She started working in architecture and then founded her own 100% Made in Italy brand. In between, businesswoman and shoe designer Laura See came to Florence and studied hard.
Thanks to Istituto Marangoni, she was trained by the best fashion players in town. Hence, she took all these lessons to heart, and when she moved back home to England – her country of origin – she dealt with the uncertainty and unprecedented change the Covid-19 pandemic was presenting and brought her vision to life.
Designer, businesswoman and Istituto Marangoni Firenze alumna Laura See launched her exciting eponymous luxury shoe brand in 2021
It is not by chance that Laura’s surname is ‘See’, as if it were a kind of premonition. We caught up with her and discussed how her ‘hummingbird-named’ sandals make her brand fly high, becoming the best-loved by celebrities.
From working in an architectural firm to becoming a shoe designer: your epiphany is linked to a loss in your private life. What has life taught you so far?
Anything can happen, to any of us, at any time. Life needs to be lived to the fullest. When you experience loss at a young age or any age, you develop fearlessness. Nothing else seems scary – you can go full force into what you want because you know that life is short.
Shoes are something we run on. We can move towards the future or get away from the past. What did you need these shoes for at that moment in your life?
I needed them to bring me back to what I love and who I am. I love creating. I love shoes, and I love art. It was important at that time to do something for myself and make something beautiful out of all the bad that had happened before. Also, I wanted to create shoes to take women on their own journey; whether that is walking away from your past or walking an altogether different path, shoes can help change our attitude and self-esteem.
Each Laura See shoe features the brand's signature flash of artwork and a gold hummingbird on the sole
So, you came to Florence and became a student again. How did things go in the beginning?
It was a little daunting as I had left a career and everything behind, but I knew Italy was where I needed to be at that time. I think I approached the course as I do with everything – that it is never too late to learn and that you get out what you put in. So, I worked hard, and I paid attention. I already knew how to work under pressure and deadlines, so that side of things helped rather than hindered. I love learning, I always have.
Please tell us the best thing that ever happened to you while studying at Istituto Marangoni…
So many things. My final collection I felt incredibly proud of, I worked so hard. But it payed off, and I received top marks across every subject. My work was shown to the Director of the school, which meant a lot. I also met Giuseppe Zanotti – that was incredible. I made lifelong friends at the school too.
According to your experience, list a few reasons it is worth studying at the Istituto Marangoni Florence campus.
Location – incredible, especially for shoe design, as you are surrounded by fashion, inspiration and leather factories. Quality of lessons – I loved all lessons and tutors at that time – I was taught by some of the best in the world and feel incredibly lucky to have learnt from them.
Italy is the place where La Dolce Vita was born. Finally, has your life become ‘Dolce’ here?
It was when I lived there back in 2019. It was an incredible city to live in for a year. Now I am back in London, but travel between Bologna and Florence for factory visits.
Shoe designer Laura See drawing the stunning Esmeralda 105 heel, one of the unique designs encapsulating day-to-night styling in a variety of heel heights
You came back to the UK in September 2019 and started working again as a health & safety consultant. At that time, had you given up your dream? You don’t look like the kind of person who takes no for an answer.
No never! I just needed to work again after a year of studying. But the dream was always there. I just needed to find the right time to make it happen.
But then the lockdown came as a ‘now or never moment’, so you founded your own brand. What was the idea behind it?
Lockdown gave me ‘time’. I started sketching – a lot of what I wanted the brand to be was what I created in my final term at Marangoni. So, I had the marketing set out, my type of customer, the brand name and overall feel. Plus, I know you need a USP (Unique Selling Point is the essence of what makes one’s product or service better than competitors) to break into such an overcrowded market, so I used the prints I painted and added them to each shoe. Sometimes I use them a lot, sometimes they are tiny, but a print is always there. The hummingbird applied on the sole is also an immediately recognisable element. It’s a bird that represents beauty, freedom and determination.
The hummingbird on the soles of the Laura See creations represents beauty, freedom and determination
What about your first collection? Designs and colour palettes seem to be a celebration of life’s vibrancy...
It was a brand builder really – I needed it to be bold, colourful, full of energy. We were coming out of lockdown, and we needed an injection of fun. I like to create shoes that are amusing but also can be worn again and again, so I use interesting metallics that work on chic and classic styles, but give a little ‘fun’ to each shoe.
All of the prints are your original artwork. Is a shoe designer more like an artisan or an artist, or even like a fashion architect?
All three, in my opinion. Architecture and shoe design are hand in hand. A beautiful design only works if you can wear and walk in the shoe, otherwise it does not matter how pretty the shoes are. And I think you have to be a creative of some sort. To have a vision and build on that. Sometimes I create a moodboard to build a collection, sometimes I build it based on a piece of artwork and the kind of styles I think that artwork would suit. I like being a combination of all three!
Your shoes are 100% Made in Italy, so we guess you still come to Italy very often.
After the pandemic, it has been incredibly hard and not the easiest time to build a brand. I now try to come twice a year at least. I am only on my second collection really – so I come Sept to organise SS for the following year and March time to try on sample and prototypes for AW. It moves so fast! I am lucky I have had the help of one of my amazing tutors who has been instrumental to the brand.
Shoe designer Laura See showing one of her best-selling heels
Where are you based now, and how have you organised your new life?
I am based in Hertfordshire, but work in central London. I work as a consultant during the week as my brand is self-funded and then I also work on the brand evenings and all weekend. It is full-on as I manage everything.
It seems to have had a vision at the time you created your brand: your surname is ‘See’, as if it were a premonitory sign. What does Laura see for the future of her brand?
I see the ability to create more styles with a new factory being able to produce lots more samples – which I can then produce once orders are placed – so slightly more made to order. This will also stop waste and reduce overproduction. I am working with many celebrity stylists who are requesting the shoes, which are also being used for lots of magazine shoots such as Vanity Fair. I have some new bridal styles coming out so that will be fun and the introduction of some bold limited editions. I see the brand moving in the right direction and gaining recognition from amazing strong and positive women who want to buy quality and love to hear a genuine story behind a brand.
Let’s switch to the present time. Where are you running to or walking in your shoes - considering the height of the heels you design?
I can run in heels actually! But I try not to! I design a range of heights, but I do believe heels can be comfortable as well as stylish and sexy. I am always rushing to the next meeting, social party or networking event – I always wear my shoes, of course!
Thinking of all the Laura See women who wear them, what are your creations made for?
I want women to wear my shoes wherever they please, and I do not set an age range for my brand – all women, regardless of age, should wear beautiful shoes. I love creating day into night styles – they are usually at work but then socialising afterwards, weekend brunches, first dates and at home glam!
Just out of curiosity, how do you find the perfect name for the perfect pair of shoes? And what has been your favourite name so far?
Every shoe is named after a hummingbird. Once I create the style – I research the name. Violet is my favourite as this was also my grandmother’s name. Also, Esmeralda. I love them all!
Alumna, Milan. Editor