Home >Mint-lounge >Payal Kothari | ‘We’re like a concierge of shoemaking’

Stefano Canali, the business head of luxury Italian suit-maker Canali, once mentioned at the store opening of his brand in New Delhi that India has the advantage of a tailor at every street corner. He did not see them as competition, appreciating the tradition. Bespoke tailoring is a matter of luxury in most countries, while India overlooks its tailors and designers.

But that’s not really true of shoemaking.

Designer Payal Kothari, 34, of Mumbai-based shoe studio Veruschka spotted the gap and has been creating customized shoes since 2005.

Their collection for Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) Summer/Resort 2012, called Totems of African Tribes, created a stir on the ramps. High-collared peep-toes with wooden carved heels and sandals in zebra prints with flame-orange tassels set the pace for Veruschka.

A shoe sample from Payal Kothari’s collection at Veruschka

Kothari’s love affair with shoes goes back to her childhood, but she studied accessory design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York, in 2002, with classes in shoe design. She then apprenticed for a year with Nina Shoes, a Fifth Avenue studio that supplies to Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue among others. “But I would constantly be reminded that customized, high-quality shoes are lacking in India," says Kothari.

She returned to Mumbai in 2005 and set up Veruschka, that retails through through design houses like Aza, Amara, Creo and Evoluzione, selling internationally in Italy, Dubai and the Philippines.

We spoke to Kothari, the creative mind behind Veruschka, about the art of shoemaking and why it’s important to put comfort into 6-inch pumps. Edited excerpts:

Shoes are every woman’s weakness. But what made you take them up as a career?

I remember a family trip to Italy when I was 14 years old. I spent all the money given to me only on shoes. I got nothing else back from that holiday. That must say something about me.

In our country, we can get clothes that are tailor-made and designer. You can get exactly what you want and have it fitted to the centimetre. But that’s not the case with shoes. I could never find shoes that I really liked, so I thought there was a market gap. When I was working in New York, I took up classes in shoe designing at FIT and I loved it. So I decided to do it full time.

What is the thought behind your brand Veruschka?

There are two centres of shoemaking in the world—China has mastered the art of factory-made shoes in every possible, imaginable design and Italy is about the craftsmanship. The kind of leather they use, the cuts, the detailing...everything is given so much attention. We share with Italy the tradition of crafts being handed down generation after generation. So India has the best of both worlds—great embroidery and availability of skilled craftsmen—and that’s what I’m trying to capitalize on.

Give us an idea of a shoemaking studio.

The first technical thing I did when I started Veruschka was introduce good quality “lasts" into my factory. A “last" is what traditionally shoemakers use as the skeleton of the shoe, a proportionate shape on to which the shoes are made. If the “last" is not proper, the shoe won’t come out right. Next comes the construction. I went to Florence in 2010 to study how to make high-heeled, comfortable shoes. If a company can make pumps that are comfortable, it implies they’ve arrived. So that’s what we wanted to achieve. Every time I learn a new skill, I sit with my craftsmen and teach them how to cut patterns correctly, how to stitch a shoe, what materials to use inside a shoe to add comfort. Local craftsmen in India are good, they just don’t have access to information to keep learning continuously.

How well do buyers take to customized shoemaking?

We do a shoe collection every season—spring, summer, autumn and winter—but other than that, people sometimes have a specific shoe design in mind but can’t find it in the market. So we customize it for them. For instance, recently someone came to me asking for a particular design in silver. We sat and decided on the material, the height, sole, heel…everything. It was for her wedding. We created a flower made with net and spray-painted it. We’re like a concierge of shoemaking.

You’re headed to Micam in September. Tell us what the collection is going to be about.

For Micam, the collection is for Spring-Summer 2013. We’re planning to use a lot of local fabrics and embroidery, since that’s what India is about.

What is the hot new shoe according to you?

I think plastics are really in. Flat slip-ons and sandals in bright neon colours are a must-have and printed wedges are hot right now.

Available at

Prices, except for customized shoes, are 2,800-9,800.

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