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Deskside: Paul Andrew

Footwear Designer. New York.

Career
Deskside: Paul Andrew

Welcome to Desksides, The Coveteur's brand-spanking-new series in which we sit down with leaders in various creative fields and figure out how they got there. We guess we could've also named this, "how the hell do I get your cool job," accompanied with a "help me I'm poor" GIF from Bridesmaids, but then we realized going the mononymous route was a little more succinct. 

There‚Äôs one tucked deep into the abyss of every shoe closet: the cab-to-curb pair. You know, the 6+ inch, imprint-leaving strappy heel with that near-vertical arch you can only withstand wearing from your front door to your Uber and, upon arrival, head straight to the nearest seat. End of the night = balls of feet on :fire: We feel you and we've been there. But, at the end of the day (especially then), we like shoes we can actually wear. To that notion, we felt like we found the Holy Grail the moment we slipped our toes into Paul Andrew‚Äôs Zenadia, his signature pump‚ÄĒit was actually comfortable, uh, for more than fifteen minutes and if you think that means orthopaedic just look :point_down:. Yup, he most definitely gets us. To get to the bottom of this genius, it was only natural that we had to sit down with Andrew at his New York studio to talk technology and design, his big CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund win and his royal inspiration.

 

ON THE ROYAL INFLUENCE THAT INSPIRED HIS CAREER:

‚ÄúMy career path became clear quite early in life. My father was the Queen‚Äôs upholsterer at Windsor Castle, and being surrounded by luxurious textiles and artisan craftsmanship was an enormous influence. In high school, my favorite class was Design Technology; I loved the idea of designing something that could enhance and perform a person‚Äôs life, and being able to create it using modern technological advances. But fashion was always my first interest. Even as a young child I would save my pocket money in order to buy British Vogue! When it came time to choose a field of study for university, fashion footwear design seemed like the perfect amalgamation of all my interests.‚ÄĚ

 

ON WORKING WITH LEE (ALEXANDER) MCQUEEN, NARCISO RODRIGUEZ AND DONNA KARAN AT THE BEGINNING OF HIS CAREER:

‚ÄúI consider the fifteen years I spent working with these designers as an invaluable experience, for¬†which I will always be grateful. I learned everything I know¬†about the business and the craft of shoe-making during that tenure. University was, of course, educational, but I know that if I‚Äôd left¬†school and immediately started my own¬†brand, it¬†would not¬†have been successful.¬†I now always advise young designers to cut¬†their teeth working with established fashion houses before going out on their own. It‚Äôs¬†the best way to learn about sourcing, factories, buying, distribution, packaging, and all the other facets of the business that they don't necessarily teach in university.‚ÄĚ

 

ON WHAT HE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY:

‚ÄúEach experience was incredibly different, and enriching in its own way. From Lee (McQueen) I learned to push the limits of¬†design; his creativity was boundless and became an inspiration for everyone around him. From Narciso, where I assisted him in launching shoes¬†and¬†accessories when I first moved to New York in the late 1990‚Äôs, I learned to¬†appreciate the beauty of sleek, sexy sophistication. From Calvin I discovered the power of staying true to your original design and being unflappable in your conviction. Working with Donna,¬†however, was a really informative experience, perhaps because I worked with her for a decade, but also because she is such a force when it comes to balancing runway with reality. She pushed me to think about the comfort and practicality of a shoe. On the face of it, that's not a particularly sexy conversation: weight distribution, blisters,¬†pain etc., but she¬†prompted me to explore the ergonomics of shoemaking and design and that's become one of the most important¬†aspects of my brand; fashionable yet wearable footwear.‚Ä̬†¬†

 

ON STARTING HIS OWN COLLECTION:

‚ÄúI had always dreamed of having my own line, but it wasn‚Äôt until the spring of 2012 that I¬†finally felt ready, and most importantly, that I had¬†something to say that would¬†differentiate¬†my shoes from¬†everything else in the market.¬†Back then the trend was decidedly about chunky,¬†platform footwear, which has never been my¬†personal aesthetic. I felt it was time to turn attention back to the simple elegance, chic and sophistication that only a single sole stiletto can offer. However, when showing my initial sketches to an editor¬†friend, she commented on the fact that when one removes the platform, you remove a¬†certain comfort and stability, so I have made it my mandate to¬†ensure my shoes are¬†simultaneously comfortable.‚Ä̬†

 

ON HIS FIRST DAYS WORKING ON HIS OWN BRAND:

