She shuns high street fashion, instead designing shoes that follow the contour of the foot. This way, every customer has a Cinderella moment. Meet shoe designer extraordinaire, Tracey Neuls…
She trained as a fashion designer and worked for Nike and Falke before following a life-long passion to design shoes (she’d been practising since the age of nine). Today, Tracey Neuls has one shop in Marylebone, another in Shoreditch and a thriving online business selling her beautiful, sexy, comfortable shoes. Here, we talk mornings, shoes (for women and men – members of Led Zeppelin have been known to rock a Tracey Neuls) and finding inspiration in car boot sales…
Tracey Neuls, the woman…
How old are you?
Very long in the tooth…
Where do you live, and with whom?
I live in east London with my partner Karl and my daughter Viola and my frenchy Bobo.
What’s your home like?
Our home is a constant project! It’s a Victorian building that we are forever trying to make minimal, which of course conflicts with skirting boards, ceiling moldings and slightly angled floors. There is one haphazard feature that I do love though. When we were scraping away the paint we found the original dado rail painted in brown to look like it was real. We have left this horizontal amongst ruins of sage green that was typical of this era. It adds character.
What time do you wake up in the morning?
6.55… every minute counts.
What wakes you up?
Usually a coffee and a French bull dog jumping on the bed.
How do you feel?
It’s the perfect way to start your day. You can never be grumpy with an animal and addictions are always welcomed.
What do you do first thing?
The school run is the first thing that I sort out. Breakfast for the car ride, my daughter’s hair for the day, sports bag packed, prep diary signed, spelling revision at the ready… In the car by 8.05 because the car clock runs five minutes fast. It’s a science!
How might the rest of your day pan out?
Whether I work from home or our east or west London office, usually emails are the next on the list. I like being in business for myself because there is never a routine day. The closest it gets to a routine is replying to emails.
When are you most productive?
There is no doubt that having some silence at home makes me the most productive. When I design, I love to be in the garden or in a café that I have never been to. The familiarity of a regular design studio isn’t what inspires me.
On Tracey Neuls, the brand…
You’ve created a signature style and proudly avoid high street trends. How did you come up with the first design?
When I was at college in 1998 I began to play with shapes that were more foot like and sculptural. I had a previous career in clothing design so it seemed funny to me to have clothing drape over your body showing off your natural shape whilst we put feet into blocks, rather than working with the form of the foot or following the line of the leg.
What inspires each new model now?
Every few seasons I’ll add totally new forms, by this I mean a shoe which has a new toe, heel or sole shape not seen before. I sculpt these shapes in plastercine. There’s no moodboards, magazine cuttings, design team or off the peg components used. It’s a process that’s pretty individual; I describe my design process as being a bit like a sponge. There’s never a particular theme that inspires me. I just let the shapes form in my hands and ‘ring out’ all that has been inspiring over time. Inspiration can be from a plant, a gorgeous bit of Japanese graphic packaging, stationery, vintage cutlery or god knows what! I do love rummaging at car boot fairs. The more abstract, the more emotionally and creatively pleasing.
Which is the most popular shoe?
We have a very simple ankle boot called GINGER. I love how leather gloves look on your hand, hugging your fingers and when you take them off there is the shape of the hand still left inside. This boot is inspired by leather hugging in comfort and elegance.
What type of woman buys your shoes?
Our customer is confident, individual with a strong opinion of self worth. She usually works in the creative industries, media or hospitality. My favourite moments have been mothers and daughters shopping together for a pair of shoes each. Our shoes seem to span all ages.
You more recently introduced a men’s range – who’s your typical male customer?
Again confidence is key. We attract a lot of designers and architects. Some of our men are the other half of our women. We’ve had a range of guys from members of Led Zeppelin, Jazzie B, James Rhodes and Martin Morales buy the shoes.
Before setting up your business, what experience (training/work) did you have?
I have been making shoes since the age of nine and have always know that I would be a footwear designer. I trained first as a fashion designer and worked in this field for 10 years. I worked with more body conscious sports areas like Nike and Falke. Both gave me invaluable experience on how to get what you want and be uncompromising about it. Then when I moved to London I enrolled at Cordwainers and launched my shoe brand at the same time. I could never run the business that I do without the experience in other demanding businesses.
As a society, we often view super high heels as sexy and flats as practical. Is it difficult to not just conform and design a stiletto?
There is so much sameness in the marketplace, I think stiletto high heels are pretty saturated and replicated, over and over. Conformity isn’t something the brand is known for. I design more for the wearer and think there’s nothing more sexy than a woman being able to walk confidently and comfortably, being totally at ease in her own skin.
What’s the secret to business success?
I have stood pretty firm in wanting to offer well designed, timeless, original footwear. Being individual and honest, following my heart has probably helped. Success is also very much a team effort and we have some staff who are really fabulous and support what I do.
If you could go back and start again (business-wise), what changes would you make?
Je ne regrette rien
Where do you see yourself, and Tracey Neuls the brand, in ten years time?
We have a lot of fun with our shops. It is such a perfect extension of the footwear to design the spaces that surround them and experiencing the interaction with our customers is great. I would like to expand our shops into Berlin, Paris, NY etc.
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow morning, where would it be?
Quite fancy one of those huts that hovers over the sea at this moment…
Any other comments?
This has been a very refreshing interview list. Thanks for asking me to do it.
Check out the website: Tracey Neuls
Do you own a pair of Tracey Neuls? If so, let us know in the comment section below if they are the comfiest shoe you’ve ever slipped your foot into…