When I heard I’d be interviewing Lynsey Hand, the London-based shoe designer behind Miss L Fire, I figured my questions would get to her by phone or via an e-mail. I was then informed that she’d be visiting the ModCloth office within the next few days and would love to chat in person. What a pleasant surprise!
I had no idea what Hand looked like, but when a tall woman in a retro sailorette outfit and 1940s-style hair strolled through our office door, I instantly knew that she was the person behind Miss L Fire’s pin-up inspired footwear. I — along with our buyers, Sari and Lindsay — was lucky to enjoy a long lunch chatting with Hand and her assistant Dami about everything from British comedies to cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S.
Before Miss L Fire, you were the buying director for shoe retailer, OFFICE. What made you decide to go out on your own and create Miss L Fire?
I loved my time at OFFICE, and during my time there, the company grew from eight to fifty stores, so it was pretty exciting. However, I’d always wanted my own line. So, after ten years in the shoe business (I worked as a buyer/designer for Clarks before working for OFFICE), I figured I’d just go for it.
How were you able to take your ideas for shoes to a worldwide market?
There was no real plan. I was from a buying/designing background but had never done wholesale before I started Miss L Fire. We just winged it! I do believe that lots of hard work, determination, and enjoying what you do goes a long, long way.
Can you tell me about the process of creating a shoe, from idea to finished product?
We usually start by pulling out photos of things we like from magazines. This could be a shoe, but is just as often a piece of furniture, or even a cool motorbike, or a great looking cupcake! Next, we come up with a color palette and a loose theme for the season. We then start looking at shapes and considering whether we think wedges, kitten heels, or some other type of heel will be big for the following season. We also gather fabric, leather, and trim samples, and then I go off to our factory to start working on designs.
It usually takes me three trips of at least two weeks each time to our factory to build each season’s collection. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Seeing an idea go from your head, onto paper, and then into a shoe is a great feeling!
This is probably the most annoying question, but I have to inquire about the name. Miss L Fire sounds like a play on the phrase ‘missile fire.’ What kind of imagery, if any, are you trying to convey with your name?
Heaven preserve me, it doesn’t have anything to do with ballistics! In fact, Miss L Fire is kind of my nickname. When I was at college, I was known (and still am) for my no-nonsense, slightly fiery approach to life, and at the time, my hair was dyed fire-engine red. So a friend of mine started calling me ‘Miss Hellfire,’ which morphed into Miss L Fire, given that my first initial is L. It wasn’t until we sent up our website and e-mail addresses that we noticed the ‘missile’ thing. It was totally unintentional, but I guess we’re happy with the ‘bombshell’ connotation!
What are the biggest challenges you face running your own company?
Time, or lack of it! If I could multiply myself by at least four — designer, accountant, business person, and trash carrier-outer — that would be grand.
Can you tell me about your personal style? There is a retro, 1950s pin-up vibe about your website.
I’ve been into the 1940s and 1950s since I was really young. Since retro is more or less always in style in some form every season, I figure that I look ‘on-trend’ about once every 4 years! We definitely look at our collection through rhinestone studded glasses, but we are not a ‘repro’ company. I like to think that we put a modern slant on the best of the retro trends. Plus, our shoes are much more comfortable than shoes were way back when!
What kind of woman do you see wearing your designs and what is she doing in them?
I like to think that our girl can do anything in our shoes, from running a company to running for a bus. But she may also wear them whilst dusting her ornaments (in a cute dress, as well, of course), or waving a chequered flag on the salt flats at Bonneville. She’s smart, confident, has a great sense of style, and is a pin-up girl at heart.
Do you have any personal style icons?
Ooh, lots! My favourites are Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Esther Williams, my grannies Gwendoline and Sylvia, Vivienne Westwood, and Poison Ivy.
As a music junkie myself, I always have to ask the ‘What are you listening to these days?’ question.
I listen to a lot of stuff that’s older than dirt, mainly on 78s. I’ve been listening to Billie Holiday lately, and I also went to see Hayseed Dixie in London recently. Their version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is genius. I’m also listening to a guy called C.W. Stoneking, who is really interesting. Oh, and AC/DC’s greatest hits. Reading and music are two things that I really don’t think I could live without.
Any exciting footwear projects for the future that you can tell us about?
We are planning on opening up an office/showroom in Los Angeles at some point in the near future. We’re pretty excited about that.
Do you have any advice for aspiring clothing/footwear designers?
Stick with it. The fashion industry is pretty brutal, but if you have a real talent, and don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, you’ll get there in the end.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If anyone happens to find Elvis tucked away in a bunker somewhere, do let me know. The only thing I’d give up shoes for would be to become a full-time Elvis stalker. I am serious about that.
Thank you, Lynsey, for taking time out of your travels to meet up with us ModClothers. Readers, be sure to check out ModCloth’s collection of Miss L Fire shoes for fierce, fun, and feminine footwear with flare!