NEOUS on Functional Design and Purity of Form
Today we speak with Vanissa Antonious, Founder & Creative Director of London-based footwear brand, NEOUS. Since the label’s conception in 2017, it has steadily chiselled away at establishing a modern vision for women’s footwear: crafted by skilled artisans in Italy, inspired by timeless works of art and not requiring mighty social occasions to be purchased. In each pair of NEOUS shoes, women will appreciate a clear uninterrupted thought, sculpted and fluid, uplifting its wearer throughout the day.
Advance Copy: Hi Vanissa! I’d like to start at the beginning, can you re-trace the roots of your creativity, from your upbringing in Sydney to career in London?
Vanissa Antonious: I’m not sure where my creativity came from exactly, my dad is an accountant and my mum studied engineering, so it’s very different to what I got myself into. I studied design & technology in high school in Sydney and chose to specialise in textiles and fashion, something I was always interested in. My plan was to go to a fashion school in Sydney, but I actually didn’t get into it and instead studied Art History & Theory for 3 years. I loved the conceptual side behind art as well as the visual side, I was particularly drawn towards mid-century, 1940s through to 1960s.
After graduating and interning at an auction house I decided to enrol on a short fashion course, then I secured an internship at Harpers Bazaar in Sydney and stayed for about 5 years. At first, I was a Fashion Assistant helping out on all the shoots, then I started editing shopping pages. What I felt from early on was that I was a good editor and I could pick a good quality product. I don’t know where this ability came from, but the more time you spend looking at products the more this skill develops and refines over time. Moving to England, I continued working for Harpers Bazaar in London as Market Editor, by this point I was very selective about what I liked and what I didn’t like and that’s what led me to launch NEOUS, I wanted to create something that didn’t exist.
“I wanted to create something that didn’t exist.”
AC: How did you combine your background in art history with editorial experience at NEOUS?
Vanissa: I’ve always been a minimalist at heart and liked clean lines, I don’t like design for design’s sake – products should be seamless, fluid and have longevity, I don’t like adding extra details that are not needed. On our footwear, I try to get as little stitching as possible so the only stitching that is ever there is there for functional reasons. For me, this is a way of creating harmony in a product, so it resonates with you because it is beautiful and touching – like an object, rather than a piece of fashion. What drives me to create is that fluidity and purity of form, I think that many associate beauty with a kind of balance and harmony.
AC: Perhaps it is also intrinsic to our primal appreciation of beauty in nature, which represents this kind of harmony that’s not always linear but fluid.
Vanissa: Yes it is very much like nature, like looking at a mountain range or an endless horizon, it’s beautiful yet simple but with so much depth and texture. I think it’s almost a seventh sense that gives you an emotional reaction towards something by accessing your memory bank, it can be nostalgia or a connection to your experiences. It’s the connection between your vision, a smell or a sound, a sense that has an impact on you emotionally.
AC: How does colour play into your exploration of designing minimalism and form? How do you personally relate to colour and translate this to the custom palette of materials created for each collection?
Vanissa: I wish I could put it into words, I think it’s an emotional feeling that you get when seeing a colour that resonates with you, it’s something I’m very particular about. I like Rothko, and I think a lot of people think that Rothko is not the greatest artist in the world, but then again a lot of people really love his work. And for me it comes down to how the colours are used, they have an emotional impact on the viewer. A lot of the colour choices I make for the brand are also for practical reasons; I consider how versatile it is, if it’s easy to wear, how easy it is to style, these things play a large role in my colour selection. Then it’s about finding the perfect tone and shade of a colour that speaks to someone and will make them love it.
“Products should be seamless, fluid and have longevity.”
AC: Did you notice a change in your creative vision when moving from Sydney to London?
Vanissa: I would say my aesthetic has stayed consistent throughout most of my life; I’ve always liked clean lines and minimalism but with a point of difference, that’s when I find something intriguing or unique. But I would say that moving to Europe has changed my way of thinking about design, different functional things that come into play. For example, relocating to London made me re-evaluate products from a practical perspective, thinking about what shoes women want to walk in or to take the Tube in, whereas in Sydney women would drive and wear high heels.
In the last 5 or so years of living in Europe, I’ve also developed a greater respect for craftsmanship and unique artisanal skills that are here. At the moment we are exploring a lot of hand-weaving, that’s not something I ever thought I would gravitate towards or be interested in, but there is a huge sense of appreciation that I’ve found for it. Now I am looking for new ways to incorporate this with NEOUS designs, the balancing of clean aesthetic with a hand made texture can give a new and modern take on footwear, which may not exist out there. I think it’s also about the duality which is referenced a lot in NEOUS, like our wood and Perspex heels, the two opposites coming together, it’s a similar idea of combining modern clean lines with organic and hand made elements. At the beginning I often experimented with contrasting colours, it’s taken me a while to realise but I think contrast is possibly the consistent thread in my work.
“I’ve developed a greater respect for craftsmanship and unique artisanal skills.”
AC: Turning from design to running the brand, could you talk us through some past experiences that may have impacted how you are growing NEOUS?
Vanissa: I think I was lucky throughout my career, fashion has a bad name in some contexts and I think it’s made out to be an inhumane kind of industry but all my bosses were lovely, they mentored me and taught me a great deal. I’ve had great people around me and a lot of my best friends are people I used to work with. So, I have a positive vision of what work should be like, you get the best out of people when you treat them with respect and care about their growth, I apply the same mentality to NEOUS.
“You get the best out of people when you treat them with respect and care about their growth.”
AC: How do you look after your own well being when running a young independent company?
Vanissa: I think I was underestimating what I was getting myself into when I started NEOUS. I didn’t understand the amount of responsibility that it would take to start a company and to take care of future employees. Essentially, what happens is that the brand is like a family and you start putting everyone before yourself, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
In terms of self-care, I’ve gone through phases where there have been high-stress levels and it felt very overwhelming and other times when you seem to just cruise through a stressful situation freely. I’ve incorporated different coping mechanisms at different times, a combination of meditation and sport. In the beginning, when it felt more nerve-racking, I would feel anxious every morning and that’s when I started meditating which has helped a great deal, just 10 – 15 minutes when I wake or on a flight. As for exercise, even 20 minutes helps to clear your head and get rid off adrenaline. Those are the things that I do for myself and by myself. When it’s very busy it becomes harder to remind yourself that if you exercise or meditate you will only feel better and more productive, but how do you convince yourself of that at a time of high stress?
“I’ve incorporated different coping mechanisms at different times, a combination of meditation and sport.”
Also, because I’ve never directly worked for another brand I don’t have anything to compare this experience with, so the only other way I have is to talk to people in the industry. Sharing my struggles with others who’ve been through similar experiences is one of the biggest points of relief. It’s normal to think that something is only happening to you, but these things happen to everyone and by talking you realise that it’s not the end of the world, you get over it and don’t bottle things up inside.
AC: Thank you so much for your time today Vanissa, I look forward to following NEOUS on its journey.