The world’s most sought-after shoe designer is expanding her universe, facing growing pains head on, and entering her power along the way.
In the lounge of Paris’s new Bulgari Hotel, Amina Muaddi is sitting comfortably, having arrived in advance of this interview. Her hair is swept off her face in a high ponytail, revealing immaculate skin. Her almond eyes are soulful and her expression is tender. She looks exactly as she does in the pictures she posts to her 1.1 million followers, should anyone wonder otherwise.
On her wrist is a diamond-encrusted vintage Bulgari gold watch. Her T-shirt features a stream of questions like, “Do penguins have knees?” Since our last meeting for Vogue Arabia three years ago, Muaddi appears less on guard – and rightly so. Her relationship with the magazine precedes its launch issue, for which she was the subject of a style feature, showcasing her shoes not yet in stores but already on the feet of some of the world’s most elusive celebrities. Now, five years later, Muaddi is on the cover, cementing her status as the epitome of what many women in the region and the world aspire to be – beautiful, embodying the zeitgeist, creative, financially independent, and, as CEO and full owner of her company, a woman entirely in control.
“It’s becoming bigger and bigger,” Muaddi affirms of the rapid-fire growth of her eponymous company, which launched in August 2018 with 45 pairs of flared-heel stilettos. There has since been a collaboration with A$AP Rocky’s creative agency, Awge, marking the rapper’s first foray into women’s shoes; being director of Rihanna’s Fenty Footwear; a ready-to-wear line and catsuit with built-in heels with Wolford; the launch of accessories including box bags for evening and a jewelry collection; and a special colorway on the Julia sandal made with Swarovski. “I see it more like a universe,” Muaddi says of her brand, matter-of-factly.
In the mere three-and-a-half years since her line launched, Muaddi’s universe has proven to be the place women want to be. On social media, women fawn over her designs. One client in Asia created a Christmas tree with only Amina Muaddi shoes as decorations – an expensive feat, considering the average price for a pair hovers around €800.
On e-commerce sites like Farfetch or Matchesfashion, key styles like the transparent “glass” shoe that every bride wants to marry in are likely sold out. They retail for more than €2,000 – a grand higher than the Manolo Blahnik Hangisi pumps Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw famously got married in. The Amina Muaddi clients are high fashion conscious and invest in precious glamour and the dream of what can follow. “They are shoes for fierce, strong, feminine women who are citizens of the world. I want them to look and feel great when they wear the shoes; the comfort is an added quality,” comments their designer. The brand expansion didn’t come without its learning curves and Muaddi admits that there have been growing pains. “Being independent, not belonging to a group and not having business partners makes things more complicated,” she says. “The growth is so fast, even though I kept the development of the brand slow, but still, there are things you can’t control. But everyone is committed to the project.” The employees she started out with have all stayed the course. Paloma, Muaddi’s press officer, looks like she would take a bullet for her boss. When the going gets tough, Muaddi seeks higher counsel from her agent and mentor Massimo Bonini, who has been with her since 2013, and her attorney – “a very wise woman” – who consults for her brand.
“And I have a lot of friends who work in the industry,” Muaddi adds. “I listen to everyone. I always think it’s important to be open to other perspectives. But then when I make decisions, I follow my instinct. I like to hear people’s opinions, whether it’s experienced people or young people, because they have a fresher approach. Ultimately, I go with what I think is right.” “As someone who has had the privilege of knowing and collaborating closely with Amina, I’ve seen firsthand the unique understanding she has of the needs and wants of a woman,” says Jahleel Weaver Rihanna’s stylist and creative director. The two met in 2018 ahead of being invited to create the shoes for Rihanna’s Fenty line. The superstar singer is often photographed wearing Amina Muaddi shoes, as are Hailey Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, FKA Twigs, Bruna Marquezine, Natalia Vodianova, Imaan Hammam, and Paloma Elsesser. “Amina’s extensive knowledge and expertise in her field has allowed her to succeed in all her creative endeavors, with every new project showcasing the extent of her creative mind,” continues Weaver. “She has proven herself a pioneer in her industry during this new age as a woman whose talent and abilities know no bounds.”
