In the third instalment of Feet First I meet Lisa Potter-Dixon, best-selling author of Easy on The Eye, The Make-up Manual and Head Make-up Artist for Benefit Cosmetics.
Feet First is a series of interviews with like-minded women on the shoes that shaped them and the memories they evoke. Hearing my friends and colleagues talk about footwear, I’m always thrown by the raw emotion shoes can tap into. Voices falter as memories flood back, eyes glint and all the feelings sparked from one conversation spring back to life, triggered by shoes.
If you had to choose five pairs of shoes that defined you, what would they be? The loafers that bagged you your dream job; sparkling sandals to walk up the aisle or fancy flats that gently broke a heart; career-defining public speaking stilettos or the freedom of flip-flops for your first solo travels… Feet First delves into the wardrobes of my trend-setting contemporaries and uncovers those top five shoes, sandals and boots that carry the most meaning, tap into the wildest stories and simply hold the most special place in our closets and hearts.
‘I still have my feet on the ground – I just wear better shoes.’ Oprah Winfrey.
Lisa Potter-Dixon, Head Make-up Artist for Benefit Cosmetics
Photography: Rekha Damhar
Although Lisa and I have been working in the same industry a similar amount of time, our paths had never crossed. I was always a fan of her colourful make up-artistry but it was this summer, when Lisa started posting her extensive shoe collection on Instagram under #IShoesYou, I knew we had to meet. Each Friday, before work, Lisa snaps the pair she’s wearing on her Victorian tiled pathway. “I started doing #IShoesYou because I wanted to wear my shoes more,” she explains. On a sunny Friday morning I headed to Lisa’s home in South West London to marvel at her shoes and her exquisite interiors. Her home is as beautifully decorated as any Living Etc location but without any over-styled sterility. Lisa’s dogs, Snoop and Diddy provide a noisy welcome before tearing into the freshly delivered mail and nibbling the photographer’s camera cloth. We settle in the dining room where, superstitions be damned, Lisa’s Top 5 shoes are piled on the table and she explains that since Snoop devoured a single sapphire silk Manolo Blahnik mule the dogs are kept away from her collections with stair gates. Thankfully.
“I’ve loved shoes, since forever. My mum was a model in the Seventies so I was always surrounded by shoes and make up - there are pictures of very young me eating lipsticks. I was a big fan of Heather Shimmer, black mascara and cherry red Dr Martens and I really loved colour and experimenting. I have four younger sisters and was always painting their faces - whether that was actual face paint or a made-up smokey eye. At university I studied English and Theatre and did make-up on every theatre production going. My friends saw I was quite good at it so I used to do their make-up when we were going out in exchange for WKD Blues. I was about twenty when I started thinking “maybe I could do this as a job.” When I started it was a very different industry. I began building my portfolio and then started working for Benefit - I wanted a job on a make-up counter to start building my kit - but I was also working as a waitress, working in a bar and selling shoes in Office too.
Now my career is really diverse… I’ve done a lot of TV, I’ve worked on film, on editorial, I’ve written two books. I’ve always been flexible and am always learning and developing. It’s hard to know what’s next but that’s exciting! I think another book will happen and I’m doing a column… and I love giving people advice on make-up. I’ve done shows and worked at fashion week which I love - this was my fifteenth season at LFW - but I always think, ‘how can that be transferred to the everyday woman so they feel better about creating different looks?’ And maybe one day I will have my own make-up brand too! Although I try not to think too far ahead because you never know how the industry is going to change.”
