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My Path from Art to Footwear Design (and all the places in between)

by Adria Mirabelli


As far back as I can remember I have always had an interest in material culture. I grew up being raised in part by my Italian grandparents who immigrated to Canada in the late 1950’s from Calabria. Spending a lot of time in their home I was introduced to their unique and welcoming relationship to objects.

Of course, having left Italy for a better life in North America, they didn’t always own many things. Within their world every object was precious and treasured. Elaborate ceramic trinkets on display were given as much value and care as a reused tin or repurposed yogurt container sitting on a shelf (the later likely to be cradling scattered screws, dimes and buttons).


The upstairs living room would feature tufted couches and ornate pillows protected by plastic coverings. The house was free from a décor vision, it was instead an archive of objects chosen by intuition and with care. Objects that would be cherished regardless of material value. Objects that were in use, objects that were repaired and appreciated. Upon spending many years in this home I have carried this visual philosophy (probably mainly subconsciously!) through to my art and design work.


I attended a local art school for university and began the program studying drawing and painting. I spent the first few years of the four year program frustrated with the rectangular frame we were encouraged to work within as painters. I loved texture and always felt an impulse to touch interesting materials and understand how they were constructed. I started to explore the three dimensional world and after studying abroad in Paris at a joint art & fashion school I fell in love with textiles. I started following fashion news and learning about fashion history while also making lots of art and immersing myself in experimental drawing, textile dyeing and weaving.

I ended up switching programs to textiles and spent my last years of university focusing on learning as much as I could about them. During these years I worked/interned at a jewelry brand, an art gallery, a Canadian fashion magazine, and a luxury e-commerce website. I never felt hesitation in chasing an interest and I wanted to understand how all these facets of the industry worked (I also didn’t know what I wanted yet and needed to try things!). For nearly five years I worked as an in-store visual merchandiser for a number of different fashion and lifestyle companies. This work supported me financially and allowed me to maintain an art studio practice, make work, and participate in exhibitions and art residencies.


Working within retail spaces allowed me to interact with products and customers on a daily basis. I would spend time looking at, touching, organizing and merchandising fashion nearly every day and then directly go to work at my personal studio. At the time I was making large scale hand cut textile pieces mainly for exhibitions.


Around this time I realized that I wanted to have my work interact more deeply with people’s lives. I wanted to make things that could be a part of someone’s day and could potentially make it better through beauty and functionality. I loved the endless possibilities within shoe design to make interesting and beautiful objects. I also loved the fact that accessories and footwear are deeply linked into our experience of daily life. Those two concepts continue to inspire me endlessly! I believe that the best designed objects share these characteristics.


I started to study theories of footwear design independently and was lucky to find an amazing local teacher who taught me the foundations of handmade shoemaking. I fell head over heels (pun intended!) for footwear design which lead me to Italy to complete an MA in Shoe Design in Florence.


In the past I saw my “art brain” and my “design brain” as two separate entities co-existing. I now realize that both elements are one in the same, - they are impulses and trainings that merge into one. I feel that being open to new experiences and hyper-curious about the world have been my biggest creative drivers thus far. I plan to continue keeping curiosity and open-mindedness at the forefront while I explore the next steps in my creative career.


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