Elizaveta Buynova on Forbes: "It feels surreal"

Interview with a Footwear Design alumna

Elizaveta Buynova graduated from Polimoda in 2015. Since then, she has worked in New York and Paris, started her Telegram channel Shoes&Drinks, co-launched the shoe brand N.early N.aked and been nominated in the Russian edition of Forbes 30 under 30 list of 2020's most promising fashion figures. 

Ciao Elizaveta. You graduated from Polimoda five years ago. What have you been up to since leaving Florence in 2015?

Right after graduation I moved to New York and I was working as an assistant footwear designer. It was an unforgettable experience, from both a learning and a networking point of view. 

Unfortunately, with the change of the political narrative in the US, I wasn’t able to extend my visa. Heartbroken and unmotivated, I spent a few months on the sofa at my parents' place — miserable times. As I started looking for a new job, I came up with a system. I would open up Farfetch in the “designers” tab and start meticulously emailing everyone. I’m not going to lie and say I went through the whole designer index — I didn’t even get to letter B. I worked for A.F. Vandevorst and Ann Demeulemeester for 3 years. 

Last year, I received a job offer I wasn’t expecting. I never thought I would be working for an executive search firm, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I have an amazing job, the team is great and I still have time for my own personal and creative projects without following the unrealistic calendar of fashion weeks. 

High heels from N.early N.aked 

 How did you find out about your Forbes 30 under 30 nomination? Tell us the story!

About 3 months ago, I was approached by a journalist who asked if I would be interested in being included in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. I didn’t think much of it as I believe there are plenty of other talented and successful creatives. And yet, I was included in the longlist and came in third through the public vote. The final results will be announced in May, but being longlisted and then shortlisted by the public vote already feels surreal.

Strangely enough, a few months back, I was helping a friend fill out the application for the french Forbes 30 under 30 — you can submit your own application — and thought: “I am so proud of her. Too bad I’ll never be nominated myself!” The joke is on me, I guess.

"#Polimodapeople is definitely the collaboration Iā€™m most proud of. I interview Polimoda teachers and guest lecturers and share the interview with my subscribers."

You have a shoe brand N.early N.aked with Irina Levchenko-Kuksheva. Why did you decide to start the brand?

In late 2018, I was contacted by young engineer Irina Kuksheva-Levchenko who was obsessed with the idea of creating a pair of high heeled and comfortable shoes. She pitched me her idea and I was intrigued by the challenge. We teamed up and have been inseparable since. She is the brains behind the operation “Nearly Naked.” From conception to execution, Irina has been a driving force of the operation. Her engineering and technical background in addition to her passion of ballroom dancing and my design skills made this project possible.

We took a ballroom dancing shoe as a reference. The combination of soft materials and technical specifications is what makes the hee very comfortable, but not durable — ballroom dancing shoes can’t be worn on a daily basis, but are perfect to change into when your feet are sore and tired at a party. A little trick I learned from Irina. 

The development of the first successful prototype took us about 1,5 years — I can't count the amount of shoes I have dissected to figure out what was working and what wasn't. 

In early 2019, we received the first prototype with what we were looking for: flexible, soft, comfortable, and perfectly padded insoles. The heel was positioned so it would balance the load instead of putting all the weight on the toes and spine. I haven't worn other heels since and I don’t think I ever will — I’m not interested in being suffocated by shoes again. 

N.early N.aked high heels

You also have a Telegram channel, Shoes&Drinks, where you interview guests and our PolimodaPeople.

Yes, the Telegram channel started as a joke. I was traveling with a friend and she was going through the pictures on my phone and said something like “there are only pictures of shoes and drinks here!” She told me to create my own channel about me — so I did. And it picked up quickly. I don’t earn my living with it and I don’t consider myself an influencer, but it’s a fun thing to do. I get to express my thoughts and concerns about the fashion industry, share fun memories from times working in New York and Antwerp. It’s a great networking tool and I’ve met plenty of interesting people such as designers, journalists, PR managers, architects — all through Telegram.

#Polimodapeople is definitely the collaboration I’m most proud of. I interview Polimoda teachers and guest lecturers and share the interview with subscribers. This collaboration started in April and I've talked to Linda Loppa and Danilo Venturi. They have been eye-opening for both me and Shoes&Drinks subscribers. I’ve received amazing feedback and I keep seeing the interviews being quoted here and there.

2020 marks 5 years since my graduation and it’s an interesting feeling to be back in the Polimoda landscape — even if it is a virtual presence. It's a mix of nostalgia, gratitude and bittersweet memories.

Where are you based and what are your future plans?

I’m currently based in Paris working for an executive search firm. I do their creative assignments and I have a few of my own personal projects, one of them being N.early N.aked and others are yet to be officially launched. I like being busy and simultaneously working on a lot of things — I feel the most productive and the most creative. I try not to make plans; planning doesn’t work for me. Going with the flow does. 

"I see everything ā€” art, literature, politics, architecture, fashion, everything, really ā€” through the people behind it. What was their driver? Their past? Their story? I want to know what made them write the book, paint the painting or design the collection."

What inspires you?

People and their stories. I see everything — art, literature, politics, architecture, fashion, everything really — through the people behind it. What was their driver? Their past? Their story? I want to know what made them write the book, paint the painting or design the collection. Was it heartbreak, a happy childhood memory, an existential crisis, traveling or was it moving to a different country, new experiences, explorations, meeting new people or getting to know themselves? It gives everything a deeper meaning.

High heel shoes from N.early N.aked

Could you share one of your favourite Polimoda memories with us?

I have so many. I’m not going to mention the sleepless nights before the revisions, though knowing that I can go as long as 94 hours without sleep has been useful during fashion weeks.

Actually making shoes by hand, especially the first pair, was memorable. I wasn’t the best artisan in my class (there were a few nails sticking out here and there), but the process itself is so meditative and seeing an object being created with a few leather scraps, a dozen nails and some glue is incredible.

I could talk about graduation day, the oh so dramatic day, when feelings and emotions peak after 3 years of hard work coming to an end and the absolute unknown future in front of you, but I would rather reminisce about my Polimoda routine: loan a book from the library, grab a coffee and sit on the stairs of Villa Favard while flipping through the book. Having lunch with your classmates in Villa Favard with a view over Florence. Having meaningful — and sometimes not so meaningful as we did talk about wine from time to time too — conversations with the professors or ordering food to be delivered to the Scandicci Design Lab because back in 2015, there was no coffee shop! And having dinner with friends before going back to the sewing machines or grabbing a drink in Santo Spirito afterwards. 

All these little things make me look back with a smile.