For some people, shoes are just shoes. Not so for the Theresa Ebagua, nor any of us here at Barneys for that matter.
The Nigerian-born, UK-raised designer has had a love affair with footwear since girlhood, and after several years of working successfully in the technology field, she mustered up the courage to explore her passion as a potential career. And aren’t we grateful. Her designs are simply exquisite—and comfortable to boot.
We caught up with Theresa to learn more about her new collection, Chelsea Paris.
Tell us about the name you’ve chosen for your collection: Chelsea Paris.
My daughters, Chelsea and Paris, are the inspiration behind the name Chelsea Paris. Chelsea is charismatic with a quirky sense of humor and has an intuitive sense of fashion. Paris is playful, energetic and has a knack for mixing and matching patterns. What I admire most about my daughters is their individuality and I wanted to capture their energy in my brand. The name is also a reminder that they can follow their dreams, as I have, and learn to be empowered women, with grace and integrity.
When did your love affair with footwear begin?
I have been fascinated and captivated by shoes for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, I fell in love with the details and shapes of shoes that I found scouring flea markets and vintage stores. However, I did not think I would have the courage to make a career out of my love, so I worked successfully in technology for a decade. Still, I could never find the shoe I was looking for, so I made the decision to follow my dreams and risk it all … and here I am, and I couldn’t be happier!
Designing shoes is an art form to me. It’s a way to let my inhibitions down and let my creations flow freely, from sketchpad to final product, concept to realization. I love seeing my ideas come to life and going on that artistic journey.
You spent some time working in Italy. Has anything you learned on the job about manufacturing influenced your approach to design?
Absolutely! Manufacturing and design come hand in hand when creating shoes that are both beautiful and wearable. However, at the start of the design process, I place no constrictions on myself and create freely. The knowledge that I have gained gives me an advantage when working with the artisans in Italy as I can push boundaries and still strike a balance between my inspirations and an achievable product.
What inspired the new Resort collection, and how can we see it in your designs?
My African heritage informs my brand as a whole, especially when it comes to colors and textures. I love the 1920s. I recently took a trip to Japan and I was intrigued by the intricacies of the Japanese culture and was particularly captivated by the Deco-era architecture and furniture. The result of this combination is a very personal and intimate collection, a balance of femininity, modernity and tradition.
The lines of the Nkoyo sandal are influenced by traditional Japanese furniture, and the polka dot texture plays to the quirky nature of the Harajuku girls. The Amor, Sosa and Nneka are influenced by the femininity of the 1920s—soft sensual lines echoing graceful movements. Oriental reds and yellows alongside exotic skins manifest energy throughout the collection. The exclusive Nneka in graphic black and white snakeskin pays homage to my heritage.
How do you want a woman to feel when she puts on a shoe of your creation?
I am extremely passionate about shoes and I believe a pair of shoe tells a story about a woman. I am my own customer, and I want my customers to feel what I feel in my shoes: a strong sense of self and style, empowerment and sensuality.
We hate to ask you to play favorites, but is there a standout pair from the new collection?
I don’t play favorites, however when I find myself in a rush, the nude Nkoyo always has a way of finding its way onto my feet. Its elegance and versatility make it my go-to shoe. I wear it with everything, from jeans to dresses with an unsurpassed comfort, lasting throughout the day. The Sosa in gold is my dancing shoe; its 1920s elegance and sensuality certainly gets you noticed. I like the emotion it invokes in me, and I know there will always be a compliment by the end of the night!
If you could have any figure throughout history—past or present—wear your shoes, who would it be?
I would have loved to see Josephine Baker wear my shoes. Her grace, beauty and free spirit are what I aspire to invoke with my designs. The Sosa would have been perfect for her!
NNEKA – black and white
NNEKA – yellow