My Week: Julian Hakes of Julian Hakes London

Architect turned shoe-designer to the stars Julian Hakes on catwalk calamities, meeting the Prime Minister, and why shoes are just like bridges.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

It's hard to believe that just three years ago I was an architect, designing buidlings and bridges and now I'm a shoe designer. I guess that's recessions for you. My first invention, the Mojito shoe, came about just as the work started to dry up. I was entering lots of architecture competitions, which are basically just glorified tenders for work - except that the client gets something for nothing. After we got down to the final two in one of these 'competitions' and lost out to a vastly inferior project, I thought, 'This is ridiculous. I refuse to keep doing these things.'

That night, I was alone in the studio, drinking mojitos. I had been doodling various designs for shoes for a few years but that evening I found myself taking my shoe off, wrapping my foot in tracing paper and masking tape and drawing on my foot with a black pen.

I created a spiral shape that supported the heel and ball of the foot, but left the middle free. You don't actually need anything beneath the arch of your foot: otherwise, when you stood on your toes, you'd fall over. In that way, shoes are a lot like bridges. The Mojito (yes, named after the cocktail) started out as a men’s shoe, believe it or not. It was meant to be sporty in a beach way. But when I looked at it the next morning with my PA, she turned to me and said, 'Shall we put a heel on it?'

I had no idea how successful my design would be, but when I sent a 3D graphic of the shoe to the design website Dezeen, I got a call from the editor the same day, saying, 'Look yourself up on Google.' I started typing my name, and instantly realised that 12 years of my life had been erased in a single day and replaced with links to a virtual reality image of a shoe. That was the beginning.

Today, the Mojito comes in 29 shades, boasts distributors across the world (even Guadaloupe!), and has appeared on countless catwalks. Gwyneth Paltrow has worn them, as has Nicky Minaj, and Lady Gaga has sent word that she wants some.

I've spent the last three years in a whirlwind, working on new products, securing investment for the brand and doing the two annual fashion weeks. The Mojito has appeared with the likes of Ada Zanditon and Ann Sofie Back Atelier and we're just gearing up for a launch in Shanghai.

The catwalk shows don't faze me now, but my first one was a nightmare. We were showing prototypes of the shoe, which cost thousands of pounds apiece, and we found out that two models has missed their flight after too much champagne in Milan. We were sent replacement models but their feet were a different size. I had half an hour, a silicon pad, some talc and a towel to make the shoes fit.

At the moment, most of my time is taken up with the new range, which launches in February. We've got several new styles coming out: an ankle boot, mid-calf boot, a wedge and a flat version. But I did manage to take some time out a couple of weeks ago to enter a competition.

I know, I know, I swore off competitions, but this was for the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham: an initiative called the Start Up Hub Innovation Award, aiming to find the top new businesses in the UK. We won overall and I got to meet David Cameron and William Hague. Cameron said he didn’t think he'd ever seen a shoe take centre stage at the conference and would definitely be showing Mrs Cameron. We’ll make sure she gets a pair to try out.

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