Natalia Barberi: exclusive interview


In a way writing about Bionda Castana shoes rather than the brand's co-founder Natalia Barberi was a much easier job. Shoes.... They were glorious! Sexy. Flirtatious. Dangerously beautiful. The words were queuing, bursting to get out...

When it was the time to give you a brief about the woman who designed them, my brain turned into a cotton wool. "Oh, she is just stunning..." the little voice was making the mind go blank. "And she is incredibly smart, too..." I would hear inside my head next. All those things, the beauty and the brains, the wonderful warm personality and infectious energy, the elegance, the talent, the captivating combination of business skills and softness are just some of the elements that captured my heart.

To put it simply, Natalia is inspiring. She took the fashion world by storm, coming from the investment banking into the unknown and not always welcoming territory with a dream and a suitcase full of samples that were hand-made in Italy. In less than seven years (Bionda Castana was launched in 2007) together Jennifer Portman, her friend and business partner, Natalia built a globally-known luxury brand favoured by the most stylish women and sold at Opening Ceremony in New York, Kuznetsky Most and Tsum in Moscow, Joseph in Paris and Harvey Nichols in London, Edit in Hong Kong and Restir in Tokyo, Net-A-Porter, Avenue 32, Farfetch, Young British Designers and Moda Operandi, just to name a few.

She says it's only the beginning...

WHO: Natalia Barbieri, Bionda Castana co-founder and designer

WHAT: irresistible shoes hand-made in Italy - choose from the current Fall/Winter 2014 collection, browse the Bridal range or even get them custom-designed for you.

WHERE: Shop at Bionda Castana, Avenue 32, Net-A-Porter, MyWardrobe, Shopbop, Young British Designers and TheOutnet, and follow via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram

WHY: wear Bionda Castana if you want to feel sexy, glamourous and chic without sacrificing the comfort factor - each pair takes about 4 months to create and up to 8 prototypes to make them flawless in every single way.

LOOK FOR: Beatrix, Emmy, Dekota, Atlanta, Alexandra and Gabriella... then forget my list and make your own - feel free to get carried away, it's only natural...

via fashionedbylove: Dekota | Bionda Castana FW 2014 | Ellinore Erichsen by Dima Hohlov
Born in London - made in Italy... What was your childhood like?
My childhood was filled with lots of dancing competitions (I wanted to be a professional dancer when I was growing up in London) and also lots of trips to both Spain and Italy every summer to visit family. 

My mother is Spanish and my father was Italian so road trips as soon as school was over with were obligatory. Those are perhaps my most treasured moments.

What did you want to be when you grow up?
I wanted to be like my mother. Kind and fabulous. And at some point when I was 14, I wanted to be Jennifer Lopez. Jokes aside, I wasn't too sure what I was going to become, or what career path I was going to have, but I knew what kind of woman I wanted to be.

When did you feel your first creative spark and how did you channel it?
Creativity was always there from a very young age. Sketching shoes at every given moment.  As soon as I knew it was the right time to start a career in shoe design, I quit my job in finance and researched as much as I could to reach the end goal. I have a sketch book on my bedside table in case something comes to me in the middle of the night.

Do you remember your first pair of shoes?
My first designer pair? A pair of Sergio Rossi blue crocodile skin pointed pumps with ankle tie. My brother bought them for me when I was 15. Still have them in fact. Adore them.

With so much love for fashion, what made you choose business studies and investment banking? Seems like a very sober choice for a creative mind...
I listened to my parents advice. They thought a career in fashion wasn't a lucrative idea... so I went down the route I was advised was a "smart choice".

via fashioned by love | Natalia Barbieri & Jennifer Portman
Natalia Barbieri & Jennifer Portman
When did you meet Jennifer? 
On our first day at university in London. We met at the induction lecture before the course started. We were pretty inseparable since then. 

At what point did you come up with an idea of a shoe brand?
In our first year at university. It wasn't a question of how, it was just a question of when.

What was the most challenging about breaking into the industry?
Not having come from a "formal" design background. 

The name, Bionda Castana... What's the story behind it?
We were always known as the blond and the brunette at university so it kind of stuck. Bionda Castana means just that, but translated into Italian.

