“I still don’t consider myself a designer. When people ask me what I do, I say I make shoes!” exclaims the exuberant Najeeba Hayat, the mastermind behind Liudmila, a footwear line that exudes originality and manages to simultaneously send you back in time and into the future.
The London-born Kuwaiti and Wesleyan University graduate executes her vision with passion and creativity. A love for fashion has blessed Najeeba with an innate know-how that guarantees her creations are like none other out there. She continues, “although the rest of my family isn’t particularly fashionable, I’ve always been passionate about fashion. At age 12, I was the person who would sit down and tell you about the history of Pucci!” Najeeba’s love for literature also plays a role in the creation and inspiration of her footwear line, even down to the name of the brand.
From Fyodor Sologub’s The Petty Demon, Najeeba felt inspired after being introduced to one of the novel’s heroines, Liudmila, who’s character stood out to her “I loved all that she embodies. Liudmila made me realize that I wanted to be with the people who understood her the way I did, which inspired me to move to Milan to study technical shoemaking.”
It was a rocky road for Najeeba’s first collection– it took years of effort, sleepless nights, lots of coffee, patience, mistakes, pleas and tears. “The shoe industry is no joke!” she emphasized as we sat down for a bite at her favorite Korean haunt in Kuwait. We shared dumplings and Bibimbap with K-Pop playing in the background – music that aptly complemented Liudmila’s design ethos: fun and fantasy-oriented, with pops of culture, uniqueness, and excellent taste.
Coupled with Najeeba’s quirky personal style, Liudmila shoes are as playful, comfortable and ornate as both their namesake and creator “My everyday look stems far from the ordinary. I like dressing up and looking special, and I do it for myself, not for anyone else” This belief is incorporated into Liudmila’s design, with its focus on lower-heeled styles that create flawlessly bridge fantasy with practicality. “We believe that the future of footwear lies in creating uncompromised desire and fantasy while respecting women’s mobility. All of our heel styles fall under the 100mm range with the majority of the collection using a 50mm heel.” If that doesn’t reap “Girl Power”, we don’t know what does.
The shoes are made with gorgeous textiles and high quality leather that’s soft to the touch, crafted in the very same factory where Manolo Blahniks and Christian Louboutins are produced. In addition to their quality manufacture, the product avoids gimmick and focuses on line detailing, giving the foot a delicate touch with an emphasis on cartoonish twists and decorative fancy. With eclectic styles marrying classic elements, they’re made easy to wear and pair with a twist, giving the product a luxurious artisanal feel rather than status, making them stand out from other brands in the industry, which means owning a pair is that much more special.
Najeeba also finds muses in the Victorian era, different cultures, and old school designers. “I love Roger Vivier’s past works – especially his designs for Dior!” she swoons. However, the most unlikely (yet genius) source has got to be Pinterest “I love Pinterest!” she exclaims, “I can spend hours pinning things, and it’s also one of my biggest sources for inspiration.”
Though only three collections have been released and the fourth is on its way, Liudmila has already made an impressive mark in the industry. Since its September 2014 private showing in Milan’s Fashion Week, Najeeba and Liudmila have been featured in a plethora of media outlets and publications including (but not limited to) Vogue Italia, Vogue UK, Vogue Japan, Elle Kazakhstan, fashion blog Man Repeller, V Magazine, and had Lady Gaga’s stylist contact her expressing interest in her eclectic shoe designs. What’s even more impressive is that Liudmila has managed to catch this much attention in two short years, given that Najeeba is a solo artist who worked the brand from the ground up! “I’m my only employee,” she says proudly “and getting into the industry was difficult because I don’t come from a family that owns a factory – I had to do everything myself.”
Liudmila currently has a network of 10 retailers and is constantly growing. Having graduated from selling on farfetch.com, a platform that aggregates the wares of the best independent multi-brand designer boutiques worldwide, Liudmila is also sold by retailers such as Brown’s in the UK, Moda Operandi in the US, Italy’s Penelope, aere-store.com, and Kuwait’s own AlOthman Fashion – which in Najeeba’s opinion is “the best store in Kuwait!” Other confirmed retailers are Isetan, another two smaller shops in Japan and The Exposed House in Abu Dhabi. It’s no wonder that retailers have their eye on this quirky brand. With its ornate finishing and unique designs, packaged neatly in a gorgeous off-white box and secured with a ribbon, Liudmila would give anyone the feeling that they’re about to receive something exceptional—recreating that elusive childhood memory of opening that perfect birthday present that you’ve always wanted. Najeeba adds, “if people are going to buy my product, I want to make sure I’m giving them something special, something that they’ll be excited to wear!”
Each collection is inspired by a unique concept. The first collection, inspired by cartoon heroines, channels the strongest memories from a collective childhood. A notable piece in this collection includes The Leandra, a curved pump with an ankle strap, and one of Najeeba’s favorites because it was one of the most difficult to construct “To construct a shoe like that took so many sleepless nights of me crying and begging the makers to do it, but I didn’t give up… I wasn’t about to be just another shoe brand, I wanted to do what I had in mind.”
The playful simplicity of her first collection graduates to more ornate detailing and textile experimentation with her next collection, Peranatoriana, a portmanteau that marries two cultures, paying homage to the Peranakan culture of Malaysian-Singaporean people and Najeeba’s love for the Victorian era of the late 19th century. This collection includes gorgeous flats such as the Baba, with a velvety embroidered finish and sheer ribbon ankle ties. Another beauty from the Peranatoriana collection, and another favorite of Najeeba’s is the Mrs. Quah Stivali, a mid-calf length boot in green that has transparent panels of embroidered roses along the front.
Najeeba’s Liudmila has left us bubbling with anticipation over what her 2016 Aunty Maharani collection, releasing for retail in Kuwait this March, will have in store for us!
AlOthman Fashion is the main retailer for Liudmila in Kuwait. It is located in Mariam Complex in Salmiya. To find out more about Liudmila, visit their website at www.liudmilafootwear.com.