Najeeba Hayat was born in London, raised in Kuwait, studied political science in Paris/Connecticut and footwear pattern-making in Milan. People always ask her if she’s really Kuwaiti even though she looks and speaks it. Najeeba tells us, “I think it’s because I don’t wear accessories or do my hair or carry a bag. They get confused. Kuwaiti girls wear tons of accessories.”
Najeeba started off with several internships working for the government in the statistics department and then for a private company on the Kuwait Development Plan. She was really good at the social sciences and was very excited about the opportunity. “I was willing to sacrifice my desire to escape and live abroad and to wear what I want for the benefit of the glorious nation” she tells us. After a situation that arose at work Najeeba realized that when people don’t want to change, or the system is wired to incentivize the status quo, you’re just bouncing a rubber ball against the wall. She definitely wasn’t about to waste her life!
The story of Liudmila starts here: “I had a midlife crisis at 21 on a snowy day in Connecticut. I was in my 19th Century Russian Literature elective and a speech given by this character in the novel, Liudmila, really resonated with me. It was a simple speech lashing out against a society that censured her simple sensory impulses. I thought, “Oh Lord that’s me. I can’t be a management consultant. I too love perfume, bright colors and sensory delights. I would die!”
I got on Skype with my friend Taiba who was in Milan on an exchange program (and hating it) at the time and confessed my terrible predicament. I thought I knew my path in life and now I was lost. She suggested I meet her in Milan. I knew that’s what I was going to do. I immediately called my mother and told her I was going to Milan to study shoes. My mother thought i lost my mind.”
(Side note: Her friend still thinks Najeeba had lost her mind.)
The Liudmila girl is‘an escapist, wanderer and life-loving fantasist’.
The irrational love for footwear is something every girl can relate to; how was Liudmila born?
I am a self-confessed fashion addict, an obsession with shoes grew early on. My mother is a scientist and couldn’t care less about fashion, so I definitely didn’t get the bug from her. I would go to Villa Moda by myself every Eid and buy a pair of Prada or Miu footwear. I would sketch shoes on everything, on all of my textbooks, all of my assignments. I would think about shoes before going to sleep and then dream about them. My mother said that one day my mind was going to “turn into a shoe.” I loved all of fashion, all of the drama, all of the fantasy, the escape, the possibilities, however, shoes, oh they were extra-special to me; the lines and construction are able to convey emotion and drama so much more viscerally and simply than anything else.
After I completed a brief internship in Milan with a terrible shoe brand, I left and started a campaign to wear down a former professor to give me the contact of a production manager. He refused me for seven straight months. I got together a really tight portfolio and kept up the pressure until he “decided I was ready.” My first collection was a nightmare to execute. The methods for producing my styles were so technically complicated I was afraid the factory would throw me out and refuse to work with me again.
I started Liudmila in 2014 because I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, how it could fit into the market and no one wanted to hire me for a design job because I was non-EU (too much paperwork) and I didn’t have a formal 4-year design degree. I wanted to make lower-heeled fantasy shoes. I loved wearing shoes and boots that were dramatic, a bit over the top, full of clashing textures and details that would change your look, your silhouette. I wanted shoes that were an emotive component of my outfit, that were genuinely special rather than just an add-on to the clothes. I couldn’t find enough of that in the market. With my mind full of Sailor Moon boots and Dickens characters, I started selling my own.
A luxury shoe brand focusing exclusively on low and mid heels, Liudmila is premised in the belief that beauty should never come at the expense of function.
Why not Italy? In fact, why are we not all in Italy? It’s the only place in the world where you live right. Italy has been famed for centuries for high standards of footwear production and skill. I required a high level of attention to detail and desire to innovate to make the shoes that I had designed. Italy was the only place I could imagine doing it.
What inspires your creations?
Drama, murder, Dickens’ London, soot, detectives, skinny ankles, secrets, Sailor Moon, the witches in Macbeth, little feet, the average schoolgirl, Ottoman miniature paintings, crazy rich grandmothers in emeralds and ocelot coats driving minis!
What is the inspiration behind LiudmilaTV? (We weren’t stalking we swear!)
My friend Jonah Ponzer and I were sitting in his studio in London one day and he asked me what my ultimate goal was, what my contribution to culture was going to be. I said that I wanted to be Oprah! I wanted to invite people with interesting points of view to speak about topics I cared about. We were also discussing how incredibly manufactured all the fashion content was on Instagram and that we wish someone would just record an actual conversation. Real life.
So, Jonah basically said that he had an epiphany and that I should do it, and that I need a giant news mic and I need to talk about the things I always talk about anyways, like the digital apocalypse, the death of fashion and environmental disaster. Light topics. I commissioned the mic from a prop artist friend of his and the rest I guess is… on my Instagram!
Describe your personal style. How does it affect your designs?
I would never design something I couldn’t see myself wearing. My personal style is also very non-trendy and a little bit obnoxious. That impacts how I design. I don’t care what other people are doing. My “fashion magazines” are detective novels and fantasy fiction.
If you’re not in Liudmila’s, what are you wearing?
Shoes: Nike. I love running.