Who is the designer behind Liudmila? My name is Najeeba Hayat and I’m the designer behind Liudmila. I grew up in Kuwait and currently live nowhere, traveling permanently to manufacture and sell Liudmila shoes. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a luxury shoes designer? It was either that or a career in the foreign service! I chose the former, much to the consternation of my mother. I was always a fashion obsessive and would draw shoes all over my textbooks and when I couldn’t sleep. It was a natural decision. Who have been your biggest mentors in this industry? My former professors at Ars Sutoria, the school where I studied footwear, Noor Al Sabah, the ex-fashion director of Al Othman in Kuwait who showed me the ropes on the business side and my factory who taught me everything I didn’t already know on the production side. What was your biggest challenge when going out and starting your own line? There are so many challenges. The first one was getting noticed by the right people, the second was getting retailers to believe in an unknown brand with no connections. Even when you grow, gaining the trust of buyers is still a huge challenge in a market saturated with over-financed brands with massive product ranges and a scorched earth marketing plan from Day 1. How do you come up with such classic and original designs? I try not to look at what other brands are doing and I stick to my guns. I make what I want to wear, what makes me feel happy and what infuses my outfits with drama. I try to design from a naive place, from my little world of curved forms, miniature paintings and crazy little girls running around in Victorian boots. What role do you think social media plays in the fashion industry? It’s a double-edged sword. Social media obviously gives certain types of brands (especially in beauty or fast fashion/disposable goods) a major boost in sales especially temporarily but I think in the long run, it could be damaging to luxury. We are an industry built on vision, quality, legacy. Those ideas do not fit with the trend-chasing, disposable, image-only world of social media. That being said, it is nice to be able to communicate directly with your customers. You can speak to them directly and understand their wants and responses. How do you want people to feel when buying your shoes? I want them to feel excited and just a little bit more dramatic. I want the shoes to give their outfits an air of Victorian splendor, an unexpected twist of fancy and fantasy that they can walk in and dance in and that takes them anywhere they want to go. Do you have any store or is all business done online? I sell at top retailers in the UK, Middle East and China but we have also just opened our own e-commerce so we hope to grow that side of the business! What is the inspiration behind your creations? It depends every season, but the base is a cartoon sensibility with Victorian forms. Where did you learn your craft? I studied at the storied Milanese pattern-making school Ars Sutoria for a degree in all the technical aspects that are involved in footwear production. What it tough getting started in business? Very. The market is saturated and confused but I believe that an original vision and strong production techniques will win out in the end. What has been your greatest achievement in your career to date? Getting into the historic London boutique Browns during my second season was an incredible stroke of luck I could never imagine. The buyers spotted our potential and took a chance on the brand. They never looked back. What types of materials do you use in your shoes? We use very interesting materials like metallic-effect fish skins, hand-painted snake, stretchy calfskins, lurex, etc. From your last collection, what is your favorite design? And why? That has to be the Hortense stretch-top lace-up boot in brown snake and turquoise nappa. It was named after a murderous nanny in Bleak House by Charles Dickens (one of my favorite writers) and the precise little circular buckles, small, even openings and tight front lace were all supposed to create an atmosphere of secrecy, of a tightly buttoned, ominous uniform. I love shoes that are very adaptable but bring with them a huge sense of personality and atmosphere. This is one of my all-time favorites. For women who aren’t so sure what their personal style is, what advice would give them in finding their style choosing the right shoes? Wear what makes you happy. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. What makes you happy is your style. That’s what makes you unique. With the new year, many women are looking to update their shoes for a fresh new look. What you recommend in terms to achieve a new look for the upcoming season? Go ahead with something that stimulates you design wise, make sure it’s comfortable and wear it every day. That being said, I am a massive proponent of slim-fit ankle boots and think they look great on everyone. What have you learned throughout the course of your career? I have learned that you cannot have fear, if you have a vision, you have to give it your all and try.