Does it mean that you will never ever change your hair colour?
Ha! No, we can change the hair colour. It is also reflective of our different personalities, our light and dark sides, the yin and yang... not necessarily just the tone of hair. 

How did you manage to preserve your friendship in the process of building Bionda Castana despite being so different? 
Always being honest with one another.

And how does your style reflect your personality? What are your wardrobe must-haves?
Am quite a formal dresser, but I like to throw colour in when I can by way of a bright coloured suit jacket. Love denim and midi dresses/skirts. I start from the shoes every day. I choose which ones I will be wearing and build from that point.

Why are the shoes such an important element, in your opinion?
They elevate any outfit.

via fashionedbylove: Ellinore Erichsen wearing Renee in Bionda Castana FW '14 campaign
Can a woman have enough pairs?

What makes Bionda Castana shoes so special? 
For a high heel, they are very-very comfortable. Ask any of our customers, and they will tell you the same thing. 

Do you have a favourite in your Autumn/Winter 2014 collection? What was it inspired by?
Loved the Dakota bootie. I live in the burgundy and black calf leather pair. It was an extension of our geometric classic pump, Lana, which we have had for various seasons now. It showcases our love of art and architecture, all in one shoe.

Cinderella and Marie Antoinette for Spring/Summer 2013, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Queen of Heart for Autumn/Winter 2014... Do you think, part of the reason why women love your shoes is because they create a moment of fashion fantasy, a fairy tale?
Shoes say a lot about a person. They speak without saying a word. 

Are there any fashion designers who made you believe in fashion fantasy?
Alexander McQueen

You have collaborated with a number of fashion designers including David Koma, Gabriele Colangelo, Jenny Packham, Osman, Emilio De La Morena and Matthew Williamson... If you could choose anyone else whom would you absolutely love to work with and why?
Chloe or Chanel. Two fashion houses I love and respect. 

Are there any other lines you would like to introduce to the Bionda Castana range?
Children's shoes, mens shoes, sunglasses, leather handbags, bijoux... the list is endless.

And what is your ultimate goal?
To follow the Jimmy Choo model. Have mono brand stores worldwide and be a multi faceted accessories brand.


Favourite item in your wardrobe right now... My Frame denim overalls

Favourite dessert... Tarte Tatin with vanilla ice cream

Favouite place in the world... Lying on a hammock in Tulum

Favourite quote... "Mas vale el que quiere que el que puede." Which translated means that the person who has the "want" will achieve moreover than the person who simply "can". My mother says it to me every day.

Your guilty pleasure... Having too many shoes that don't fit in my own home...

Photo source: Natalia Barbieri & Jennifer Portman photographed by Kate Gurbornova c/o Natalia Barbieri, Bionda Castana Autumn/Winter 2014 campaign, model: Ellinore Erichsen, photography: Dima Hohlov, styling: Natalie Brewster)


  1. love this interview and especially the quote at the end! words to live by.

  2. she really is stunning!!!

    XO! Gina

  3. This was incredibly interesting to read through. I love that she had made the transition from investment banking to fashion (I spent a summer working in investment banking and found it absolutely wasn't for me!), and I agree that she is one very beautiful lady! It's so inspiring hearing these sort of success stories and her shoes are so stylish with innovative designs. Of course, bearing in mind my name, I followed the link to the 'Gabriella' heels and wow, they're so unusual!! :)
    - I follow back on Bloglovin' -


  4. Her shoes are gorgeous! So stylish and classy with oomph! She's a beautiful person. Loved this interview.

  5. Love their styled campaigns. Amazing interview!

  6. Wow! She is beautiful and I love her hair

  7. Как интересно читать Ваше интервью,Наташенька!

    Наталия- действительно красива,талантлива и умна:)*
    Чего же ещё может желать женщина?!.....
    Очень хорошие слова-квота,которые Наталия произнесла здесь!
    Посмотрела изумительные коллекции туфель....Элехантные,секси и Ооооооо бесконечно желанные!:)))*

  8. Fascinating interview and gorgeous shoes!

  9. It is the answer to the question, "Can a woman ever have enough pairs?" that makes me sure that I would love Natalia. Because never is the only answer :)