My Interview with Dan Sullivan of Irregular Choice

The visionary talent behind the the niche brand Irregular Choice, Dan Sullivan, has decided to come to the forefront and design a collection of outlandish and otherworldly creations under his name. You are always getting a statement shoe when you shop at IC, but with this range and its exclusive nature you are purchasing particularly special footwear. 

By opting to only stock the collection at and in Irregular Choice stores (London, Brighton and Hong Kong) Dan hopes that it will be a way to reward the loyalty of his hardcore fans who will be the first and few that will know how to get hold of these rare masterpieces. 

To add further excitement, between now and February next year, brand new designs will be unleashed each month on a first come first serve basis, each with a limited quantity for each size. I’ve got my eyes of the hessian stacked heels, but I fear I will have a fight on my hands… perhaps involving Kat Von D!! 

Thanks to your parents you got to travel as a child on buying trips, taking in many cultures and fashion scenes. At the time did you appreciate how lucky you were?

I remember being amazed by the different cultures and experiences, but I have to admit that I did take the traveling for granted at the time. I remember how everyone else like my school used to react to the amazing opportunities I had, but at the time I never saw it. Visiting placed like Tokyo in the early 80’s was so much further away than it is now. 

You parents made footwear and you followed into the industry too. What is the allure of shoes for all of us do you think?

It is an item that you can really express yourself through, I believe a pair of shoes sums up the true you. Clothing can mask you and make you into something you may not want to be, but have to be. Such as having to wear a suit to work, but you can be more expressive with the shoes that you match with that suit, and its seen as acceptable to do so. 

I have had a lot of wonderful stories of people coming up to me and letting me know how the shoes I have done have allowed them to express themselves, and given them the confidence to portray their true self more. I don’t think you could find that in anything else.

You don¹t seem to be dictated too much by trends, you seem to maintain a style that is distinctly yours. How much do you take trends into account?

I believe you need to take the trends into account, but then it’s about putting the Irregular Choice spin on to it. If people are seeing a certain heel height or basic shape as the trend, as that is what fits in with their latest wardrobe purchase, then for me it is about taking that direction and then making it Irregular. 

You¹ve been inspired by everything from WWF to Fraggle Rock. Is anything out of bounds, or is that the point of the brand?

There would be very little that is out of bounds. I do love to shock, but I don’t like to shock in the cheap easy way of being coarse or vulgar, you are not going to start finding rude statements or footwear that would shock through vulgarity from me. I believe the shoes should always make you feel happy and bring a smile to your face. And as long as it does that, then there are no limits.

When I imagine your home, its intricate and colourful, a complete feast for the eyes. Would you say there is a correlation between your designs and your taste in other areas?

I love vintage, so my house is made up of a lot of old vintage pieces, especially from the 50’s through to the mid 80’s, so although it may not be a rainbow of colours, there are a lot interesting designs and unique features. However – this is all except for my 3 year old daughters room, which has a carousel horse in it, a real life Bambi, Irregular Choice wallpaper, and just a feast of childhood fun! 

I’m sure you are struck my idea’s at all times of day in all sorts of scenarios, but when sitting down and drawing them how do you work best? 

I usually lock myself away for a couple of weeks and get the collection done, I ask not to be interrupted by anyone, I put my music on and then draw up everything that had been floating around in my head for the past 6 months. I have to play happy music, there is no point me listening to depressing love songs when I am trying to create something as vibrant as Irregular Choice, I have to be in the mood that I want the shoes to portray, and the music and atmosphere needs to reflect that.

Has the jubilation and pride thanks to the Olympics impacted your work at all? 

I wouldn’t say it has impacted my work, but it has impacted my life. I don’t think many 

British people couldn’t have been affected in some positive way or another. I was very proud to be British, and I think it summed up the mentality of eccentricity, and the true spirit that has held us strong as a nation for so long.

There are so many brands trying to find their place on the market these days. How important is having a position on the likes of Carnaby Street to your continued success?

It was important for us to show people what the brand was truly about. And having our own store allowed me to do that. Before having CS we were introduced to the market by which ever retailer had brought the product and how they wanted to market us. Only by having our own store could I truly show the ethos and direction of the brand. It made all the difference for Irregular Choice, and showed that it was more than shoes, and that it was about having fun and enjoying everything outside of the norm.That is why I make sure that I design every store, I make sure that the stores are playing the correct music, and that the whole experience is what the brand is about.

You¹ve spoken of your admiration of David Bowie. Do you think there are enough risk takers and trailblazers in music at the moment, in terms of their style and fashion choices. Are there any movements that are particularly inspiring you in 2012?

