"Contaminazione" power: the key to design and maybe the key to life as well!

By Guest Writer:  Carol de Leon: Blonde Ambition Style

After a brief calculation, I estimate having designed over 5320 shoes since I started my career as a shoe designer. That’s just counting the designs that have actually made it from a sketch on paper, to an actual sample that has gone out to a proper trade show for wholesale to shoe stores and boutiques around the world. There have been many other designs that have remained on paper and never came to fruition for various reasons, perhaps a client preferred other styles in my sketch presentation or a sales team concentrated on their own favorite best sellers. Often times my sample room is just up to capacity with technicians working late in the night and i just have to go through a process of elimination and prioritize which designs will be made into samples shown at the shoe shows which are held twice yearly in New York and Las Vegas.

Every six months I design a whole new collection and I’m often asked where I find my inspiration. It’s difficult to identify one source. I’m inspired by a multitude of unrelated elements. Sometimes I find myself lost in a snow globe of ideas and the challenge of making a cohesive collection is nerve wrecking just as much as it is fun and exciting to present something new to the market. The Spring Summer 2012 collection I designed for Blonde Ambition started with a fantastic beaded necklace I found while on vacation on Boracay Island in the Philippines. I loved the black and white bold pattern and the way the individual strands draped. It was simultaneously bold and delicate; tribal and geometrically modern. 

Many designers travel the world in search of inspiration. I hung on to my Boracay necklace with no specific plan and wore it to my next destination- Paris.

I usually visit the City of Lights and other fashion meccas like London and Milan to shop. I go to flee markets, department stores, vintage shops and the top re-known boutiques. I look forward to my usual lunch at the cafe inside the iconic Colette near Place Vendome. Then I shop each floor of that boutique. I do look at shoes while there but that’s not really my source of inspiration. I like to watch the market to see what has already been done so that I can create something new. After browsing the entire shop I left uninspired and paused outside the front entrance to check the closest route to Hotel Costes, and it was then that I was blown away by the full technicolor and amazing graphic patterns featured in one of the windows of Colette on Rue St. Honore. The window featured London based Greek designer Mary Katrantzou. My heart nearly burst and I couldn’t take my eyes away from the window. I loved the way Mary engineered the graphic printed fabrics into Victorian shapes and contained the patterns with neon borders and trim. Fabulous! The use of Chartreuse especially marked the return of the trend FLO, the use of fluorescent colors.I don’t think I can personally don an entire Mary Katrantzou ensemble, but the touches of FLO into my wardrobe I would dare. Thus I found this very inspiring to use on accessories, especially shoes. 

I often travel with my good friend Carmen di Marco, Merchandising Director of Max & Co boutiques in the region of Sicily. As I attempt to design for an international market, I appreciate her interpretation of fashion, trends, and life in general from an Italian woman’s point of view. Carmen calls my process of design, “contaminazione”. I didn’t realize it but, to take something familiar and mix it with the unexpected is something I do often.The unusual combination of colors, patterns or materials, create an element of surprise and novelty needed each season . To juxtapose different elements in your outfit, sometimes without rhythm or reason is best done by the kids in Londontown.

Another way I cultivate new ideas is by locking myself up in a VIP dressing room in the personal shopping area at TopShop on Oxford Street. My time is very limited while traveling and I usually only have one day to shop an amazing city like London . I find it absolutely necessary to dedicate at least 4-5 hours at Topshop. I require not just one but two personal shopper gals to assist me while I gather everything and anything that catches my eye. I pull hosiery, clothing, eyeshadow, vests, jewelry, maybe over 100 items to fill my extra large dressing room. I especially love that they have a large vintage section where I find amazing prints that help me formulate my color palette. In the dressing room I contaminate the old with the new and shake all the ideas up. Sometimes I try things on, most of the time I pair things together and I photograph compositions of different garments. Basically the dressing room transforms into my experimental laboratory for my contamination of various styles, colors, patterns, fabrics etc. I purchase about $1000 worth of the most inspirational items but I get so much more in terms of ideas in my camera, which are left for me to decipher later in my design process. I feel the Brits are experts in their expression of fashion in the most eclectic way. The plane ride for me after a shopping trip to London is usually spent sketching new concepts that flash into my head, before they fade from my memory. 

Some of the things I find inspiring cannot be purchased on a trip and taken home from one of my journeys. A visit to Barcelona while in search of adventure after seeing the movie Vicky, Cristina Barcelona, left me in awe of the artist Gaudi. The naturalists’ free form of expression influenced the heel shape of Talisa and the upper pattern of Helena. While visiting La Pedera and Park Guell, I didn’t realize that what I was admiring while on vacation would eventually impact my work as a shoe designer.

The black and white beaded necklace I found in Boracay left a mark on the entire collection. The color chartreuse that I fell in love with at Colette, is seen in the style Teresa and Nora to name a few. Evidently, inspiration can be found just about anywhere. My process of designing involves visiting places known to be cosmopolitan destinations of bonafide fashionistas as well as remote locations where native crafts can somehow make a mark in the mainstream markets. Once interpreted and processed, ideas in my design snow globe slowly settle into a viable shoe collection. The designs get into stores, and into the press. Actresses wear shoes I design on the red carpet and I start to see them in magazine editorials on top models-that’s when I feel some sort of satisfaction, that I did something others can appreciate, because in all honesty while I’m in that design snow globe, it’s foggy and I’m completely unsure of what I’m doing. I strive to get as much inspiration as I can to churn out fresh new designs season after season The Blonde Ambition collection can be found in select boutiques worldwide. 

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By Guest Writer:  Carol de Leon 
Contributor’s website: Blonde Ambition Style

 Follow me on Twitter:  twitter.com/cdeleonswagg
Image Credits:  Carol de Leon
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