Tokyo. Like many of the mega-cities today, it is full to the brim with infinite opportunity and remains an incredible source of artistic inspiration. Its streets are filled with a sleepless buzz that has New York City looking like a quaint English town. The noise on the streets hovers like a dense fog, so thick it could be cut with a knife. There is nowhere quite like Tokyo. The towering highrises and enormous neon lights are enough to make anyone feel like an insignificant ant, but only the best way possible. Tokyo is a place for new beginnings, which is why footwear designer Kira Goodey threw herself into this exotic place, to experience a world that is far from her norm.
Whilst taking part in a three-month residency at the Hiko Mizuno School for Jewellery, Bags, Shoes, Watches and Bicycles (yes you read that right), Kira decided to step even further out of her comfort level. “I had too much of a preconceived idea when I started a project, and then not being able to break away from that.” In the time leading up to her final year at the RCA, Kira decided to knock this recurring behaviour on the head once and for all. “I thought that this exercise would be a great way to break down that behaviour, and so I decided the inspiration of my final collection would be to create something every day and have no preconceptions of what that thing would be. Just see what happens, challenge myself and work entirely spontaneously.” Is there a better place to wholly dive into the deep end than Tokyo? “It was the perfect place for my experiment. Being in a new place, out of my comfort zone, where everything around me was fresh and new, in all honesty I had no idea what to expect.” Kira decided to create one artwork a day for 90 days, and the only source of inspiration would be her first-hand experiences that day. “It was the ideal environment for a project like that because I couldn’t fall back on old habits, the familiar environment I was so used to was over 5,000 miles away.”
Kira set out everyday with her camera in hand “photographing everything and anything I came across. The people, the flashing lights, the dark cobbled alleyways and the jam packed streets were all so new to me.” When the daytime eventually turned to night, that’s when Kira’s work really began coming to life. “I found myself out a lot at night visiting different clubs, some tame some fetish. It was these weird and wonderful places that I really wanted to capture on the screen, I became addicted to the unusual and the unknown.”
The next morning, sat over a cup of traditional green tea and a boiled rice bun, Kira would “look through all of the photos from the night before and choose the photos that best represented the feelings I felt that in that moment.” Despite taking hundreds of photos a night, Kira found herself “quite naturally leaning towards the ones that had over saturated colours with blurred edges and a sharp center.” It was these photos that best captured “the hypnotic state that epitomised the night before, they were the most accurate representations which is why the choice became quite easy.” Kira explained that it was these mesmerising, dream-like pictures that “really echoed how I was experiencing my time there. As a stranger in the city you have this detachment where you’re engaging as an outsider.” Kira’s eyes come to life as she recalls several scenarios of Tokyo’s nightlife that she remembers so vividly. “For me it was combining this feeling of being totally lost and immersed, with the digital element of still having connections with people back home. The constant whatsapp updates and viewing everything through an instagram filter, ultimately changes the way you perceive the world. I see the world through a heightened colourful lense.”
When asked about the technique of creating the initial photographs into vibrant photos, Kira reveals that she spends hours “hyping up the artificiality of it. I have fun with the image, playing around with the intensity and often blurring parts of the photo. I began layering photos ontop of eachother which created trance like effect. What very quickly emerged was this theme of blurry city scapes and so I thought that this was true to myself as i could be because i was trying not to be too influenced by anything other than what I was seeing in that moment.”
Kira’s intricate designs are a beautiful product created as a result of months spent experimenting with various materials. “I haven’t seen printed leather yet that looks really effective. I think that the printing techniques that exist for leather right now aren’t great. I tried experimenting but I couldn’t get the intensity of colour that I wanted. The most important thing for me was that intensity. That is when I started practising printing on different materials.”
It was through trial and error that she found a technique using layered PVC that perfectly represented her colourful Japanese adventure. It came about through months of development and experimenting to get that textile just right. “I initially tried lots of different fabrics and plastics, until I finally started playing with this PVC. I noticed it took the print but not very well. I started to jack up how much saturation it was, how long you put it in the press, and what you do to it afterwards. It took me quite a while to get that bright print on the PVC.”
Kira’s dedication paid off, the technique creates a colourful bleeding effect that communicates the imagery beautifully. The designer loved the colour but felt that “it had no texture of excitement. So that is when I started playing around with how can I get the energy and the movement from the imagery into the actual tactile material.”
When looking at Kira’s footwear collection, it is impossible to not spend at least several minutes solely examining the heel of each shoe. It is clear that each heel is intentionally unique and yet there are subtle and delicate similarities that connect them all together. I wanted to learn more about what decisions brought about this intended relationship between each design. “There is this one scene from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ which really impacted me when I was a child. Jessica Rabbit sticks her leg out from behind this curtain – all I remember seeing was the incep of this shoe that is so dramatically curved and then flicked out at the toe. It was so exaggerated and so sexy, I was always trying to draw that shape. I was just obsessed with it. Kira reveals that it is exactly this, that connects all of her designs together. “You can see the Serpentine Curve across the majority of my work. It relates to Hogarth’s line of beauty which is an S shape. Before I had read anything about it, I had always been really drawn to this curve. I love it so much, that I try and incorporate some element of it into everything I design. I think on some subconscious level I am trying to mimic that flow and that elegant movement.”
Any footwear designer would agree that no shoe is complete without a heel. Whether it’s understated or bold, a heel provides the necessary structure that holds everything in place. When it came to designing the structure of her footwear, Kira was playing around with having a heel shape that was twisted and then adding lines that were braided all around. “A lot of my work is just trial and error. You have to keep trying and testing until something looks cool, and if you find something, then keep running with it and see how far you can take it. What I really wanted with the heels, and with this collection in general, was a combination of real artificiality but also to still have the very strong luxury element to it.” Kira explains that she knew that if the heel was cast in plastic it would look good, but it wouldn’t have the grandiosity she was searching for. “That’s why I decided to have them carved out of this very beautiful hard wood which was then sealed with brightly coloured clear lacquer. What I love about this technique is that visibly shows how the carving interacts with the grain, it adds more intricate lines which adds a certain depth.”
The final stage of perfecting the heel was having it painted at a professional airbrush garage where they were able to give the heel “this very shiny and plasticy artificial look that I was looking for. What I wanted to show was that you can still have the natural grain showing through despite its shine.” To Kira it is this tension between artificiality and authenticity that really inspires her to keep bringing the two together through experimentation. Kira’s work is unique in more than a design-orientated way, “I think where I hit a sweet spot is where I combine my more rudimentary knowledge of technology with my quite in depth knowledge of craft and hand making, and uniting them together. I feel like I’ve just started on a journey with the technology side of things, I really want to pursue further and find new ways of bridging these two worlds.”
In a city of sleepless nights, beautiful chaos and vibrancy, Kira has created a mutual understanding between the unfamiliar and the known. Intensity remained central to the designer from beginning to end, and nothing would stand in the way of successfully communicating her life-changing experience to her audience.
Words Bella Russell-Hills