With the supersonic expansion of her business, Muaddi is focused on structuring it and, just maybe, not working so hard all the time. “Sometimes I feel tired as well,” the designer admits. “I’m tired but I’m not panicking. I’m happy that I get to do what I love and what is missing, I will work to fix it.” Muaddi is more aware of seizing the present moment since the loss of her close friend Virgil Abloh. Two weeks prior to his shock passing, the former Louis Vuitton Man creative director and Off-White designer presented Muaddi with the entrepreneur of the year award in Doha on behalf of Fashion Trust Arabia. “This evening I want to give an entrepreneur award to a woman who does our industry wonders,” he started. “She’s led by her excellence in creativity, her personality and perseverance. I met her many moons ago in many different scenes in Milan or in Paris, when we were both just trying to get our brands to be at a place where they could receive an award or present an award like this. I could go on and on but I’m very sure this room is familiar with this woman’s work,” he said of his friend. At the time of his passing, the two had begun working on an undisclosed collaboration. “I did not know he was dying,” she says. “I discovered the news on Instagram – it was the worst to see that on Instagram. I saw the photo and thought, this is not a photo he would post. Then I read the caption. I just started crying. I was in the middle of the street in London and a girl stopped to ask me if I was OK. I lifted my eyes and saw she was carrying an Off-White bag. I sat in shock for days. I had texted him just the day before. He was happy until the end. Until the very last day he was such a strong spirit. I’m in awe and admiration for how he handled his journey.”
A year and a half prior, Muaddi had already suffered a tremendous loss when her stepfather, who raised her, died from cancer. “He also didn’t tell anyone he was sick. He didn’t tell his family, not even his mother,” she recalls. “A strong man who doesn’t want to be seen in a different way, who doesn’t want to be seen with pity.” Muaddi continues to work through her grief. “Dealing with these losses, you feel an anger that you must deal with while trying to have a positive approach. It’s made me more spiritual, which helped me connect with people who are gone.” The designer shares that she was raised with multiple religions: her father is Muslim and her mother is Christian. “I don’t believe in only one religion; I believe in God,” she asserts. “God tests you for a reason; there is a lesson in there. That’s my outlook on life. I’m a Gemini. I go from zero to a hundred very quickly, but I don’t hold grudges. I’m fiery and passionate. What hurts me is lack of loyalty and being lied to. I can accept any truth, any day, over a lie. I’ve surrounded myself with people who genuinely love me and that’s happiness.”
Muaddi, having finished her spaghetti, orders an espresso, something of a cultural trace from her years living in Milan as a design student. She’ll soon head to the office and that evening, she will attend the Paris Saint-Germain versus Real Madrid football game, for a rare night out. “I live and breathe my work, but tonight, there’s a big football game, it should be fun,” she smiles. Her Instagram stories will reveal field level seats as the only insight into her personal life; not who she’s with, or if there is anyone she is braving the rain to spend time with. Is Amina Muaddi living the dream? You can bet on it. And to keep it that way, she’ll keep it to herself.
Originally published in the March 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Amine Jreissati
Junior fashion editor: Mohammad Hazem Rezq
Hair: Ilham Mestour
Makeup: Naima Bremer
Nails: Jill Downie at La Lodge
Digital tech: James Naylor
Set design: Lauren Haslam
Creative producer: Laura Prior
Photography assistants: Tom Hill, Fiel Concoles
Style assistants: Joyce Rreige, Nadin Karkoukli
Hair assistant: Aguera Deborah
Makeup assistant: Thirza King
Set design assistant: Jun Juyo
Special thanks: SLS Dubai Hotel & Residences, St Regis Downtown, Jones The Grocer, Salata, Fine Blooms