Obi Cymatica has been obsessed with fashion for as long as he can remember –– he spent much of his youth sketching one ensemble after another. But around his 18th birthday, it suddenly hit him: he spent far more time working out details of the footwear than the rest of the outfit, and shoes were always the most exuberant part of the finished sketch. It was at that point, as a Forest Hills high school student in Queens, that Cymatica made up his mind to become a shoe designer.
Obi Cymatica was born in Madagascar, to Nigerian parents, and spent most of his childhood in Nigeria. When he was 16, he moved with his family to New York. As a designer, he's self-taught, but extremely determined: barely out of his teens, he started his own label, established a relationship with a factory in Florence, and landed a retail account with the online designer shop, Saxa. Even now, at the slightly-less-tender age of 25, he still makes every decision about the design and manufacture of every pair of his boots and shoes.
Cymatica's idols include Christian Louboutin, whose "attitude toward making shoes" he particularly admires, along with how Louboutin has managed to maintain the aura of an atelier-based shoemaker, while growing his business by leaps and bounds. But Cymatica's ne plus ultra is Manolo Blahnik. They met, once, and the young man found himself almost tongue-tied as he tried to express his admiration for his hero. "I said, Mr Blahnik, you don't understand –– it's because of you I'm a shoe designer. Because of you! I think he just smiled. But it's true."
As for what inspires him, Cymatica says he turns to music. "I put on music, and sit down to draw. It might be Eartha Kitt, or house music, Amy Winehouse or a movie soundtrack. I envision a woman in that musical environment, and start sketching. If it's romantic, maybe the shoes reveal a little more skin; if the music is strong, the shoes become stronger, too. I like strength. After all, shoes are armor for your feet."
Photographs by Noël Sutherland. Leg model (and muse): Faustina Rose. Produced and styled by Mark Grischke for Fashion As a 2nd Language.