Isa Tapia always knew she would end up in a creative field. Having attended art schools her whole life, her occupation of choice ranged from a painter or a sculptor before settling on shoe designer. Parsons-educated, Tapia went to Oscar de la Renta and was fortunate to learn the art of elegance from Oscar himself. When she decided to launch her own business, nearly five years ago, Tapia applied much of what she had learned working at Marc Jacobs and from Oscar. She channeled this experience into a distinctive line of playful and sophisticated shoes. Tapia’s shoes are carried at Saks Fifth Avenue, Lane Crawford, and Bergdorf Goodman.
Did you always know you wanted to be a shoe designer? Was there ever a different path for you?
I always knew I wanted to be a designer, but I discovered the art of shoemaking at my first job. I went to art schools all my life so my path was set in the creative field at an early age. First I wanted to be an artist, then a painter/sculptor but eventually I discovered fashion, which led me to shoes. I fell in love with the idea of making wearable art – for the feet!
How did you find your way to Parsons?
When I was looking at design schools, I was choosing between Parsons and Central St. Martins. Since Parsons is in NYC, it was a better choice at the time and it’s also known to be a top school. I didn’t want anything but the best.
Many designers, including yourself, have had the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest: Oscar de la Renta. What did you learn specifically that has influenced your brand to this day?
I learned so much from working with Oscar. He was a true gentleman. He loved women. He worked the old school way, draping fabrics on the house model and was hands on with everyone from the embroidery suppliers to the sample room. His kindness and sense of color, his elegance, will always influence me. He’s timeless.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Fun, flirty, sexy with a bit of an uptown sensibility, and a pop of color!
Since you’ve been designing, what have been the major shifts in the shoe sphere?
Lifestyle, definitely. When I first started, if you were designing stilettos, you didn’t offer sneakers. But I wear all types of shoes from flip flops to sneakers to heels. So my line reflects the many facets in my life.
How have you adapted?
It’s been a constant evolution. I feel like I am adapting everyday and the one of the keys to my business growing is to be able to adapt.
Do you consider yourself a designer cognizant of trends?
Yes, I watch what is happening around me. With social media, I can see what women are wearing. But I don’t change my aesthetic. I just incorporate my aesthetic to the trends. Cherry sneakers anyone?
Can you describe the Isa Tapia customer? What else is she wearing?
She’s having fun and accomplishing her dreams. She’s out and about in the world, doing her own thing. She has a boldness about her and wears great designer pieces, while pairing them with high end street brands with a mix of vintage.
Since launching in 2011, what have been the most significant moments for your brand?
Wow, every week we have one of those moments. From getting the collection into Saks Fifth Avenue and launching in Lane Crawford to having Maria Sharapova wear my shoes, those are just some of the great moments as the brand builds.
As a shoe designer should, I’ve heard you have quite the collection. How many pairs of shoes do you own? Most coveted pairs?
At least 500 pairs and counting. I’ve been collecting for 10 years now. One of my most coveted pair would be the first pair of shoes I designed for my line, the Cameron heel. It was my first big seller too! Besides that, I also treasure this pair of couture Balmain shoes from when I was working with Oscar in the couture house in Paris.
Have you collaborated with any designers for runway or retail? Who would you choose to work with?
I have not collaborated with anyone yet but looking forward to doing that soon!
What five pairs of shoes does every woman need in her wardrobe?
A pair of ballet flats, a great kitten heel, an evening flashy sandal, a pair of slip on sneakers, and a fabulous pair of statement shoes that make an outfit of their own.