One thing that will remain constant is Lisa’s love of shoes. There are shelves in the hallway, there are shoes in a trunk in the kitchen, they are under the bed… “There are at least three pairs of shoes in every room,” Lisa admits. “They are everywhere but then I see them all and think, I’ll wear them today. I N E V E R get rid of shoes. Ever. I can’t understand. How do people do it? How dare they! Those poor shoes. I will sell clothes, although not my designer or vintage clothes, because there is always a story behind them. Shoes? NEVER. I’ve got shoes I haven’t worn for ten years but I refuse to sell them. I started #IShoesYou to remind me to wear them.” So let’s meet the shoes that made Lisa’s Top 5…
1) Vivienne Westwood Sex Elevated heels
I don’t remember how my shoe obsession started but my passion grew when I was working at Office in my early twenties. I had staff discount and if you hit your targets, you’d get 70% off a pair of shoes. I always made sure I hit my targets! Previously I had loads of vintage shoes from Portobello Market or charity shops - my feet are size 4 and that’s the best for vintage - but my designer passion started with these Vivienne Westwoods. I’ve always admired Vivienne Westwood as a person and as a designer. I could never afford the clothes but then I saw these pair of shoes in Postemistress - the designer branch of Office - in Covent Garden. They’re called the Sex Elevated shoe and are an iconic style of hers. I saw them and fell in love. They were a lot of money. I knew the people in Postmistress and I asked if they could put them aside until I could afford them and they did. It took me nearly two years to save up enough and when I bought them it was the best day ever. These shoes are in my top five because they are all about the memories of saving up for my first pair of designer shoes. I hadn’t been long out of university and Westwood was who I loved the most. Now I probably wouldn’t wear her clothes - you go through phases - but at the time I loved the structure of her dresses and how she makes clothes for women’s bodies. They are actually very comfortable because they have this big platform in the front although I don’t wear them enough now… they haven’t even been resoled! I wear them if I’m going for dinner and I want to make a big statement with my shoes. I probably wear them about once a year and it’s always a really special time when I do. I always put them on with a pair of jeans and a t-shirt because when you put on a pair of shoes like this, that’s all you need! Although I did wear them with a matching ballgown one year to stay up all night to watch the Oscars, as I have done since I was twelve! One day I would love, I should say, I will win an Oscar for make-up. When I watch something like The Greatest Showman I’m in awe of the make-up designers - they are incredible - and that’s something I would like to get into more, basically to win my Oscar! Now I have more disposable income so I buy more designer shoes but my savings are my shoes - I always say to people who are saving, what are you saving for? Buy shoes! They will go up in value and what’s the point in saving when you could be enjoying your life in fantastic shoes?
2) Miu Miu pink glitter sandals
I need to put them on now actually (Lisa pauses to buckle up the straps….) They are so comfortable! If Dorothy was around now she would wear these instead of ruby slippers. I found these in LA in a vintage shop although they were actually current season. I had been working in San Francisco and flew to LA to meet my husband and I went straight to Wasteland, my favourite vintage shop in the States. [My other favourite vintage shop is Armstrong & Armstrong in Edinburgh, which is always worth a visit. Burberry is made nearby and they have trench coats for £50 and cashmere is literally £20 for a jumper! It’s unreal.] Wasteland is always my first stop. I’m very impatient and I NEED to go there. Gotta go, NOW! Usually I pick up a pair of Versace jeans but when you walk into the store, there is a glass cabinet where all the designer shoes are. I spotted these but couldn’t see the size. They actually look quite big and are 5 1/2, which isn’t my size, but I put them on and they just fit perfectly! I had to wear them straight aways and that night we went to a club called House where every room is a kitchen or bathroom set-up… I wore bleach-splattered jeans, a white shirt, massive earrings, these shoes - and a smokey eye. My shoes are always conversation starters. People come up and say “I love your shoes, where are they from?” even on the Tube. And then you get to tell the stories. I think also most of my clothes and shoes have a story of some sort. They have to, otherwise it’s boring! I do this too, if I’m going up the escalator and see someone looking amazing I will always say so. Sometimes I’ve walked back down just to say, I love your shoes. I’m attracted to anything colourful or glittery and maybe have two pairs of black shoes. I’m a magpie. I'm not afraid to wear things that have colour because I love colour, it’s my job!
3) Gucci golden mules
I’d always loved Gucci but never owned any shoes. When Alessandro Michele did this reincarnation Gucci suddenly became cool and started to take more risks and I wanted a pair of shoes. I had £100 Selfridges voucher for my birthday so I went into the boutique in store and saw these. Oh my God, they are so me! I had to have them. They’re that tacky gold shade and they have lips on them as well! After I’d bought them we went to the rooftop restaurant and I put them straight on. They are another talking point pair but really, I never wear shoes for anyone else. A lot of my friends would never wear what I do. When they saw them, they were like, “Oh my God, only you would wear them!” But if I love them, I have to buy them. I’m very bad at walking away. I wear these a lot on shoots because they inspire me. When you’re a make-up artist, it’s really easy to go to that safe place. But Val Garland taught me to think, what is the extra thing you can do? These are the shoes that give me extra. If I have a moment when I think, “what am I going to do?” these shoes give me the answer. Maybe they are magic. On shoots, I often wear dungarees because I put my brushes in the pockets but I don’t have a uniform, apart from these being my inspiration shoes. It’s so interesting why we are drawn to brands. It sounds silly as I’m talking about designer shoes here but I actually don’t care about the designer. I buy something because I love it. Shoes are such an aspirational thing and for a lot of women they’re more exciting than a designer dress. There is something special about designer pieces too. The high street copy of the designer piece can be amazing but the quality… not so much… If I think I’m going to wear a pair loads and I’m going to ruin them, I buy high street. I buy two pairs - if I can - if I know I’m going to ruin a pair.
