Innovation is the goal at Michael Azu footwear. Whether it’s developing printed leathers, heel shapes or new footwear silhouettes, Michael Azu lives for a challenge. Here, we catch up with footwear’s hottest young thing to talk inspired design. MichaelAzu.com — NICOLE ROSS

How did you become involved in footwear? I started customizing my own shoes when I was about 13 and bought my first sewing machine around this time too. I originally studied fashion design womenswear at the London College of Fashion and was also awarded a scholarship to study at FIT in New York. I have always loved drawing footwear. Eventually, I got an opportunity to do a Masters and was offered a place at Cordwainers on the MA Fashion Footwear course. I was one of only nine students worldwide selected for a place.

What do you love most about footwear design? I love the technical aspect to designing footwear which can be very complex and challenging; I thrive on it. To me, all design is problem solving, whether it’s how I can manipulate a certain material into a certain shape—whilst maintaining its structure without losing its natural beauty—or how I should play with the proportions to work with the anatomy of the female foot and legs. Not only that, but I get to work with some very creative and passionate people in the footwear industry, such as the artisans and makers in the factories in Italy and London. Ultimately, I love seeing the responses to my designs when they are first seen or worn.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face when you go from concept to creation? This is a good question. My approach to design tends to be more analytical and conceptual, so there are always challenges. For my Master’s collection, I had to discover a method of bonding leather straps and artificially aged metal, precision cut them, then form the metal and leathers to create elegant silhouettes which caressed the foot. This was a particularly difficult task but I worked with engineers and suppliers in the aeronautical industries to help solve this, and it all worked out beautifully in the end. Obviously, for the Michael Azu label many of these ideas are diluted to be more practical for production. I work very closely with my team in Italy to ensure the original designs are respected as much as possible. On occasion, I might get a raised eyebrow from the factory when presenting a new design that looks tricky to make, but I always show them my own prototype and then they smile again and say okay we can do it.

How would you describe your designs? The design philosophy at Michael Azu is always to innovate. This might be developing my own printed leathers, heel shapes or new footwear silhouettes. However, I would never abandon the Michael Azu fingerprint of being playful, colorful, feminine and new.

What’s your pet hate when it comes to footwear design? On a personal level, it’s the lack of great footwear for men. I have always struggled to find something original for myself, so most of the footwear in my wardrobe is crammed full of trainers, many of them vintage. That huge gap in men’s footwear—between formal and casual—is unsatisfying. I would like at some point to get round to designing and offering a Michael Azu men’s footwear collection as well, but right now my focus is purely on women’s.

How would you want your wearer to feel in your designs? I want the wearer to feel confident, empowered yet always feminine. I would never want my footwear to overpower the wearer or make her feel self-conscious. She needs to feel special, significant and beautiful because she is.

Why should women be wearing Michael Azu and not other designers? Michael Azu offers women footwear that, at its heart, is created with originality, passion, and dedication. It is produced using Italian craftsmanship at its best.

What exciting developments do you have planned for 2016 and beyond? Since our presentation showcase at London Fashion Week this year, we have been overwhelmed by requests from numerous stylists and celebrities alike for our footwear. Going forward, we expect the new pieces from the upcoming Spring/Summer 2017 collection to generate even more excitement plus new customers.  Later this year, we are launching our on-line shop so customers can purchase their favorite styles directly from our website. Oh, and of course, Michael Azu men’s footwear at some point in the future too.