From Architecture to Demolition, From Art to Accident - The Influences of Chris Donovan
Chris Donovan Footwear
How did you get into fashion?
Since seeing my 1st pair of platforms in high school I have always been fascinated with shoes and fashion. Coming from a blue-collar family a career as a fashion designer didn’t seem like an option. I spent a decade as a waiter and bartender and then got a job at a phone company. It was a very secure and well-paying job. It was safe, but not at all fulfilling. I stayed there for 25 years.
At 50 I was diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early and cured but it made me realize that no one is guaranteed a long life. I started evaluating my life. What I learned was that life wasn’t about just getting through it safely. I needed to pursue this obsession to design the shoes that have been in my head for 40 plus years. I left my work and went to Italy for a masters in footwear. I ended up graduating at the top of my class and opened the final show.
I came back to America to realize I was a 55-year-old designer with absolutely no job prospects. I went to work in the basement designing and making prototypes not knowing what else to do. I entered a contest on Project Runway TV show to meet Tim Gunn and have him critique my work. I won that contest and was on TV and people started noticing my designs. I decided that the only way for the world to see my designs was to start my own line.
As a fashion designer, what are your major influences?
Absolutely everything around me. Items from the beautiful to the ugly, from architecture to demolition, from art to accident. Anything that fascinates me makes me think of how I can interpret it into footwear.
Designers that have influenced me the most would have to be Peter Popps and René van den Berg.
What is your design philosophy?
I’ve never really analyzed it but I guess I’d say it’s not about “pretty” or “decoration”. It’s about making a statement, telling a story. It’s about creating something new. I want my designs to reflect strength and courage. I’m hoping somehow my story, my journey is reflected in my designs.
What are you currently working on?
My collection that I’m manufacturing is called Tornitura. It was inspired by the art of woodturning. I met a craftsmen who was making the most unusual bowls and pepper mills. He was doing things I have never seen before. I asked him if he could work with me. I would come up with the designs and he would turn them on the lathe. I used the angles and curves of the heels to create the sharp folds and soft curves of the uppers. This line is currently being manufactured in Italy.
What can we expect from Chris Donovan Footwear over the next few years?
I launch my line by the end of this year. It’s kind of momentous for me. This is a dream realized. If my line is well received it will give me the freedom to expand the company and push the boundaries of my shoe design. I feel like I am an awakened giant that's been sleeping for 40 years and I have 40 years of designs in my head that need to be released.
And even though you didn’t ask for it, my advice to people who want to pursue a dream. This has been the hardest, scariest, most difficult thing I have ever attempted but it has been worth every minute. It’s the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. It’s not about succeeding or failing. It’s about becoming who you are.