‚Äú[They were] busy! I did¬†everything myself. Although I am incredibly lucky to have a¬†network of people in the industry who have been supportive from the start ‚ÄĒ from editors, to buyers, to other designers. But it was a lot of work and a lot of early mornings and long nights.‚ÄĚ

 

ON THE POSITIVE REACTION HE’S BEEN RECEIVING:

‚ÄúIt still feels like early days and every day seems to hold a new surprise, challenge and/or success. But one example I can give, and I don't want to say I was surprised, but I was certainly excited, is that my designs and the special attention I¬†give to fit have resonated with women in the way I had hoped. It is such a compliment to hear¬†positive¬†stories from people who have worn the shoes and love them.‚Ä̬†

 

ON SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH AMAZING PEOPLE AND A COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENT:

‚ÄúThe quality of the people¬†you work with is critical. I‚Äôm exceptionally fortunate to have amazing talent on my team in every division. I am more than aware that I don‚Äôt know best in every situation, so finding the right people who are experts in their respective fields has been important to my making shrewd decisions. I love a collaborative environment and I encourage discourse on all decisions as it's the best way for me to take at an educated, thoughtful, and efficient course of action.‚ÄĚ ¬†

 

ON USING TECHNOLOGY THROUGH DESIGN:

‚ÄúFor me it starts with a challenge; how do I make a kitten heel sexy? How do I show florals that aren't fussy? How do I make a high heel comfortable?¬†¬†I thrive on playing with such challenges and finding clever solutions through design or technology. For example, I carve out¬†the insole of every shoe (some are single sole, some have a tiny platform) and place a foam insert that has memory, so it gets more and more comfortable every time you wear it. I love hearing from customers that it's the only 105mm shoe that they can wear all day.‚Ä̬†

 

ON WHAT INSPIRES HIM:

‚ÄúI find inspiration everywhere, but I've recently been drawn to the city as muse ‚ÄĒ from Hong Kong and¬†Beijing to Paris and Manhattan. For Fall/Winter 2015 I took inspiration from my home: New York. It's such a dynamic, enigmatic city, so I drew upon all the city has to offer: architecture, culture, art, and energy. As you can imagine, I had more ideas than I could possibly incorporate into one collection!‚Ä̬†

 

ON GOING FROM IDEATION TO CREATION:

‚ÄúI like to start with an over-arching touch point, and then it's many hours of research and pouring over books, and developing unique fabrics, leathers and prints. My design team and I collaborate on sources of inspiration, maybe it's a heel or a fabric, or a photograph that draws upon the initial inspiration, then I sketch until a shoe feels fully realized. Of course, though, footwear design doesn't stop at the sketch. I travel to my factories in Italy twice a month to guide the prototyping process. I¬†hand-make every pattern and every heel to ensure the beauty that's in my sketchbook can be transformed into an object that not only looks beautiful, but also performs in a woman's life.‚Ä̬†

 

ON ALWAYS CONSIDERING COMFORT:

‚ÄúI love the integration of style with wearability ‚ÄĒ it's one of the main reasons why I became a shoe designer. I think a lot of designers have a disdain for comfort, that uncomfortable "fashionable" shoes are a foregone conclusion.¬†Confidence, ease, and poise are what make women look and feel beautiful, so to me, the idea of balancing comfort with beauty is a false¬†paradox. Comfort should amplify beauty if you're thoughtful and deliberate in your design.‚Ä̬†

 

ON THE COMPLEXITIES OF MAKING A SHOE:

‚ÄúI‚Äôm not sure most people understand the labor, time and care that goes into producing a pair of handmade Italian stiletto heels. Every pair I produce is a¬†collaboration¬†between over 200 people; from the people that make the leather, the¬†lining, the sole, the¬†insole, the heel, the buckle, the box and tissue, and so on ‚ÄĒ¬†not to mention the¬†construction, development, sketching, merchandising, and editing that goes into making a whole collection. The shoemaking process is exceptionally complex.‚ÄĚ

 

ON WHY SHOES CAN BE SO EMPOWERING:

‚ÄúA shoe can be a woman's best friend or worst nightmare! Every woman has a pair of shoes that makes them look sexy and confident in their closet, but they know they can't do much once they have them on. I call them limousine shoes because all you can do is walk from your front door to the limousine and back, no dancing, no long walks. So I think that when you do find that shoe that becomes your best friend, they're so precious! I want every one of my shoes to empower women, to¬†amplify their beauty, and enhance their lives in some way or another - and that starts with being the most versatile and comfortable on the market without sacrificing that sex appeal.‚Ä̬†

