My friends in fashion: Julia Grinham, owner

This week, I chat to Julia Grinham, one of the owners of shoe design website, where you can create your own shoes! With great guidance as to styles and colour, this will help you design shoes which are unique to you and your look!

How did the idea for Upper Street come about?

When Katy got married back in 2003, her dress designer suggested that she might want to get a pair of bespoke shoes made to go with the individual look of her dress. She fell in love with the whole idea of designing her own shoes, and started getting all her shoes made to her designs.

When I saw Katy’s beautiful shoes I was green with envy, and thought that this would make a wonderful online business so that women all over the world could design their own shoes. Our aim was to democratise bespoke design, so that made-to-order shoes could be an affordable luxury for all.

It really was one of those light bulb moments over dinner, and we rushed straight home to write the bare bones of the business plan on paper….. and within a few months we started to put it all into action.

Upper Street makes shoe shopping a fun and creative experience, tell us about setting up the business?

Well we’ve certainly had a fun and creative time bringing the Upper Street concept to life!

We started by thinking of all the key shoe shapes and design options that when put together would create classic shoes with a twist, spending a lot of time literally cutting out pictures of beautiful shoes out of magazines to make our definitive matrix. We launched the business with court shoes and sandals, then after 18 months brought out our very popular ballet flat. In the pipeline are definitely flat sandals and shoe boots, which will be a very exciting addition to the range.

We then had to consider the palette of stunning high quality materials that we wanted to offer, so that all 130 would blend or contrast perfectly together, sourcing only the very best from around the world. It was much harder than we imagined whittling it down, but we’re really happy with the edit. We do offer more luxe materials in our North London studio, which in due course we’ll bring to the website, as they are absolutely stunning.

The next challenge was then producing samples of all those shoes, working with our shoe designer and craftsmen in the production team to make sure that all the curves and contours were as we imagined, and the fit was super-comfortable. We never rest on our laurels when it comes to quality and fit.

And finally, we had the huge creative challenge of producing the 3D Shoe Designer for the website, to make it as easy and fun as possible for our customers to create their dream shoes, and to visualise them in a true-to-life form. It’s an unbelievably complex process behind the scenes, but when you use the website it is just so simple… it takes a lot of hard work to achieve that.

Where do you find inspiration for fabrics and designs?

We visit trade fairs, such as Ligne Pelle in Milan, and material markets around the world for new ideas. Selfridges shoe galleries are a regular haunt, along with the occasional trip to Lane Crawford in Hong Kong or Barneys in New York. And there’s always a huge pile of glossy magazines for us to flick through each month! But actually much of our inspiration just comes from constantly looking at what women like us are wearing on their feet – we’ve always got our eyes on the floor it seems.

From wedding shoes to ballerina pumps, every shoe style is catered for, have you any favourites?

I personally can’t resist the 4.5” platform peep for evening wear or with jeans, and the 3.75” pointed court for a sexy work shoe or to wear with an LBD, they’re the styles I tend to stick with. Then I’ve also got loads of ballet flats for when I’m off duty. I’ve got every colour and material combination you can imagine, from the classic to the outrageous…. Although of course I will always design at least 4-6 new pairs a season to make sure I always have a nod to the trends.

Katy also loves the silhouette of the platform peep and finds it so comfortable to wear despite its height. She just loves our snakeskins, especially the dual colours and loves combining them with other textures to create a really unique look.

What shoe designers do you love?

I love the bright, colourful and quirky designs from Charlotte Olympia, always very cheerful. I also have a small obsession with Camilla Skovgaard at the moment; she makes such stand-out designs. And I adore Nicolas Kirkwood, particularly the pointed strappy courts he designed for Peter Pilotto this season. Just stunning. That’s really inspired me to get some Upper Street shoes made up in an unusual print, which we are always happy to do as a special order for our customers.

What shoe trends do you like for AW 2012?

Triple strap Mary-Janes are just so quirky and cute, yet completely versatile. I love this look on a pointed court for a very sexy look.

Metallic tips are still big news and I think really draw attention. I’m going to use this look on a pointed court, teamed with studs on the counter back to add a little rock-chic. I’m thinking deep red with gold accent for a super-sexy look. Or maybe green, which I’m slightly obsessed with this season.

Purple is bang on trend, and my absolute favourite colour in the whole world. I’ll be designing a simple pair of platform courts in a beautiful luxe deep purple metallic suede we have exclusively in our studio, it’s absolutely out of this world.

Have you any muses?

I love everything Vivienne Westwood does; she’s so irreverent and quirky, yet quintessentially British. Very brave and bold, and I will often think of her style when creating my own designs.

If you could design a pair of shoes for anyone, who would it be?

Well I’m no shoe designer, at Upper Street it’s all about designing your own shoes of course! I’d love to see Helena Bonham Carter in Upper Street shoes, she has such a strong sense of her own individual style I’m sure she would design something amazing and totally unique.

Have you any stories to tell from customers coming to visit the studio?

We’ve had a few celebrity brides including Giovanna, Tom from McFly’s wife, come and design their wedding shoes especially those looking for something individual and not white satin. We even had a bride-to-be with her eight bridesmaids – fortunately they all agreed on the final design or there could have been tears! We’ve love hosting shoe parties for friends where everyone designs their shoes and the fizz flows: everyone inspires each other and the final shoe design is not what people planned when they came in.

For us Studio visits are great fun and we love meeting and talking shoes with our customers, and of course it’s wonderful when someone comes to an appointment having struggled to find the shoes they’ve wanted and leaves having designed the perfect shoe.

When designing a pair of shoes, what advice do you give to customers?

Keep it simple, don’t use too many colours or materials, and be bold! Your shoes say everything about you, and they will make heads turn, so go for it!