How Austrian Designer Carolin Holzhuber is Sculpting the Future of Footwear

They say you shouldn’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, but in Carolin Holzhuber’s case, that’s quite a tall orderOne of the most exciting shoe designers in the world right now, the Austrian-born Holzhuber has already collaborated with the acclaimed Iris van Herpen, counts the likes of Daphne Guinness and Erykah Badu among her customers and has seen her work enter the permanent fashion collection of the Museum of Scotland.

Yet despite her passion for fashion, Holzhuber more or less stumbled into footwear. “I would draw fashion sketches in my free time, but they were always barefoot, I hadn’t even considered designing shoes,” she reminisces about her beginnings. It wasn’t until she got her bachelor’s at Vienna’s Modeschule Hetzendorf in cooperation with the University of Arts and Industrial Design Linz that her sartorial horizons expanded. “The degree program consists of four workshops,” she tells us, “dressmaking, knitwear, millinery and shoe design. I fell in love with leather-working and was fascinated with 2D sketches becoming 3D objects. There’s endless potential to create!” Although she doesn’t rule out a return to clothing, she remains committed to shoes for the time being.

After completing her studies with a bachelor’s degree, Holzhuber relocated to London where she interned for two shoe labels and learned more about the business side of things before getting her master’s at the London College of Fashion. “The first time I came here, I was able to go to London Fashion Week with a photographer and instantly knew that this was where I belonged,” she says of her new home. “The whole system here is a lot more fast-paced, you meet so many more people, which is really helpful in establishing your brand.” But even though Holzhuber enjoys the benefits the UK has to offer, she still splits her time evenly between London and Vienna. “I always think of Vienna as my roots and London as the trunk from which my branches grow out into the rest of the world, with my shoes being the fruits of my labor.”

(C) Francesco Zinno

Waste Not, Want Not

Even though the shoe market is increasingly saturated, Holzhuber’s designs stand out as wearable art, sculptures for your feet that don’t go unnoticed, not even in a fashion-forward city like London. Holzhuber’s approach is inherently sustainable and sets a positive example for an industry bent on overproducing: She makes a single sample of each model and produces more only upon request, never discontinuing designs from previous collections. For inspiration, she looks to art, culture, medicine and politics – but never other shoe designers. “I don’t want my work to be influenced by others. I’d much rather it reflect the state of the world we currently live in,” she shares. Her choice to disregard trends was a conscious one from the start. “I always intend for my designs to be timeless or ahead of the times, I don’t see the point in making something that will be discarded in just a few months or years.”

As for the future, Holzhuber hopes that COVID-19 will force the industry to make some overdue changes. “I hope it all slows down; no one wants to consume, consume, consume anymore – where is that supposed to go? I’ve never believed in mass production, and post-corona, the world will hopefully follow suit.” Furthermore, she would like to see more young designers finally get their due. Especially in Austria, she says, it’s incredibly difficult to get noticed when you’re starting out. “I got some coverage by the Austrian press, but it was to little avail. It wasn’t until I became successful abroad that people really started paying attention.”

Despite underwhelming interest from the general public, Holzhuber sees a lot of potential in Austria’s fashion industry, extending praise for Vienna’s excellent fashion schools, where students learn to approach their field in a very conceptional manner. However, what comes next could need some improvement, she argues, as there’s little visibility for all the talent. “I like to call the Austrian fashion scene a sleeping groundhog I desperately want to wake,” she quips. “There’s so much potential, but it’s struggling to get out into the world.” Some of her favorite Austrian designers are Helmut Lang (“of course!”) and ’60s icon Rudi Gernreich, but she’s also a big admirer of young contemporary talents Christoph Rumpf and Mark Baigent. “They’re both so good at what they do, and they follow their visions with such precision.”

Going forward, Holzhuber wants to focus on collaborations in the field of haute couture and growing her business. “There’s so much more to create, and I hope to open people’s eyes to all the possibilities in fashion; because at the end of the day, we’re all part of the fashion world,” she says.

At the moment, she can’t reveal too much about all the irons she has in the fire, but expect to see a lot more of her incomparable shoes on and off the runway very soon.

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