UK-based designer Theresa Ebagua is the founder of luxury footwear brand, Chelsea Paris. Nigerian-born Ebagua studied footwear at the prestigious ARS Sutoria in Milan where she honed her technical skills, worked alongside artisan shoemakers and was exposed to traditional shoe-making techniques. In 2008, Ebagua launched Chelsea Paris (named after her two daughters), which launched its Resort collection at Barneys New York just last month.
You have an interesting background – what made you decide to pursue footwear design?
My lifelong passion is for shoes. I have childhood memories of taking shoes to the cobbler in hopes of achieving a better design and fit. However, I did not think I could make a career out of my passion, so I worked successfully for a decade in technology. All along, I still struggled to find the right shoes, so I made the decision to follow my dreams and risk it all — here I am and I couldn’t be happier.
When did you move to London?
I started the company in Los Angeles but moved back two years ago to find my creative self and be closer to my manufacturing.
Why did you choose Milan for studying design instead of Central St. Martins or another London school?
I choose to attend ARS Sutoria because it is a footwear focused institute — I felt it was important to be close to the industry and near where I could ultimately produce my collection.
How do you incorporate Nigerian influences into your designs?
My African heritage informs my brand as a whole, especially when it comes to colors and textures. Each season I create our signature ‘African print’ with a modern twist. AW13 and SS14 saw me exploring prints from West Africa, specifically Nigeria. For AW14/15, I am using an Eastern African motif from Kenya. It’s a Kenyan traditional motif that is done on wax and also woven as jewelry. Really excited about the outcome!
How would you describe your brand? Are your shoes for occasions only or do you hope women will incorporate them into their everyday look?
I hope women will incorporate Chelsea Paris into their everyday look. It’s a lifestyle brand that is very personal and intimate; a balance of femininity, modernity and tradition. I am very passionate about shoes and I want my customers to feel what I feel in my shoes — a strong sense of self and style, empowerment and sensuality for everyday and occasion wear.
You just launched your Resort collection with Barneys – how does it feel to have their retail support?
Barneys was one of my favorite retail destinations when I was living in the US, so to be stocked there is a dream come true! The support is confirmation that the brand offers something truly unique and I am excited about developing a strong relationship.
Which styles are they carrying?
Barneys has stocked a diverse range of shoes from evening sandals such as the Sosa, to transferable, edgy, day-to-night sandals such as the Nkoyo. They are also carrying a selection of flats and pumps.
Have you received any support from the British Fashion Council?
I have been working with the BFC since I moved back to London — they offer great advice and guidelines for starting and growing the business. We showed at London Fashion Week for the first time last season for our SS14 collection — the response was amazing! We are previewing again at London Fashion Week for the upcoming AW14/15 collection.
Is there a secret to shoe production living in the UK? You are amongst a group of highly successful emerging shoe designers such as Nicholas Kirkwood and Charlotte Olympia — is there a common reason for everyone’s success?
No secret really — the UK is very eclectic and highly creative in their fashion sense. London is one of the fashion capitals of the world and inspiration strikes daily. However, with production being based in Italy, you have to be flexible and keep a close eye on all aspects of the business, especially those that aren’t in the same country!
Are shoes the ultimate accessories for you? What are your most coveted pairs in your collection?
Of course they are! I always build my outfits from the shoe up! I don’t play favorites, however, when I find myself in a rush, the Nkoyo sandal in nude always finds its way onto my feet. Its elegance and versatility make it my ultimate day shoe. The Sosa in gold is my dancing shoe — its 1920s era elegance and sensuality certainly gets you noticed.