Last Friday, in the Room at Hudson’s Bay luxe personal shopping suite, I sat down with Paul Andrew, a veteran shoe designer who, for the first time, is coming out with a collection under his own name. The shoes are plush, sexy and strictly single-soled. Like just about any woman, I am a footwear obsessive. I regularly wear extremely high heels. I also regularly complain about sore feet. (This weekend I made my boyfriend take a cab the two blocks to our apartment because of unbearable blisters, no kidding.) But no pain, no gain, right? Not if Andrew can help it. He’s made it his mission to create vertiginous, sexy shoes that are comfortable. And I’m willing to bet he’s done the heretofore impossible.
How do you make a shoe like this comfortable? [I’m holding a spike heel, pointy toe stiletto—not exactly a vision of comfort for my pinched toes.]
It’s all these hidden tricks. With the sandal constructions especially, I’ve added this sliver of a platform into the construction, and I’ve taken the interior section out and filled it with padding, so that when you stand on the insole, you sink into this amazing cushion.
You’ll only really notice it when you’re wearing it.
Exactly. From the side it looks like a single-sole shoe. There’s a lot of padding in the shoes.
I feel the pointy toe is so of-the-moment—I have so many shoes in this shape, but your toes always get jammed up!
No, I know. I worked for the past decade with Donna Karan, who has been a great mentor and friend to me, but more than that, she’s really taught me about fit and comfort. You know the aesthetics of Donna—it’s all about the woman and the fit and how you feel in the clothes. She drilled that into my mind for the past decade. So I know how to make the shoe fit and be comfortable. I’m actually one of the only designers that still hand makes the first heel prototype. I make the toe shapes and I hand cut all of the patents—I know where that line has to be in order to hold you in and fit and still be sexy. I see people popping out of these shoes so by cutting so you’re more cupped in the heel of your foot, you can come down lower and still be super sexy.
Can I ask about the inspiration for this collection?
Yeah. Actually the entire inspiration started with this book I found at Rizzoli bookstore [in New York]. I don’t know if you’ve been there…
Yes. It’s like heaven.
It’s so great. And I found this book on birds and flight by this photographer called Andrew Zuckerman—who I’ve since contacted and I’m working with him on a project for my new collection with his new flower book, which you’ll see next season. With the bird book, the whole inspiration is wings. It’s also coming from this amazing 1930s movie by Josef von Sternberg called Shanghai Gesture with Gene Tierney. You must see it—it’s incredible. She’s on this train. She’s dressed in feathers and fur and lizard shoes, and she comes out with this round-toed pump with a heavy heel—and I think it might have been an old Ferragamo given that it’s 1930s—but it had that shape [indicates the decorative line of his pumps and flats]. So I kind of knocked that off. [Laughs]
What are you looking for in the craft of a shoe? What do you always make sure to include?
Comfort is the key thing for me. I wanted to create this sexy, refined looking shoe. I was speaking with some friends before I decided I was going to launch my line and they were telling me that they loved the idea of this new look, this single sole, but they weren’t so enamored with the comfort that comes along with it. The platform, which has been the norm for the past several years, has really offered the comfort. So what I’m trying to do here is give you that sexy look, but give you the comfort also. It’s not easy, which is the reason I’m there all of the time trying to oversee it all and trying, to their chagrin, to tell the technicians in the factory [in Italy] that they have to reimagine how they’ve been making insoles for the past sixty years.
Tell me about your background and how you got to this place.
I’ve been designing shoes for fifteen years now. I was born and raised in England. I graduated in the mid ‘90s. There’s a journal called Draper’s Record—it’s similar to Women’s Wear Daily in the UK. They posted this thing as part of Graduate Fashion Week, where all the students graduating compete. Anyway, I won that year for my shoe collection, which got me a lot of press and introduced me to people all over the world. I caught the eye, I suppose, of Alexander McQueen, and they took me on to help them work with shoes. This was going back to the late ‘90s when there was no Gucci Group and no money at the brand. It was then that I needed to get a job that actually paid. So I called these great editors at American Vogue and they very kindly put me in touch with all these designers in New York. I flew to New York and consequently, through those meetings, moved to New York in 1999 to work with Narciso Rodriguez and launch his accessories collection. He taught me a lot about simple silhouettes and cleanliness and design. It was great working with him. But again, it was more of a startup at that point and a year or so later Calvin Klein called me and asked to meet. I then moved to work with him for three years doing the men’s and women’s shoes, which was amazing. This guy is really incredible. He comes in with a vision at the beginning and it never faltered—it was always like that until the end. I’ve worked with a lot of different people at this point and I know that’s not always the case. Calvin retired in 2002 and I got a call from Donna Karan—in fact, I think he had told her about me. And so I met with her and started this ten-year love affair. I’m still working with them, even freelance—I do all of the shoes for their shows. They’re even doing pre-spring with my collection next week. She really instilled in me this idea of comfort and fit and how important it is that the woman feels good in what she’s wearing.
So now you have this feminine perspective.
Yeah. It used to drive me crazy, for ten years, trying to make shoes that fit every woman—it’s an impossibility. The way that we buy shoes today, it’s not really the way one should by shoes.
What do you mean?
Shoes, once upon a time, used to go to someone like Ferragamo. He used to make a cast made for your foot: he would manifest the shoe, and you would buy it in twenty colours. Now we buy shoes like ready to wear. Everyone’s feet are different. People have high arches, low arches, high instep, shorter toes—it’s wild. There are standards, but the standards are off, especially because, in this day and age, the youth are wearing sneakers. People don’t seem to wear dress shoes so much anymore. The sneaker allows your foot to spread, so people’s feet are much wider than they were.
So why, after working with all these legends, did you decide to start your own line? I mean it doesn’t get more legendary than McQueen, Klein, and Karan.
No, I know, it’s pretty amazing. It just felt like the right time. Everything on the market was so platform heavy and it felt time to return to the single sole shoe. And I know since a lot of designers have now done the single sole, but at that period it wasn’t there.
Why do you think the single sole feels so right?
For me personally, I feel that women just want to look and feel beautiful, and I think at a certain point the platforms became so extreme and the heels so complicated—they just looked so tricked out. It wasn’t elegant and refined anymore. This look, this refined, sexy, beautiful shoe, seems like the right step for me.
You’re from England, but you’ve lived in New York for so long. Do you find these two locales come together in your work?
That’s an interesting idea. I think I’m definitely affected by both—I mean, I’ve been in New York for over fifteen years; so to say that it hasn’t affected me would be wrong. But, the fact that I’m doing these bejeweled shoes, and I have shoes with feathers—I love them, but [they] are perhaps verging on bad taste. I think the clean aesthetic, the new minimalism but in a stiletto, definitely comes through from my time in New York. Then I throw on some embellishments that are most definitely part of my English inspiration.
Where do you see you business going?
Shoes are definitely my focus and it’s my background, but I’m still working on accessories—I design accessories for Donna Karan still. And I think that at a certain point I will branch out into that also. I often look at the shoes and think, oh my God, there’s such a great evening bag or there’s such a great day bag that would go with that shoe. I could see the evolution happening and I have great factories lined up to do it. It’s just about baby steps for me at this point and building the brand and cementing myself. I also worked in men’s shoes with Calvin, and loved that. And I feel that there’s a niche in the market for a great men’s shoe—for me it’s a classic, elegant shoe, but made modern again.
Thank you, Paul! It was a pleasure.