Chie Mihara, who turns 50 next month, has just launched her new CHiE line of high-heeled beauties, and the Blocs collection – silk wedges inspired by the silhouette of kimono sleeves. Here she explains how she puts heart and sole into her designs.
What do you do in a typical day?
I wake up at 6am, take a shower and make my coffee, talk to my kids that live in the US and go to my studio.
What is your training/background?
I was born and raised in Brazil and at 18 moved to Japan and studied fashion design. After graduating I started working at Junko Koshino as a pattern maker and assistant designer.
At 22 I moved to New York and studied sculpture, but soon missed fashion and decided on the brilliant conclusion of mixing both worlds – which was shoes! That’s how I started my shoe journey.
I enrolled at Fashion Institute of Technology in NY and studied accessories design. I made over 90 pairs of shoes by hand – I was passionate about shoes.
What’s different about your products?
The style is very personal. When I design I don’t take into account trends or what other shoe designers are doing. My creative process is completely different, it’s about experimenting with shapes and forms, playing with colours and concepts... it’s so much fun. Also I pay a lot of attention to comfort. I’m a comfort freak. The biggest reward is when someone says “I just got a pair of Chie Mihara shoes and they are so comfortable.”
Now I have a new line of shoes which are mostly high heels, CHiE line, and I have to tell you they are amazingly comfortable. Even though the heels are nine or ten centimetres. And I’m a flats person – can’t wear higher than five centimetres.
What is the fun part of your job?
The creating part, when I’m still daydreaming, when I’m just selecting colours and materials, playing with shapes. When problems start to come on the way like “can’t use this material”, “these lines are impossible”, “you can make one pair but not a whole production of these”, it’s not that much fun and that’s when you become a problem solver rather than a creator.
What challenges have you faced?
When the world economy crashed in 2008, trends went “back to basics” and major department stores stopped buying very creative products and that was a challenge. But I kept on going, creating fun, happy and positive shoes with all the same values: comfort, quality and uniqueness. Now the trend is changing to a less conservative look and to a more unique and happy look, so I’m happy.
What was the biggest surprise along the way?
I was very surprised when our shoes started to sell so much. In the beginning I thought “if I get to X amount of pairs I’m happy”, but had to multiply by that by three.
What are the trends for next year in shoes?
My personal view, which has nothing to do with a macro trend, is that I believe a feminine look with refined pumps of six-centimetre heels are going to be back. Sneakers and pumps will be in every woman’s closet.
What is your most popular product?
A four-colour Mary Jane.
Who are your customers?
They are not fashionistas (thank God!), but a woman who really knows herself and is quite secure in herself.
Which shoes do you have at home from your collections?
The good thing is that I’m not a shoe freak, otherwise I would never have enough space in my closet. I take the most masculine and basic styles from the collection.
Do you have a favourite pair?
Yes. A lace-up shoe I have had for many years. Very colourful. Everywhere I wear them I get comments and stares. They look like James Brown shoes, very jazzy and 1980s.
Do you remember your first pair of shoes?
Yes, I made them at school in New York. A pair of a green pumps with a black patent heel.
What are your goals?
To keep on designing and enjoying my work. Designing for me is a very spiritual process, nothing to do with fashion as it is. So I hope I can be very old and still be creating things that women desire. Just like Karl Lagerfeld.
What’s your style philosophy?
Creating shoes that make people smile.
Where are your products made?
Who has influenced your style?
Nobody. It’s my style.
Who are your favourite designers?
Dries Van Noten, Miuccia Prada, Alessandro Dell’Acqua.
What is your inspiration?
Anything that is highly aesthetical. It could be a sunset, a nice smell, good music or a cool-looking person without any complexes. Anything that rises me high up is inspirational.
Why do we love shoes so much?
I can’t find the why, but I surely work hard to make women love shoes even more.
For CHiE Line and Blocs, along with Mihara’s other designs, see www.chiestore.com, www.chiemihara.com