Shoes can weave a powerful story. We speak with designer Amina Muaddi of emerging brand Oscar Tiye to understand the mystery behind the name, how she draws inspiration from Arab culture, and the benefit of being a woman footwear designer in a milieu mainly dominated by men.
ON STEPPING INTO HER FIRST PAIR OF HEELS
My love for shoes started at a young age. Since I was four, I was running around in my mother’s heels. In fact, every time she would get upset with me, she would punish me by not allowing me to wear them. As I grew up, whenever I wanted to reward myself, I would splurge on shoes. I always preferred getting three pairs of shoes rather than two dresses—it was instinctual. And I always had to have the best and latest pair—believe me, I did my research!
ON HER FIRST INFLUENCES
I was really attracted to Manolo Blahnik. Early on I felt he had a gift, that he was a master. He is very creative but his shoes never come across as comical; they feature the right balance of femininity, chic-ness, and sex appeal. I was also influenced by Prada shoes and Balenciaga—when Ghesquière used to design the collections. These shoes came from very amazing, creative minds and were on another level.
ON HER JOURNEY TOWARDS BECOMING A FOOTWEAR DESIGNER
When I was nine, I was reading an issue of Elle magazine and I asked my Mom, “What do I have to do to get in here?” She said, “Well, I think you have to study journalism.” I ended up studying Fashion Communication at the European Institute of Design in Milan. Then, I started interning at Condé Nast in Italy and I worked as a Fashion Assistant for L’Uomo Vogue. Afterwards, I moved to the States, where I was the Assistant to Michael Nash, the celebrity stylist and Contributing Editor at GQ. I worked with him for about a year; but you know, all this time I was always thinking about my “master plan.” I had my project visualized and mapped out in my head. When I concluded that I didn’t feel entirely fulfilled with styling—even though it was an amazing experience—I made the decision to realize my vision. I told Michael about my idea and he was so supportive. He told me, “Go. Live your dream and don’t be scared.”
ON LEARNING ALONGSIDE ITALIAN ARTISANS IN THE VENETO REGION
I went straight to the factories. To the Riviera del Brenta near Venice, which is very prestigious for shoe making. I worked alongside artisans three-to-four days per week. Working with the artisans was like school for me. Every shoe has roughly forty to fifty components; starting from scratch, I went to each supplier and learned how to make my shapes, patterns, insoles, and logo.
ON THE STORY BEHIND THE “OSCAR TIYE” IDENTITY
I didn’t want the brand to have my name; I like the mystery around “Oscar Tiye.” The logo is a scarab—a sacred symbol in the Arab world and also a lucky charm. Being Arab (I was born in Jordan to a Jordanian father and a Romanian mother), I found that this was a way for me to go back to my roots. Though I do feel like I am a citizen of the world now, I also wanted to reconnect with my Arab identity. Queen “Tiye” was the Queen of Ancient Egypt and she was gifted Scarab jewelry by the Pharaoh Amenkhotep III on the occasion of their wedding. The word “Oscar” is composed from the letters of my family member’s names; coincidentally, it’s also a pun on the word “Scarab.”
ON BEING A FEMALE SHOE DESIGNER IN A MAN’S WORLD (BECAUSE THERE REALLY ARE ONLY A FEW)
At first, when I was presenting my shoes, people looked at me and questioned, “Are you the model trying the shoes?” Ultimately, from a design perspective, a woman knows better. After all, we are the ones wearing them! I understand a woman’s needs because I feel what my clients feel. That special feeling that shoes give us—it is unique to us. And we all want to feel like we can’t live without that certain pair of shoes.
ON BEING INSPIRED BY THE ARAB WORLD
I love the contrast between purity and mystery. I think that this is symbolic of many Arab women. I wanted to play on that. Many of my shoes are inspired by the Arab world and carry a very strong, cultural interpretation. For example, the Cassandra shoe is inspired by the Great Mosque of Abu Dhabi. The Jamila is inspired by Henna tattoos and builds on your foot like a tattoo, in red and black. The heel of the Malikah represents the body of a Scarab and the wings symbolize the Scarab taking flight. These shoes will be carried over to future collections.
In return, the Arab market has been very good to me and very supportive, with Level Shoe District in Dubai representing one of my first orders. Arab women are very chic—they want to feel special and different from the rest. They want to stand out, just not necessarily in the stereotypical way.
Click through the gallery above to view the entire Spring 2014 collection. In the Middle East, Oscar Tiye is available at Level Shoe District in Dubai, Plum Boutique in Beirut, and Eye Candy Boutique in Oman. The collection can also be shopped online on anatonioli.eu and luisaviaroma.com.
As told to Caterina Minthe