The empirical focus of my PhD thesis was the creative practice of a select number of contemporary British based high fashion women’s shoe designers. The research responds to an existing gap in theoretical debates on fashion, in particular shoes, as to what creativity in design entails.
Based upon an eighteen month long ethnography with twenty five shoe designers and other informants, my thesis contributes original knowledge of what shoe designers do to create shoes. Through a holistic approach to the study of creativity, the research demonstrates that ideas are not always the starting point of creativity. The designers work as individuals and thus their creative process cannot be reduced to the strict linear sequence that design discourse can assume.
My work contributes to material culture by demonstrating, in the context of shoe design, what materiality actually is. The thesis reveals the inspirational and agentic properties of the materials of shoe design, just as the practitioners act upon the materials so do materials act upon them. Through the study of materials creativity is presented as an embodied practice where the practitioner exists in a dialogue between materials, creative processes and forms. By showing how materials give life to shoes, I have produced a significantly more dynamic approach to material culture.
The research has encompassed the creative network surrounding the shoe designer and reveals the complexity and relationality of the creative process and I have shown that creativity in shoe design moves beyond the realm of the individual to encompass a network of humans and materials. Inherent in the study of this practical process was the difficulty for designers to verbalise their creativity and in order to overcome this barrier, a phenomenological approach was required. This was achieved by learning to design and make shoes. The final part of the thesis traces my journey through the learning of these practical processes and in so doing reflects back upon the ethnographic findings.
What emerges from my research is that creativity in shoe design is a sensorial, material and embodied process for these practitioners of shoe design.