I would say that there is very little creativity in most industries, I am hoping that we will see a backlash to this at some point, but presently everything is dominated so much by large high street industries, be it music, fashion or anything else, that as soon as something new comes along it is quickly regurgitated into a high street version.

The only way Irregular Choice has been able to keep ahead of them is by making sure that any copies can’t be done cheaper, and that we keep moving. It only helps to an extent, and there are companies out there who try to take our style and make it theirs, but hopefully these days we are established enough that people know that they want the original.

Do you have a muse – a person you think of when you design or who you¹d love to see wearing your designs? (aside from David Bowie)

There isn’t really. Going back to your previous question, and when I design I surround myself by peoples creativity that I feel have broken the barriers of their time, be it Bowie, The Who, Lennon, etc.. And try to take strength that being creative and different can work. I guess I use them as my muses, as it is always scary being creative and then putting it out there for others to judge. It takes confidence which isn’t always there, and you need to take strength from others that have achieved it in the past and hope for a little of that to rub off on you. 

Restrictions on Mens footwear designs has probably reduced in the last few years – more feminine influences are acceptable. What have you got in mind for the next.. how far will you push it?

The IC mens has always been more extreme then you find elsewhere. We were doing flower embroideries and flower fabrics back in 2004 when the mens was first launched. I am working on a new line of mens for SS13 and it should take it to new limits.

Your designs are largely extravagant and outlandish. What is the most prevalent irregular choice customer?

It is all about someone who wants to be different. It doesn’t matter what age, where you are, where you work, or anything else, except the fact that you want to have some fun and show off part of your personality that isn’t just a boring black court shoe.

How much do you factor in comfort and practicality with your designs? I ask as someone who adores the appearance of heels but is unable to wear them.

It has to always be a major consideration, if you can’t wear the shoes, then what is the point in owning them? However, saying that, if you based your design around comfort then you would have extremely wide toed shoes, mostly flat, high cut top lines, and very unflattering shapes. So it is all about compromising as much as possible without making them really unwearable. 

I want someone to love the Irregular Choice shoes, and feel that they are comfortable enough that they can wear them every day, and not be just a pair at the bottom of the wardrobe that come out every now and then because they are uncomfortable. So it is about trying to find that balance.

You have spoken of a time early on in the companies journey when you weren¹t sure you were going to make it and buyers weren¹t willing to take a risk. What turned it all around?

There is always a balance in a company between merchandisers and buyers, the buyers see the vision of where the image of the store should be, but the merchandiser sees the numbers and has to make the money work. So it was really when I could give the buyers all the ammunition that they could need when they had to get something past the merchandisers that there became no arguments.

When the buyer can say that they only need to buy a small amount, and it gives a great price for a unique piece of product, then the merchandisers can’t really say anything.

I remember back in 2001 when we delivered a style in to a major store and the merchandiser wanted the buyer to buy it in black, but the buyer argued they should also trial the pink cartoon print to liven it up, and they brought about one tenth of the pink cartoon print to the black, and sure enough the black stuck on the shelf yet the cartoon print wouldn’t stop selling. From that point on people started taking colour more seriously and were shocked that the coloured versions were outselling the blacks. 

You have given back by teaching students at LCF. If you could offer some snippets of advice to aspiring shoe designers or people wanting to open their own store what would it be? 

Understand the basic fundamentals of the business you are in, as you need to make money to survive, but make it your own at the same time as there is no point in being the same as everyone else.  

What is the favourite pair of shoes you own?

I have so many it is hard to choose, it is a little bit like choosing your favourite song, so many favourites that remind you of different times. I literally have hundreds of pairs of shoes that date back to the 80’s, and I love all of them. I really couldn’t choose.

Where do you buy your shows aside from Irregular Choice? 

Every where, I am not a follower of anyone specific. I am always looking for something that is a bit different, and if I see it then I have to have it, even if it is a couple of sizes to small for me!

If you were to describe your personal style….

Different to yesterday and not the same as tomorrow.

Any exciting collaborations/projects on the cards?

I am still pumped up about the DS collection, and everything that can be built inside of that. So I am presently working on some of the craziest shoes that I have ever done. And I am really excited about getting them out there.

What is the biggest crime when it comes to footwear?

Listening to people around you that bully you into wearing something that you don’t want to, or something that doesn’t reflect you or your style. 

Best footwear red carpet appearance of all time?

Don’t think I could answer that as I don’t really look at the red carpet. However, Fergie from Black Eye Peas and Gwen  Stafani have both been seen on the Red Carpet wearing Irregular Choice, so I’d have to go with that.

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