It is no secret that Amina Muaddi is at the origin of today’s most in-demand footwear label. After launching her designs, the rising shoe designer immediately grabbed the attention of world-renowned star Rihanna, whose affection for the brand and the talented artist has grown to such an extent that it prompted her enlisting the designer to help design shoes for her luxury Maison Fenty.
Footwear designer Amina Muaddi is sitting at a corner table in a Joël Robuchon restaurant in Paris’s upscale 8th arrondissement. She is eating lobster, as is her assistant, seated to her right, nodding vigorously at everything she says. In a few weeks, she will be awarded designer of the year at the Footwear News Achievement Awards in New York – but for now, Muaddi is urban chic in a Loewe suit jacket, Helmut Lang T-shirt, and her namesake pointy black Ida suede boots. If her fine jewelry looks unfamiliar it’s because it’s by the just-released Italian brand Eéra, founded by her friends. On her dainty wrist is a chunky gold Rolex. Her immaculate skin tone looks like it was blurred by a social media face app.
On her Instagram feed, she offers an abundance of close-ups, and yet, beyond images of her attending fashion events, her shoes, and sometimes her bulldog Alfie, rarely do they offer a window to her personal life. If everything about Muaddi appears known and established, she remains elusive and is unfamiliar. “The moments I cherish most are the ones I keep private,” she smiles. Beyond the entrepreneur and designer behind the eponymous shoe brand – sales of which jumped 400% from FW18 to SS19 – who is Amina Muaddi?
Amina Muaddi the brand is one of the most in-demand footwear labels on the fashion radar. Launched just over a year ago, with model Tina Kunakey fronting the campaign at the same time as she said “I do” to French actor Vincent Cassel, the label was practically a buzzword. As the buzz skyrockets, Muaddi is grateful but mindful. “We could have bigger numbers, but I think it’s fundamental today not to oversell or overdistribute,” she comments. “We are lucky because everybody wants our product, but we don’t want to give it to everybody. My client needs to feel like what she owns is luxurious and unique and not everyone can have it.” Case in point: the Begum glass shoe was so successful that she purposely removed it from the Fall collection.
The designer and entrepreneur remembers telling her mom, at nine years old, that she wanted to be in fashion. “I was into fashion because of her; she was very chic, with a big shoe closet, and she dressed me very well,” she recalls. She was attracted to the allure of magazines and considered styling but ultimately decided on design. Muaddi started making shoes at 26, cutting her teeth as co-founder and creative director of footwear brand Oscar Tiye. She’s also partnered with Alexandre Vauthier, making the shoes for his collections for the past few seasons.
Now, with Amina Muaddi, she is crafting a world, under her name, exactly as she wants. The shoes are sexy and slinky and run the full gamut of footwear, including sling-backs, pumps, boots, and mules, but omitting flats and sneakers. They are intrinsically fun, some coming in neon PVC, or hologram colors while appearing always sophisticated. The signature pyramidal heels offer a side of eccentricity that makes the shoes instantly recognizable and special. Rihanna chose them for her groundbreaking Savage x Fenty show. Like Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik before her, Muaddi has her finger on the pulse of the culture of now. Unlike Blahnik, who had Sex and the City as his shop window, Muaddi’s clients aspire to her specifically, though she does spread her aura via celebrities who happily post photos of themselves wearing her shoes – cue Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Kendall, and Kylie Jenner, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Muaddi calls them #Aminasladies and in fashion, it’s wholly refreshing to see grown women not referred to as girls.
“I believe every designer has a time frame to be modern,” considers Muaddi. “While you grow older, you can still be amazing, but you are not going to be modern forever unless you are capable of surrounding yourself with youth to keep that fresh approach. I know I have a deadline.” In 10 years’ time, she envisions herself raising a family. “I’m not unpredictable, but I’m definitely driven by passion. I don’t want work to be the only aspect of my life and I don’t think I want to be in fashion forever,” she says. Beyond shoes, Muaddi senses another calling. “I want to make a contribution to the world. I feel like that is something I am meant for. I want to make a change. I make women feel happy with what I do, but I want to make them feel happy in other ways. I want to help them.” She says that once her company is properly structured, she can “start putting things into place” to pursue her philanthropic endeavors. For the time being, her small but mighty team consists of herself and four young women. “I like to surround myself with young people who can grow with me,” she says. Her office headquarters, a stone’s throw from the restaurant, doubles as her personal residence, though she is looking to relocate. “I’m not particularly attached to any place. I like to change,” she says. Muaddi also aspires to own her own factory, in Italy, where all her shoes and their parts are made and assembled. “One is not enough, but it’s a place where everything starts; an incubator,” she says.
A self-described curious person, Muaddi is always “looking.” “It’s one thing to be educated, and another to know things. I admire perseverance, talent, and ambition. I see it in every field, whether it’s a writer, artist, or entrepreneur,” she comments, citing Steve Jobs, Beyoncé, and Malcolm Gladwell as people she holds in high regard. “There’s no perfection, but I strive for something to be as good as it can be.”
Born 33 years ago in Romania, to a Jordanian father and Romanian mother, Muaddi and her family moved to Amman a few weeks after her birth. Her parents divorced when she was six and she returned to Romania. “My childhood is a blur,” she says. “I wasn’t aware of what my mom did to help me as a child and it took me years to understand. The opportunities I have today are mostly because she took me out of Jordan. Not because it’s not a good place to live, but because my dad is very conservative and probably would not have liked for me to have a career.” Her eyes redden but her voice remains strong. “That’s why it’s hard for me to talk about my life – it’s not as easy as it looks. I’ve been through everything; situations when I had a lot, and when I had nothing. When you experience both these worlds, you know what is really important. Money offers security, safety, and comfort but definitely never happiness.”
Rather than remain in post-communist Romania, at 16, she moved – alone – to Brescia, outside Milan, to continue her schooling. She graduated second in her class and furthered her education at the European Institute of Design, where she studied fashion communication for three years. “I had this idealism regarding fashion,” she considers. “The more I got into it, the expectation of fashion versus realism changed.”
Today, she considers the fashion scene as a contour of her actual job, “which is making things.” When she feels overwhelmed, she goes off the radar with her girlfriends, like Attico designers Giorgia Tordini and Gilda Ambrosio. “We don’t talk about work,” she says of their jaunts to places like Capri and Ibiza, revealing nothing. “Working in fashion, you are always exposed to this world. You just want to escape. It can be exhausting. It becomes a routine and when that’s the case, it’s not stimulating. Life has to be fulfilling.” She grounds herself in “creativity, fearlessness, and fierceness,” and nods her doll-like face vigorously when asked if she is ever on the dancefloor. “I may look intimidating because I only like to share my public persona, which is what I do for work. I have friends who share everything but I don’t feel comfortable doing that. That’s who I am and whatever you do in life has to work for you.”
Originally published in the December 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia