Thursday, March 7, 2013

Life As A Shoe Designer


[As published on Emmagem.com HERE]
We know that a girl can never have too many pairs of shoes. In shoe designer Nelissa Hilman’s case, that’s absolutely true. The willowy 29-year-old (who just celebrated her birthday last Christmas!) made her mark in the Malaysian fashion industry last year with her debut collection of footwear under her namesake label.
Emmagem meets up with Nelissa to discover the twists and turns of making it big as a shoe designer. Read on for our exclusive interview:
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur (Nelissa has Malay and Chinese heritage, which explains her beautiful features!). I graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering, but I’d always been interested in art, especially architecture and interior design. After working for a few years, I decided to venture into something art-related. I enrolled in the Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design in Florence, Italy, where I learnt how to make shoes.
Why shoes?
I’ve always loved shoes! However that being said, I’m more of a no-fuss, flats kind of girl. I practically live in my ballet flats and oh, I love my Converse! I only wear heels when I need to, haha!
It’s a drastic change – the transition from engineering to art. What was your family’s reaction like?
They were surprisingly very supportive when I told them what I wanted to do! My mom was like, ‘Just follow your dream – if you’re happy, I’m happy.’ I had actually planned and paid for everything (my flight ticket to Florence, my tuition fees and accommodation) before telling them, so there was no going back!
Nelissa Hilman shoes are…
Classic, with a modern twist. I play a lot with colours, shapes and textures.

Nelissa Hilman Resort 12/13 Collection
How do you find inspiration for your designs?
Trust me, it’s hard work! Whoever said that inspiration comes easily is lying (laughs). Personally, I do a lot of research before deciding on the theme of my collection. Sometimes, I get inspired by a particular artist, so my designs revolve around my interpretation of her style and the colours she uses.

One of Nelissa’s moodboards for her collections
What’s a typical day of designing like?
I usually set aside a whole day to create my sketches – I like to have peace and quiet when I’m sketching. I come up with about 50 sketches and shortlist it to the final 15 or 20 for my collection. Once, I got so carried away with work, I sketched from 12pm to 5am the next morning!

“I’m happiest when I’m looking at leather swatches for my designs.” – Nelissa Hilman
What do you love about your job?
Clich├ęd as it might sound, I find myself waking up and looking forward to go to work! I don’t have to make excuses, or try to be someone else.
What don’t you love so much about your job?
I tend to get stuck from time to time – it can be extremely confusing and scary! I’ve learnt to persevere until the end though, as not giving up too early is the best thing one can do. Getting unstuck is half of the fun!
Fave shoe designers of the moment:
Nicholas Kirkwood, for daring to make his designs different. I also love Camilla Skovgaard’s shoes – they’re very unique as well. But my all-time favourite is the late Salvatore Ferragamo for his classic designs.
What’s up for Nelissa Hilman in 2013?
We’re headed to Paris in January 2013 to showcase our Fall/Winter 2012 collection at the Who’s Next trade fair. I’ll also be planning for Spring/Summer 2013 in a few months’ time (we work very much in advance!). Wish me luck!
Advice for aspiring designers:
Reach out to as many people as you can. Take the opportunity to attend trade shows, fairs, workshops and courses. 80% of success is about showing up.
Be your customer’s best friend. The most exciting feeling is to design something that people will love, and to design for people you love.
Gain first-hand experiences. Learn from the factory floor, communicate with suppliers, manufacturers and buyers around the world.
Old-school skills are very important. Despite the advancement of computers, the ability to sketch by hand remains an important advantage. You’ll also need to sharpen your technical skills like sewing and patternmaking.

Tips from a pro
Nelissa shares some tips on what types of shoes to invest in.
Every woman needs:
1)      A pair of good ballet flats that will take you anywhere.
2)      Sturdy 3-inch heels that are appropriate for work.
3)      A pair of strappy high-heeled sandals for dinner and night-time events.
4)      Converse shoes to run around in!
“A black pair, a nude pair and one in a bold, striking colour (for times when you’re feeling brave!) – these shoes will take you a long way!”
“Rich colours like orange, green and blue are well-suited for Malaysians.”

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