chau har lee is a london-based shoe designer who has worked with yves saint laurent and nike among others. she recently told designboom more about her influences and approach to shoe design.



DB: please could you tell us a bit about your background and why you decided to become a shoe designer?
CHL: I’ve enjoyed making things from a very young age and was encouraged to pursue my creative interests by my family, particularly my mother who was a dressmaker working from home, I loved to watch her take what looked like random shapes and see it transform into a garment. I always found the process of constructing and making things fascinating. after hight school, I applied for an art foundation course at camberwell college of arts. it was a fantastic year, a lot of fun, and a chance to be really express myself creatively and learn the best fit for my skills. I found my strengths lied in textiles and sculpture. the shoe designer olivia morris visited our college and set us a shoe design brief, it was while working on that project that I discovered it to be the perfect blend of the things I enjoyed most so much so that when I finished that course I applied for a BA in shoe design at cordwainers college.









DB: which designers did you look to when you were studying and who would you say had the biggest influence?
CHL: probably dieter rams – but not consciously – we had braun products like hairdryers, alarm clocks and kettles etc. In my home but it was when I went to dieter rams exhibition at the design museum that I really appreciated his design ethos. I love the work of luigi colani and the early work of salvatore ferragamo always amazes and inspires me for his passion, creativity and resourcefulness.















DB: which of your shoes or collections has given you the most personal satisfaction to date?
CHL: my flat pack shoe. it’s still my favorite and I still think there’s lots more to come from it. it is made from six pieces without any glue and has a very simple construction.



DB: when you design a shoe, what are you looking to enhance or transform about the wearer?
CHL: the foot is a beautiful shape and it’s interesting to adorn it in ways that highlight its beauty, for me that can be using minimal uppers so you see the shape of the foot or using shapes that follow the contours of the leg and wrap around the foot. positive and negative space are equally important, not just what you see but the surrounding space.
















DB: what is the main quality that you judge a shoe design by?
CHL: for me to call a design final, the shapes, proportions and lines need to make sense, I enjoy simplicity in design and emphasizing qualities in the material, so it’s often a case of refining certain shape until it looks right. in the beginning I do not consciously try make a shoe sexy – that evolves as I decide on what kind of silhouette I want to create, also seeing it on a person, and the combination of materials and textures.



DB: what are your personal thoughts on comfort and support vs style?
CHL: I think both are equally important. I always work on a last which has been made using all the technical specifications required to fit a foot. this way i know it will fit a foot well, the comfort factor depends on how the foot is being supported and where. I begin with designing a more abstract piece which is easier to express myself creatively and removes certain boundaries normally associated with shoe making, then it’s a case of adapting it to become more comfortable and more wearable piece.















DB: what do you do to keep your ideas fresh?
CHL: I think it’s important to keep the mind stimulated. I like to go to exhibitions, read, watch films, also I think a bit of time out is also good; sometimes I find myself over-thinking things in those instances the best thing to do for me is not to think about it and disconnect myself for a while, then come back to it later with a fresh perspective. as a freelancer I’m able to jump from job to job which is a nice way to take breaks from projects. on the other hand, working alone, it’s easy to get stuck in a bubble and fixate too much on an object that might actually look awful, so I think it’s good to get opinions and talk about ideas with friends, and hear there feedback.



DB: what hobbies or interests are feeding their way into your work at present?
CHL: at the moment it’s different ways of knot tying.














DB: what do you know now that you wish you knew when you were 21?
CHL: not to be over precious about ideas … just get on with it even if it doesn’t work it’s better to find out and perhaps even better ideas will come of it.



DB: do you have any superstitious beliefs or self imposed ‘rules’ that you live by?
CHL: never write anything in the color red! coming from of a chinese family there are many superstitions to choose from but this one my dad insisted on and it’s stuck with me all my life.



DB: what do you hope to do in 2014 that you have never done before?
CHL: go scuba diving!