Malaysia may lay claim to the legendary Jimmy Choo but perhaps in the future, Singapore might also have a shoe maestro to call its own.
Up-and-coming designer Firdaos Pidau has been turning heads in the world of footwear design ever since he was a scholarship student on a prestigious Cordwainers course at the London College of Fashion.
In 2015, Pidau, then a first-year student, edged out older and more experienced applicants to snag the inaugural scholarship offered by shoe designer Charlotte Olympia. The coveted award from the “It brand” of the time funded the three years he had left on his bachelor’s course in footwear, which focused on product design and innovation. It also gave him the opportunity to embark on a year’s paid internship with the label, offering him invaluable insights into the world of luxury shoemaking.
He went on to score an internship with Zara before returning to Singapore in 2018 to join the footwear design team of local brand Charles & Keith . There, he has contributed to the brand’s recent evolution towards more “directional and experimental” designs. His bold yet sexy aesthetic – think mesh mules, boots with sculpted soles, and stilettos with graphic flat heels – can be seen in the fast fashion brand’s various ad campaigns.
He shares the lessons he has learned about what it takes to become a fashion designer.
“I am a fiercely independent and very shy person, but I had to get over this. In school it is important to get help whenever you can, take time to learn from your peers and experiment as much as you can. In my school, they pushed students to try everything possible and to experiment. And when it works out, the feeling is amazing that you have surpassed the limits of what was said to be ‘impossible’.”
“I come from a humble family background and when I was accepted to the Cordwainers programme, I barely had any money. So when I found out that I had received the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award that would pay for my first year of school, I was so happy.
“Of course, at that time, I still had to find a way to pay for the second to fourth year of school, but I told myself to cross the bridge when we got there. So I just worked my a** off because I literally had nothing to lose. By the time I applied for the Charlotte Olympia fellowship, it was a matter of ‘either I get this or I will have to go back to Singapore’, so I gave it my everything.”
“It was my lifelong dream to become a footwear designer. I was a vain child and my family still tells stories about how I would refuse to wear certain clothes or shoes. I would also sketch almost every day and I still have stacks and stacks of my old sketchbooks. I also used to make small paper models of shoes because I would have ideas in my head of how a shoe design would work and I just wanted to test it out.
“When I went for the Charlotte Olympia scholarship interview, I only had two prototypes and my portfolio of just a few projects because I was only in my first year. I was so nervous because the other applicants had so much more experience. But as I was presenting my work to the panel, one of my paper models fell out of my bag and they noticed it and asked me to tell them more. I think that made the difference in helping me clinch the scholarship, as the paper shoe models were a project that I did in my free time, not just what I had to complete for school.”
“People have this misconception that if they love clothes and shopping that they will enjoy being in ‘fashion’. But fashion school is actually very gritty and the workshops – which can be dusty and filled with sawdust – are far from glamorous. You must be willing to sacrifice your time and put in a lot of effort to justify the money spent on school.
“In my first semester at Cordwainers, we had to make a stiletto pump from scratch. A lot of people end up dropping out because the rigours of the course do take a lot out of you.”
“Working with a luxury brand like Charlotte Olympia was an eye-opening experience because while there is a focus on the commercial aspect, there is also a distinct design aesthetic. Her shoes, like her sky-high platforms, defined an era, and she had the courage to push audacious goals like having shoes that look like bamboo or a heel like a glass bottle with no steel structure. You also work with the best materials and most well-regarded craftsmen and I loved that.”
“When I learnt that Charles & Keith was moving towards a more experimental direction, I knew that this job would be right up my alley in terms of what I would like to achieve. The thing about working in high street fashion with affordable price points and being able to design original distinctive shoes is that fashion becomes accessible. The snobbishness is gone and it becomes about pure objective design, which is something I strive to work towards.”
“When you have a wider range of offerings, you can design many different things and throw out different balls to see what catches in different markets. From that, you learn a lot about different demographics and taste profiles, which is fascinating to experience.
“Also, by working at a brand where the team is diverse, I have picked up a lot of soft skills. I’ve learnt to overcome my personal social anxieties, how to communicate and how to work with people with different management styles. These are all crucial skills when it comes to fashion design and I trust that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.