With my more expensive shoes, I only wear them now and again because of the feeling they give you. They’re not shoes for every day. I think, “I’m putting these on because I want to make a statement.” I feel special in them. It’s like when you put on red lipstick, it just enhances everything and makes you feel the same as a beautiful pair of shoes. Gucci are the most comfortable brand I own and I probably have the most from them and Christian Louboutin. I also have a couple of Sophia Webster pairs, as I did some shows for her and she gave me some and I’d definitely like to have more Chanel shoes… I have one pair I found in a charity shop for £50! I’m so annoyed because I wore them too much without getting them reheeled… If I had bought them full price I would NEVER have done that! I also really wanted a pair of the Saint Laurent crystal boots but they were seven grand… although if I was a multi-millionaire I’d definitely had got them!
4) Christian Louboutin emerald silk and crystal sandals
Emeralds are my favourite stone and when my now husband proposed it was with the most amazing emerald and diamond ring… and then I saw these in a magazine. Oh My God. They were limited edition for Louboutin’s 20th Anniversary. Owning a pair of Louboutins was my ultimate goal although I have a lot now, mainly because of sample sales, but at the time I had never been into the Mount Street store because I was intimidated by it. I was 28 and I thought I could never afford a pair but I took the picture and got my assistant Lauren to come with me. We had been working all day and it was about 6 o’clock. I showed them the picture, asked if they had the shoes and got a “No no no no no. No way. They were limited edition” in reply. The guy didn’t even say sorry. But then this other man, came over. He asked, “what size are you… one moment…” He went out the back and then came back with a box. There was one pair left and they were in my size. The other guy said he’d already checked but they were tucked away on another shelf. I took them out and dear Lord, I nearly cried as they were so beautiful. Then I found out the price. They were over £1000 which was ridiculous. We had been saving for our wedding but I didn’t have that much on me. I phoned Theo and told him I’d found my dream wedding shoes but I couldn’t afford them. I was nearly crying again but Theo said he would transfer the money he was going to use for his suit and that I should buy them. So he transferred me £500 because he said he could tell I loved them so much and I bought them! We saved up again so he did wear a suit - he didn’t turn up in his PJs - but they are the most uncomfortable shoes I own! Although I don’t care! I absolutely love them. I designed my own wedding dress, and decided the length, around the shoes. It was short at the front and long at the back to show them off! Our wedding was a massive party in my dad’s back garden and there are pictures of me barefoot, holding the shoes because I couldn't walk in them, but I’m so happy! On our wedding anniversary, we sometimes have a picnic in our front room and I put them on to walk around the house or do the hoovering in them. I think, “This is the best hoover of the week… of the year!” When I shop, I want the person who is selling the shoes to be really passionate. Often the boutiques are quieter (than department stores) so when a customer comes in you want to talk to them. I love it when shoes are hand made and they explain it all to you, whether they stuck the crystals on one by one with tweezers…. Whether it’s bullshit or not, I don’t care! Having that experience is really special and it’s a lot of money to spend. But the best thing? It’s the carrier bag! I keep all the bags. I work bloody hard and I think, I earned these shoes and I might have to eat beans on toast for the rest of the month but that’s ok because I’ve got my Gucci bag and I’ve got my Gucci shoes. And I can wear them while I’m making my beans on toast.
5) Saint Laurent Tiger boots
These are my most recent purchase… I only bought them last week. But are they my most recent purchase? Hold on, let me check… yes they are! I probably buy at least two pairs of shoes a month. I am a big online shopper and I don’t go to Bicester Village often but it’s a great place to shop and where I found these. People always look at the rails and what is directly in front of them but what I do, is look up! I find from experience they put things they don’t think will sell as quickly higher up. These were on the top shelf. You have to be quite brave to wear them but I had to have them! Luckily they were 30% off the original price and I knew they were my size but when I put on the left one, I couldn’t get it on. I knew they would fit once I was in and I loved them so much, I just didn’t give up, I tried again. I tried five times and then on the fifth time I got it on. So then I asked for the other one. That went on straight away and I thought “Yes! They are amazing!” They make an outfit. And then I had to name them because they are animals. Thybalt is on the left and Margot is on the right. Thybalt is my fave characters in Romeo & Juliet. He’s one of the main characters but did you know that he only has 13 lines in the whole play? For me, his aura and energy make him so important despite the lack of dialogue. Then I really love the name Margot. One of my friends had a baby yesterday so I sent her the picture I posted on Instagram of my shoes, asking, “Did my shoes inspire you?” as she had just named her daughter Margot! I wore them to London Fashion Week this season. The call time was 5am so I thought, I’ll put these on to make me feel more awake. And they did! When you’re working with a celebrity, you never know how they’re going to be or what their people are going to be like so you can use your clothes and shoes to get a reaction and judge… If someone said “Oh no, I hate them” I’d think, “No, I can’t possibly work with you” Ha ha ha.