In conversation with Sonya Parenti


Indeed, the Partner & Senior Women's Footwear Designer has spent almost two decades working for some of the most innovative luxury brands in the world, sharpening her eye for design, colour and proportion in the process.

Burgundy John Lewis & Partners stiletto shoes

‘With shoes and accessories, people just want to have fun,’ says Sonya. ‘There’s so much bad news in the world that sometimes you just want to switch off and have something fun.’ That explains the motivation behind the tutti-frutti colourways: suede loafers in sunset orange, scallop-edge ballet flats in bright pink and colour-block trainers are some of the highlights of an extensive range that boasts 80 different styles. 

No detail has been spared in the pursuit to create footwear that marries desirability with functionality. ‘The hardware is sanded instead of shiny. The shapes are very easy. We always have an eye on comfort,’ Sonya assures, ‘so even if you have a high heel, you always have an in-sock that’s padded. And in terms of shapes, it needs to be sexy but still wearable and easy.’

With shoes and accessories, people just want to have fun

Sonya Parenti,-partner & Senior Women's Footwear Designer
Coloured John Lewis & Partners leather trainers
Burgundy John Lewis & Partners trainers

An emphasis on quality is also always core to Sonya’s work. All the leather is sourced from Europe, and she has tapped into the most specialist manufacturers, wherever they may be based. Portugal, for example, has built a reputation for casual shapes and sneakers, while Spain is known for an efficient turnaround – so that is where the styles are made. 

‘It’s so technical,’ she says of the process. The timeframe from designing to the product landing in shops takes around 12 months. Sonya will start by attending inspiration meetings with the womenswear teams, then sketch ideas. She is the one responsible for ordering materials and visiting factories. Most importantly, she perfects the lasts – the moulds that form the shape of the upper part of a shoe – and the coordinating heel. When the two don’t work well together, the aesthetic of a shoe falls apart. She will tweak prototypes tirelessly until they match her design, seam for seam. 

British women throw things together in a cool way.

Sonya Parenti,-partner & Senior Women's Footwear Designer
John Lewis & Partners shoes

Shoes are in Sonya’s blood. Growing up in Florence, her father ran a footwear quality-control business, helping local factories prepare collections for the Japanese market. ‘I get it from him, the passion. I used to help him in the office, but growing up I was always like, “Dad, you make such ugly shoes!” because they were comfort shoes, the styling was terrible, so I was like, when I grow up I’m going to make very nice shoes.’ She was accepted to study at the prestigious Cordwainers at London College of Fashion for a degree in shoe design, and upon graduating, had secured a job at Prada. She has consulted for esteemed brands including Burberry, Paul Smith, Bally and Dolce & Gabbana. 

Does she think taste in the UK differs wildly from that on the Continent? ‘British women throw things together in a cool way,’ she says. ‘People get dressed in more of “a look”. The image of the woman is always sexy [in Italy], whereas here women are just empowered – they don’t need to be sexy.’ She cites the Alannah court shoes, with their chunky block-heel, as a key piece. ‘It’s easier – you can run around a bit better as long as you style it right. I think that’s the key here.’

John Lewis & Partners burgundy trainers



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