For many people shoes, most often elaborate and expensive designer high heels, are the foremost emblems of the frivolousness and disposability of consumer culture. This is quite possibly a hangover from the frequently chided Sex And The City television/film franchise.
Somebody who is working tirelessly to inject a long forgotten ethics and high culture into the business of footwear design is founder of bespoke luxury footwear brand Deeasjer, Charlene Beckett. A graduate of the London School of Fashion, Beckett is on a mission to fuse ‘her love of art and history’ with ‘sourcing the finest materials’ available in the UK.
‘This is very important,’ She tells me. ‘It would be impossible to create the individual designs for my customers otherwise. We have total control on a day-to-day basis. There is a heritage of bespoke footwear design in the UK, though it’s not as grand as it once was, but the craftmanship still remains. Having a hands-on approach works for me – we can make instant changes if the customer requests it.’
This ethos has worked to Beckett’s advantage in recent years, having secured a number of high profile celebrity clients. The latest in the line is singer/ actress Cynthia Erivo, whom she is working exclusively with ahead of the Olivier Awards. When I ask the designer how much input the Color Purple star would have in the production of her shoes, Beckett simply answers, ‘total control’.
‘My very first creation for her was created for her performance for Her Majesty The Queen. Cynthia gave me a theme and then we went to work creating her design. I sent her colours, leather, exotic skin, crystals from which she chose and then we created the design.
‘We can create any style – that is what we do.’
When the London-born designer emphasises ‘any style’, she isn’t wrong, with her education opening her eyes to a wealth of influences which would go on to inform her later Deeasjer collections.
‘It was in my study of the Bauhaus period that I came across the artist Kandinsky. His love of colour has a subtle influence on my designs. The Rococo period breathes extravagance and opulence and allows me to feel that anything might be possible whilst Erte’s love of femininity and beauty is also reflected in my designs.’
Though it is true that Beckett is keen to reflect these more high-brow figures in her concepts, she also tells me that her West Indian heritage and her experiences abroad both have played a key part in how Deeasjer’s shoes look and feel.
‘A couple of years after I left university I went to Jamaica, intending to stay for six weeks. I ended up staying for five years instead. I fell in love with the beauty of the island and the vibrant colours everywhere.
‘I continued to design there, working with the designer in Kingston who had designed for Miss World 1993 Lisa Hanna and many other prominent individuals on the island. I think one of my proudest moments was at the Kiwanis Club, which is a global organisation of volunteers. Everywhere I looked, men and women were wearing their Deeasjers.’
Transferring these unique ideas and influences into a finished piece of work hasn’t always been easy for Beckett, who highlights her first stint in further education at the University of Guildford as one that stifled her primary ideas. ‘Back in the early 90s university was very structured, there were too many of the same ideas being recreated.’
Beckett successfully pushed through these barriers and will be designing another collection for Erivo in due course. She is also in the process of putting pen to paper on some designs for the RADA-trained Tanya Moodie.
‘Success is measured in many different ways and means different things to different people. For me personally, if you can wake up every day loving what you are doing and wishing you could add more hours to the day to continue then that’s success!
‘My dream is to design an exclusive pair of Deeasjer shoes for two very special people; Fantasia Barino and Oprah Winfrey. I hope that Oprah [who produced Erivo’s The Color Purple] may see some of my designs – you never know!’