Heads turn as she waltzes into the Blue Bar of the Berkeley Hotel, a suitably opulent location for this glamorous interviewee: cue Bardot’s Je t’aime as time slows and hearts beat faster, but it’s not just her elegant appearance that garners attention; it’s also the shoes she wears. Women gaze in awe at the glittering crystals, the subtle cerise bows, the graceful contours and the luxurious finish of this alluring footwear. To call them shoes doesn’t do them justice. They are sparkling, sumptuous creations, heels that girls dream about but seldom acquire. This is fairytale footwear for a princess, devised by a lady who is captivating the hearts and minds of the fashion industry and every shoe-lusting woman alike.
Her name is Aruna Seth and her biography reads like the exotic character profile of a Bond girl: her father is Indian and her mother hails from Jamaica, she speaks French, Italian, Spanish and Russian and divides her time between London, Venice, Paris and New York. Despite having launched her luxury footwear brand during the height of recession, business is booming and she is preparing to open a boutique retail outlet in a fashionable area of Central London. Her shoes already grace the red carpet, worn by the likes of Katherine Jenkins, Goldie Hawn, Emily Blunt, Audrina Partridge, Virginia Madsen…the list goes on. In the space of a year, her brand has become synonymous with luxury, glamour and exquisite artisan quality; this is a lady on a mission.
I was perhaps not the best person to interview a female footwear designer, being a man and all. On the other hand, I bring a uniquely unbiased approach to it. A shoe is just a shoe, right? Wrong! Having perused her online catalogue of dazzlingly beautiful creations, I could understand – for the first time in my life – the appeal of feminine footwear, as a fashion accessory, as a thing of beauty, as that je ne sais quoi wow factor. You could wear the most fabulous dress in the world, but add a pair of stunning shoes into the mix and you can transform your outfit from simply great to absolutely show-stopping (now I sound like Gok Wan…perhaps this is a turning point in my career – watch this space, girlfriend).
Aruna grew up around the footwear and fashion industry, her father being the man behind the Ascot brand, and it seems that his entrepreneurial spirit runs in the genes. “I used to sell shoes at school, sometimes five or six pairs a week. In the summer I’d work at my father’s office, doing the stock, the ticketing queues and so on, to learn every part of the business. My father wanted to demonstrate how he started in business and how I should start – by not going straight to the top, designing shoes and attending shows – but learning every part of your business at every stage.”
After completing a business, geography and languages degree, Aruna worked in the City for some of the major investment banks, but this didn’t satisfy her brooding entrepreneurial zest. “During my last year at Morgan Stanley I knew that I was coming to the point where I would want to either join my father’s company or do my own thing.”
And do her own thing she did. Rather than taking holidays, she chose to study footwear design at the London College of Fashion in preparation for the hard grafting that would follow in the formation of her own business, fulfilling a lifelong desire to create the prettiest, most luxurious footwear the world has ever seen. Despite this steely determination, her decision to go solo rather than join her father’s empire wasn’t an easy one. “If you have a family business and you’re not a part of it, you’re almost letting your family down. You see this strong family connection with the Italian clothing brands too. But the only way I’d have anything to do with shoes was to do my own thing, and to do it alone.”
Although she had experienced the full workings of a fashion operation at her father’s company, she would have to create a new business from the ground up, taking a year of hard work and single-minded tenacity to put all the right systems in place. “I had to create my own infrastructure, find the best factory, the best materials and suppliers. Especially for a luxury company, finding the right people to work with and creating a quality production chain is a very challenging thing to do and takes a lot of time, research and constant fine tuning.”
To achieve this lavish finish, all the shoes are handcrafted in Padova, Italy, home to the most exclusive footwear brands. “In that area they make Chanel, Prada, Gucci. I wanted the best so I went for the highest price and the best possible quality. I wanted to be able to say that I am making the greatest shoes in the world and to know that I am. I make shoes for people like me who want to have the very best footwear that money can buy.” And being an astute businesswoman as well as a talented designer, Aruna leaves nothing to chance. “I go to Italy every three weeks. It’s so close there’s no excuse not to visit and keep an eye on things.”
Unlike many of the large luxury brands, Aruna’s splendiferous creations are produced in limited numbers, making them highly sought after shoes of great distinction. “We only ever make 100 pairs of each design. We want to keep the exclusivity of the shoes. When you buy a £600 pair of shoes, you don’t want to see other people wearing them.”
The quality of her shoes is apparent even from a distance and on closer inspection the finer detail is truly remarkable. She also offers a bespoke service for customers who want to tailor the shoes to their own designs. “Clients often choose certain shoes and we’ll make them in different materials, embellishments and colours. Each shoe has the wow factor, seamless elegant lines, subtle piping and fine stitching; it’s so important to have that attention to detail.”
Designer shoes have a bad reputation for being painfully uncomfortable if worn for periods longer than, say, ten minutes. But in Aruna’s shoes you can look sensational without fear of hobbling home on crutches. “I try to make shoes that are glamorous, timeless and with just the right amount of sexiness without compromising on comfort. We have special pads inside so that you’ll always feel comfortable. Other brands won’t spend money on padding which is why people often complain that shoes hurt, but I want my shoes to be comfortable and for people to be able to wear them practically.”
When you spend so much money on a pair of shoes, you want them to last the test of time and the fleeting fashion trends too. Aruna, once again, has covered the bases. “One thing I’ve always wanted to do with the brand is never compromise on the quality and the luxury. They are shoes you can treasure forever, they’re not just a passing trend, you can take them out of your wardrobe in ten years time and they won’t date.”
Running such a focussed enterprise is an incredibly demanding commitment, but Aruna’s passion for her brand is inspiring and her dry sense of humour about the personal sacrifices she makes is admirable. “I think you have to accept that it’s not a job, it’s your life. If you don’t accept that when you work in fashion or run your own business, then you should get out. Sometimes it’s hard when you can’t see your friends for a long time, and when you do,” she adds with a wry smile, “all you talk about is shoes.”
Having been stocked in prestigious retail outlets around the world, she is ready to launch her own boutique at a location in Sloane Square or Mayfair. “We’re at the stage now that I can open a retail outlet. We’re designing the interior at the moment, lots of blush, black, gold and silver. Like a treasure chest. I want it to be a different and exciting experience for customers, really bespoke, special and recognisable, not just another shoe store. People will be able to visit with an evening dress to try on with their shoes, making it a personal and enjoyable experience.”
Aruna’s shoes, like the woman, are the very embodiment of glamour, elegance and sophistication. If they were made 50 years ago, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn would undoubtedly have been fans. In another 50 years, they will still be in the limelight. The likes of Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin are no longer the pinnacle of footwear design. If you want that extra special pair of heels, boots or sandals – classy, pretty, girly shoes that will stand the test of time, turn heads on the red carpet and have the crowds swoon as you sashay by – there really is only one choice of brand and that name is Aruna Seth. In the words of Carly Simon, nobody does it better.
To buy Aruna’s shoes and to find out more about the brand, please visit her website: www.arunaseth.com. Details of the boutique opening will be announced closer to the time.