For those not afraid to stand out...
“I would sum up my design aesthetic as footwear for people of another world,” designer Meta Cunder tells me. Her brand, Varmint, can only be described as unconventional: her statement pieces take inspiration from living creatures and include a series of eyes, tongues, horns and teeth. “I wanted my shoes to exist in that in-between space, is it a shoe, is it an animal, is it a sculpture,” she adds.
More than just shoes, her work is a creative outlet aimed at anyone willing to stand out. Originally from Slovenia, Meta moved to London when she was only 18 and has been creating her unique footwear ever since. Winner of the Cordwainers National Student of the Year, we caught up with the footwear designer to discuss her inspiration, future projects and the evolution of her brand.
How did you get started as a shoe designer?
Well, at first, I started as a shoe-lover, buying unique and often quite high shoes off the internet was not something anyone I knew did – I think buying a pair of New Rock boots in Camden, that cost approximately the same as my first car, made me realise that this was not an ordinary occurrence. As for coming to shoe design in particular – I didn’t even know a course like this existed, I applied to fashion and fine art courses at first, then I decided to google ‘shoe design university’ almost as a joke – I was surprised to find the BA Cordwainers Footwear course in London.
You’re from Slovenia but studied in London. What was your experience like in the UK?
I’ve been visiting London on and off since I was 16. At first my friends were the main reason why I didn’t feel out of place in a foreign country. However, it didn’t take long after I moved out on my own, for me to fall in love with London. The freedom to wear 4-inch Buffalo platforms on the tube and glue crystals to my face without attracting any weird stares was shocking to me. But it was also amazingly refreshing. I could express myself, wear the clothes and especially the shoes I really wanted. I will say however, getting used to the scale of the UK took a bit longer. Probably due to the fact London alone has 4 times the population of Slovenia.
What’s unique about your brand?
There are two things that separate Varmint from other shoe brands on the market. Firstly, its unique design aesthetic. Varmint creates shoes that are like living creatures. The ‘statement-piece’ high-heels and platforms have eyes, mouths, teeth, tongues, horns… These elements are presented realistically and include moving parts. I loved it when I heard I was being referred to as the ‘blinking boot lady’ by the LCF staff. Secondly, I would like my brand to be inclusive of all genders. I have size 8 feet myself and often struggle to find women’s shoes in a size that would fit me. With the growing acceptance for free gender expression and more people being open to experiment with their appearance – especially in London, I feel it’s important to offer my shoes both in women’s and men’s sizes. This comes at a price of course – but smaller stock sizes and the ability of made-to order makes it possible.
Talk us through your latest collection. What was the inspiration behind it?
I would say the main source of inspiration came from the word ‘creature’ – both the current meaning of the word and the old Latin meaning of bringing something into being – making it alive. This lead me down the path of exploring different fantastical creatures that were interesting to me such as cyclopes, Cerberus and chimeras from Greek mythology. Chimera stuck with me as a monster with many faces – I wanted my shoes to exist in that in-between space, is it a shoe, is it an animal, is it a sculpture… I also looked at different animals, particularly carnivores for their various teeth shapes, and birds for their unique and sometimes spiky tongues!
What was the mood board for it?
I based my mood board around my muse and model Rodent. They are a London-based non-binary drag performer who helped me understand the world of London drag and the non-binary community. In an interview we had, they described themselves as an ‘androgynous feral witch’. That aligned well with my brand aesthetic. They continued to be a part of the project and were my model for the final photoshoot. As a thank you, I am gifting them the pair of blinking thigh high boots (Leviathan), that were made to their measurements during the duration of the project.
What is the best pair of shoes you have ever designed?
I always feel that the best shoes I’ve ever designed are yet to come – this drives me to want to do and create more. When people say “I’m excited to see what you do next”, I always reply: “Me too!”, they usually laugh, but it is something that genuinely excites me and keeps me going. Though my current favourite one just might be Chimera.
What inspires you?
I don’t think I can pinpoint the ‘source’ of my inspiration. If we are talking about my career … I think I just love shoes.
As far as life goes, I would like to refer to my favourite quote: “I want to be everything I am capable of becoming” (K. Mansfield).
What’s next for you now that you’ve graduated?
I’m starting a design internship with Nicholas Kirkwood in September. Back in my 2ndyear of university I won a design competition with them, and they have been kind enough to adapt to my circumstances and moved the internship two years ahead to allow me to take part. I also really want to push Varmint as an actual brand. The contacts I made through winning the Cordwainers National Student of the Year Award will be priceless in this endeavour. I am looking forward to evolving Varmint and it’s design aesthetic as well as setting up production.
Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on at the moment?
I have been collaborating with my best friend and now business partner, UAL alumni womenswear designer Ben Mak for the past three years. He has just finished working on outfits for the Spice Girls World Tour as well as designs for Britain’s Got Talent. We have really exciting TV, magazine and fashion debuts coming up… which of course I can’t disclose… (I wish I could!) – but my lips have to be sealed. As a duo we also work a lot with fabulous drag queens as well as age diverse models 71 is the new 21! Who is even counting?!
My background as an orthopedic shoemaker enables me to create new products, combining two niche markets: drag queens and the mature demographic…. This magically inspired me to merge both markets to then produce comfortable eccentric designs! One of them – the Devil’s Friends, recently got requested by Jessie J for her show in China. Like my graduation “rhino mules” with teeth they are striking yet surprisingly comfy – what’s not to love!
How do you see your brand evolving in the future?
I would definitely love to explore my subject matter more in depth – in regards to other mythological creatures as well as different types of animals. I am fascinated by ocean creatures, since their habitat is one of the most underexplored areas on earth. Additionally, I would like to push the boundaries of functional, yet stunning footwear including new silhouettes and unexpected shapes. I intend to achieve this using new technologies such as 3D printing that has really taken off since my 1styear at college – virtual reality and integrated technology are also not far off. I’ve recently had a conversation with one of the LCF technicians about making my blinking eyes mechanically operated and connected to motion sensors… There are so many avenues to explore, I don’t think I can/want to focus on just one – but that’s the fun of it!
Any final words?
I’d just like to thank everyone that has helped me get to this point in my life so far. My wonderful parents and family that have supported me from thousands of kilometres away, my amazing friends that I’ve made over the years that have pushed me to better myself and of course my teachers and technicians at LCF that have helped bring my vision to life. I hope my future projects will be as loved as the love I put into creating each and every single one of them.
25 July 2019