend. Like with a flat ‘geek’ sandal; comfortable but at the same time current.

Do you have a favourite piece from any of your collections?

Probably the contrast toe on a T-bar court which was really simple but extremely effective. I have stopped doing it now but I may go back to it… watch this space.

What is your favourite piece in your own wardrobe at the moment?

At the moment, maternity wear! But generally I wear a lot of dresses; especially vintage 1940s style.

Yes I read that you are inspired but the iconic 1940s shoe designers, Beth and Herbert Levine?

Well I am really fascinated by how much detail designers put into shoes then, the amazing stitch detail, the craftsmanship. Just all things you do not get in shoes nowadays.

What are your likes and dislikes from within the design world?

Probably those ridiculous sky high platforms! Just what people are not going to wear, day-to-day. They are great as showpieces, for someone like Lady Gaga who looks fabulous in them, brilliant. But ordinary folk cannot. There are so many around and amazingly they sell.

And your likes aesthetically?

I love a mid heel. A really well designed one which is the key, as it is hard to design a mid shoe without making it look frumpy or one that is put into the, ‘vintage’ category. This is why I think a lot of people have issues with them. It is what designers of old used to do really well and especially now the midi skirt is in; it has become more acceptable to wear a mid height look.

You are a great of fan of vintage, where do you go for your finds?

eBay generally, which I love. And Asos Marketplace; it is not quite there yet but is definitely on its way and will be huge. Otherwise America is great for vintage shopping. Over here I go to a lot of vintage fairs in Essex, also Blackout II on Endell Street in Covent Garden is great, I also have a look around Alfies Antique Market in Marylebone. There are so many vintage stores available now but a lot of them are full of really naff 1980s nylon, so you do need to still hunt around for good quality items. Places like Lucy in Disguise (when it was open) I have a real issue with!

It seems like you have accomplished everything! What are your plans for the next five years?

To expand further into the European market. I am already stocked in Italy and Germany, but I am especially looking at getting into Scandinavia, which is a more ‘mid heel’ kind of place!

When do you plan to retire?

Next year! No, not for a long time. I really want to build the brand up and start my own trend consultancy company; a super consultancy! I am really glad I decided to do more freelance work and start my own label, which I begun three and half years ago, although I had been working on it for a while before that.

Finally, would you like your son to go into fashion?

Maybe but my husband is a journalist, mainly in fashion too, so he will probably go completely in the other direction; turn out to be scientist instead!

Rae Jones is sold online and in store at Poste Mistress,London.


Images courtesy of Rae Jones

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