 

ON WHAT HE WOULD BE DOING IF HE DIDN’T DESIGN SHOES:

‚ÄúIf I hadn‚Äôt been a shoe designer, I would have been a classical pianist! As a child I used to spend every spare moment playing the piano. I have a piano in my New York apartment even now, although I very rarely play it.‚ÄĚ

 

ON WINNING THE CFDA FASHION FUND AWARD:

‚ÄúMy brand was just two years old when the editors at Vogue urged me to enter the¬†Fashion Fund competition, it was the youngest brand to ever¬†participate. I honestly had no idea what the process would truly entail,¬†specifically how much work and time it would require, but I have to say that it was an enormously rewarding experience. In speaking with the judges and completing the various¬†competition¬†assignments, I learned so much about my business and how to take it to the next¬†level. Given that¬†I was fortunate¬†enough to win the award,¬†the prize money offered a significant boost for my self-funded company, but also a huge¬†vote of confidence from industry luminaries, including Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg,¬†Andrew¬†Rosen, Jenna Lyons and Ken Downing. It has really enforced my determination to build not only a respected design house, but also a global business.‚Ä̬†¬†

 

ON THE THREE SHOES EVERY WOMAN SHOULD OWN:

‚ÄúA single sole stiletto, a halter-back kitten heel and great flat boot ‚ÄĒ preferably all¬†Paul Andrew!‚ÄĚ

 

ON THE ONE SHOE HE’LL NEVER CREATE:

‚ÄúA cowboy boot!‚ÄĚ

 

ON HIS AVERAGE DAY:

‚ÄúI wake early, usually¬†at¬†6AM, answer email from the factories in Italy, then head to the gym. I run every day and lift with my trainer¬†three or four times a week; I find that it really clears my mind and energizes me for the day ahead. Then a quick shower and straight to the office, where no day is ever the same! I usually spend the¬†morning working with my various freelance design clients, then it‚Äôs coffee or lunch with an editor or¬†stylist, then back to my¬†office to work with my design team on materials, colors or hardware. Otherwise I might be presenting the collection to buyers or press in the showroom, or working with my merchandising team to build the line. My typical day doesn‚Äôt leave¬†much time for¬†designing, so I stay late and work¬†on Saturday¬†when no one else is around and I can blast music and really get my head into the new season.‚ÄĚ

 

ON THE BIGGEST PERK OF THE JOB:

‚ÄúTraveling to Italy every ten to fifteen days! The¬†food, the wine and working with all the incredible artisans who love the shoemaking¬†process as much as I do.‚ÄĚ

 

ON HIS DREAM COLLABORATION:

‚ÄúI already collaborate with some amazing fashion brands on their runway shoes; Emilia Wickstead and Juan Carlos Obando to name a couple. But a¬†real dream would be to collaborate on a shoe design with my¬†favorite artist, Richard Serra. I‚Äôve long admired his work,¬†especially the Torqued Ellipse series,¬†constructed from 2‚Ä̬†thick stainless steel that tower 40 feet into the air. Serra¬†has an incredible ability to take sculptural form to make space distinct; the capacity to set space in motion.¬†There is a sculptural quality to shoes and I‚Äôm sure he could create¬†something really extraordinary.‚ÄĚ

 

ON WHO HE’D LOVE TO SEE WEARING HIS SHOE:

‚ÄúI‚Äôm so fortunate in that some of the most talented and beautiful¬†celebrities of this generation, Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o and Cate Blanchett, have all worn my shoes. But if I could see anyone from past or present, it would have to be Marlene Dietrich! I love 1930‚Äôs film¬†and she was a sensation of the period.‚ÄĚ

 

ON THE BEST CAREER ADVICE HE’S EVER RECEIVED:

‚ÄúI collaborate with Vera Wang on her runway shoes, and she once said in passing, after a great review of her collection, "you are only as good as your last collection". This comment has stuck with me and I¬†have made it a¬†personal ambition to always ensure next season is better than the last!‚ÄĚ

 

ON WHAT’S NEXT:

‚ÄúMy hope is to grow the brand consciously, deliberately, and with an eye to sustainability. So many young brands want everything immediately, and they risk being¬†unable to support that growth with the proper infrastructure. I am attempting to build a brand that will be around for a long time - so while my attentions are so focused on the unique challenges facing us in the next 2 to 5 years, I always have an eye on that larger goal. But at the heart of it, I hope that in 20 years I'm still designing beautiful shoes for beautiful women around the world.‚ÄĚ

 

Part of the series:

Deskside

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