"Taking the Next Step" is an article on creative shoe designer Lucia Roman as featured in ISSUE 05 of SUSPEND Magazine available to purchase here. Interview and photography by Diane Abapo.
DIANE ABAPO: Lucia, how long have you been designing shoes for?
LUCIA ROMAN: I got started around seven years ago. After I finished my degree in Fashion Design in 2006 I was completely lost. I was lost! I didn’t know what to do next.
I was in Barcelona at the time, and I found an internship designing a few pieces of clothing for this one designer who I completely fell in love with. At this point I asked, “What do I want to do with my life?” I moved to Alicante in the south of Spain, which is an area where the fashion industry focused predominantly on footwear. After two months, I decided that that’s what I wanted to pursue. After I got my Masters in designing footwear, I started looking for a job. There happened to be a position at Inditex (Zara Group) and I did all of the interviews and was selected – and that’s how I got started in footwear.
Diane: But it’s always been about shoes hasn’t it? That’s what you love.
Lucia: Yes, I love it! With every company it’s a different world, you know? You may not work well with one but you’ll work much better at another. It depends on your style and your personality. I learned everything this way. I worked for ten to twelve hours a day and I just learned everything – everything! I am who I am today because of my experiences. At the beginning it’s hard, because you don’t know how to do it but after you learn, you start to enjoy it. It’s all about experience; you learn from your mistakes.
Diane: How many designs are in each of your collections?
Lucia: There are about 17 to 25 styles in three-color combinations each every two months. At Zara it was eight collections a year; now I’m at six collections a year.
The collections (in terms of numbers) are different for each company. But it is not the number of styles that decide the amount of work. Every brand has its own priorities, like maybe one will ask you to focus more on materials and you spend a lot of time developing that, or maybe one asks you to work more with the construction of heles and molds…It’s all about the DNA of the brand.
Diane: I see you design mostly heels. Has it always been about heels or have you delved into the sneaker business?
Lucia: I love sneakers, and I love heels! When you design sneakers you get to work with different pieces and materials and colors that are playful and fun. You can make something that people really love to wear everyday. At the same time, I love heels. Heels are sexy! Every woman changes completely, like the way they act, the way that they talk and walk. When a woman goes from flats to heels it’s like “BOOM!” It’s mysterious too, like, “I’m here – Don’t bother me!”
Diane: So what’s been the most rewarding part of this experience for you? In the past five to six years, what’s been the highlight, the point where you stopped and said, “Holy shit, this is what I love.”
Lucia: Every few years I go through a new cycle in my life where I close a chapter and open a new door. This happened the last time when I was in Spain. I felt like I needed a change. It’s not something I can really explain, but I do something big every new cycle –a big change – and everything starts from a thought. You only need to focus for it to start working out.
You know, I came here to the U.S. by myself. It was a big challenge moving away to start a new life, a new everything… And I feel like this whole experience made me really grow up. The way that I see things now are completely different from how I saw things before. I really had the opportunity to take a big step in my career and work with really good people in the industry and I can say that the best part of it all is how much I learned these past few years from everybody that I’ve met so far.
Diane: How did L.A.M.B. come about?
Lucia: Well the company that I work for, Titan Industries, had the license for L.A.M.B. and after I started working for them they gave me the opportunity to design for L.A.M.B. I thought, “Of course! I will do it! It’s one of the coolest brands and I get to be extremely creative. It’s fresh, it’s younger.” I met Gwen Stefani and Paula Bradley, the Creative Design Director of L.A.M.B. She has worked with a lot of other celebrities in the music scene. We were able to work on the collection together under the direction of Gwen. Paula is super nice. She’s an amazing person and one of my favorite people to work with because she is incredible and brilliant. Once Gwen saw the line of shoes I designed, she said, “Oh my god I love it.” It’s rewarding to work with positive people who push me to give the best that I can.
Diane: Did Paula and Gwen ever tell you specifically what they wanted or did they give you creative freedom?
Lucia: We would have creative meetings and I would send her my inspiration and ideas. Gwen gets really involved with the feedback and incorporates her own direction. It makes it fun to work with her. The day that I showed my first collection to Gwen, I went to her house and I couldn’t believe that it was happening. It was unreal. That day I just kept repeating to myself, “Holy shit, this is happening."
Diane: I’m obsessed with people’s workspaces. I have a part in every interview that I call “The Workspace” because I believe that you can tell a lot about a person just by looking at his or her working environment. What do you carry with you in your bag? Do you have any sketchbooks or a few markers that you always carry with you?
Lucia: Well yeah, of course! When I’m here I have all of that. Occasionally I will go to the library to pick up Design and Illustration books because those are my obsessions. And yes, usually I bring my whole backpack. I prefer my workspace to be really quiet so I can focus. My work sometimes consists of having to go out and visit the stores. I have to see what’s going on and what other brands are doing right now. I’ll take notes on colors, shapes, materials, ideas, or on whatever detail I find that is worth writing down. You can always find something that you like. I’ll find shoes on a girl and I’ll say, “Hey, can I take a picture of your shoes? Can I take a picture of your bag?” Anything is an inspiration: art, architecture, photography, furniture, jewelry. Everything can inspire everything.
Diane: Apart from designing footwear, it makes absolute sense that you’re also a very multi-faceted visual artist. Can you tell us about your illustrations and sketches, specifically your series on eyes? Where did you base these drawings from as far as reference photos? How do you handle having deadlines?
LUCIA: I love to draw, and sketching is my favorite part of the process. I have always drawn all my life: I’ve been in art schools and did graffiti when I was a teenager. I do illustrations as a part of my everyday routine. I get really intimate and personal with it because it’s something you can see – you can feel it. The “Black Beauty” series [a collection of watercolour illustrations by Lucia highlighting justeyes] was a personal series comprised of different views of faces inspired by African beauty. I work in fashion and I love beauty; it fascinatesme and is an obsession in all of its different variations. Beauty is something I reflect on constantly with my illustrations.
Diane: And it makes sense why you come out to Downtown L.A. because there is so much here that can catch your eye.
Lucia: Yes, it’s so trendy here! I love Downtown! It’s the trendiest place in L.A. It has this huge cinema movie industry and you can find all different artists and people who are working on videos, filming, acting, etc. I’m amazed at how many things happen here like pop-up events, new store openings, new restaurants, the Art Walk every month. A lot of new conceptual stores are opening around the area. Los Angeles is growing and Downtown is definitely the place to be.
Diane: I feel like L.A. attracts the visionaries. Whenever you want to go find inspiration, you know you’ll find it here. People in Downtown want to run into each other. It’s something that I find recurring with the people I interview. They always want to feel that connection with someone. Often times, you’ll find someone on his or her phone. But every time I do these interviews in-person, I’m intrigued to find that everyone has this desire to connect. As much as people want to “wire” in, there are still people out there who want to connect on an interpersonal level.
Lucia: This desire for connection is usually more found within cities where you can walk. I like downtown areas, because you can see people walking, and you are able to connect with them; it’s something more natural and organic. This is why I live in the middle of the city where there is movement around here constantly. It’s all young people with the desire to create and do stuff. It pushes me to take the next step, and it puts me in a creative mood all the time.
To view the article in its entirety with more exclusive photographs of Lucia in her Downtown Los Angeles workspace, purchase ISSUE 05 here.