ALL THAT GLITTERS & SHINES
A Conversation with Designer SHARON CUMBERBATCH
By Chiara Spagnoli
The statuesque former model Sharon Cumberbatch has switched to the role of designer of creations just as majestic, beguiling and enchanting as herself. Her fetishistic vertiginous heels are for the contemporary Cinderella who loves the razzle dazzle of mirrors and all that glitters and shines. I met with her to learn all about her Kioo Viatu shoes.
Chiara Spagnoli: When did you decide you wanted to become a fashion designer?
Sharon Cumberbatch: It feels really odd answering this question, as I don’t perceive myself as a “Fashion Designer.” I mean I love the arts, fashion, literature. I’m passionate about working with my hands and creating things. I find great satisfaction in painting homes using different colors and I enjoy working on a project, then being able to stand back and view the finished product. So this creative person has always been in me. I suppose it was just a matter of time that led me to follow my passion that is to design and create.
CS: Why the focus on shoes?
SC: What’s that Marilyn Monroe quote? “Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” I love the deeper meaning of this quote. It’s true on so many levels besides just stating the obvious, that “girls love shoes.” Naturally people are confident when they think they look good. With more confidence you hold your head up and have this feeling that you can do anything. Therefore, expanding your horizons and possibly making the world a better place. At least this is the feeling I experience when I wear a great pair of shoes…my shoes (Kioo Viatus)! Haha. For this reason I chose to design shoes. It gives me the opportunity to work with my hands as well as to provide a luxury product to women that boosts self-confidence.
CS: What is the meaning of Kioo Viatu?
SC: “Kioo” means glass/mirror while “Viatu” means shoes. The name Kioo Viatu is in Swahili.
CS: Your shoes are eco-friendly. What is your personal relationship with the environment?
SC: I’m naturally drawn to have a relationship with the environment. Growing up in Africa, it’s a way of life. You are naturally taught to respect the environment as it goes hand-in-hand with environmental problems impacting people on a broad scale. More importantly, a truer respect for the natural world could evolve when we don’t see all life forms as mere resources for human beings. Kioo Viatu shoes are eco-friendly.
CS: Where are they manufactured?
SC: They are manufactured and handcrafted in Italy by skilled Neapolitan artisans. The shoes are sustainable as they are constructed with recycled mirrors (shattered mirrors) and leather.
CS: You mentioned growing up in Africa. You’re originally from Kenya. How does your home country influence your creations?
SC: Africa is such a creative continent filled with so many talented people. From childhood I’ve witnessed the citizens of my country create and produce astounding art pieces without the use of heavy machinery. Everything is practically handmade. This has a great effect on my work. By nature I am drawn to design and make a shoe that represents Africa’s uniqueness. This is where the shattered mirrors fall in place.
CS: So what is the connection between Italy and Africa?
SC: African Craftsmanship with Italian artistry. It’s the skill of human hands. The relationship is simply an emotional connection between humankind and product; a chain of artisans is what links the two.
CS: Would you define Kioo Viatu as a fetish accessory?
SC: I would definitely consider Kioo Viatu as a fetish accessory for the simple fact that not everyone can or would wear the shoe. The shoes are bold, can be extreme to some. Yet they are feminine. This characteristic in a shoe has always played a major role in the game of seduction.
CS: You choose the Italian phrase “specchietti per le allodole” (which refers to a “deception of smoke and mirrors”) to describe your shoes, do you believe seduction requires some trickery?
SC: I don’t believe seduction requires some kind of trickery. I think there are two types of women in the world, either you are “naturally” alluring or you are not. My shoes give you that extra confidence to bring out the temptress in you.
CS: As a former model, how does it feel to be on the other side of the business?
SC: It’s a bit funny. It’s a passion! Modeling was a business of its own. Shoe design definitely has a higher level of stress for unforeseen amounts of time. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m thoroughly enjoying the process, and the experience.
Will Kioo Viatus be the new Louboutins?
You make me laugh. Well, we will have to see! Kioo Viatus will be the new sheriff in town.
Sharon Cumberbatch is a shoe designer, creator of the brand Kioo Viatu.
Written by Chiara Spagnoli
Photography Courtesy of Sharon Cumberbatch
Design by Marie Havens
Sharon Cumberbatch & Footwear, Photography Courtesy of Sharon Cumberbatch