While we all love to make a statement with our footwear, there’s still something alluring about a pair of shoes that are timeless and beautifully made. For that we head to New York based cobbler, Paul Andrew, who has made style, fit and craftsmanship his MO.
Paul, who is based in New York, launched his line in 2013 and has already been honoured with several awards including the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund thanks to designs such as his best-selling Zenadia, which is a chic pump with scalloped edging (For summer it will be replaced by the Rhea, a pointy toe sling back that is modern and oh-so-easy to wear).
He was recently in Hong Kong to launch his spring/summer 2016 collection which is – surprise, surprise – inspired by Hong Kong. We were lucky rnough to spend some time with the designer to find out about how he was discovered, the perfect fit and why his shoes are built to last.
The best-selling Zenadia
HOW did you become interested in fashion?
I grew up in an interesting household. My mother was on the business side, while my father was upholsterer to the queen, and his workshop was attached to our home in Windsor, England. I always remember being surrounded by these traditional artisan techniques which has really informed how I work now and my obsession with materials and fabrications.
Of course my mother also had deep closets filled with shoes so I spent lots of time in her wardrobe studying every detail . I really wanted to go into architecture, then I got interested in fashion. Shoes for me are an amalgamation of two.
Tell us how you were discovered?
It was all thanks to my graduate collection, which honestly, doesn’t look so different from what I am creating now. It was bought by [consultant] Yasmin Sewell for a boutique called Yasmin Cho. Everything happened so quickly afterwards. I got my first job with Alexander McQueen and Vogue wrote incredible piece. I was offered a job in New York where I ended up working with Narciso Rodriguez, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan before I founded my own brand.
Why did you then decide to break out on your own?
At the time I had the best of both worlds. I was travelling to Europe every month working with artisans but then heading back to the US to work with major scions of industry who taught me the business. It was difficult to break away from working with other people, but I saw a major opportunity for shoes. For me it is always the most important part of the look, so I knew there was a lot to build then and I was right.
What was new or fresh about Paul Andrew shoes specifically?
At that point shoes had become sculptures for the foot – it wasn’t realistic. I remember speaking with several editors about how I was interested in doing a pointy toe pump again and many said to me said how uncomfortable they were. My mandate at that point was to make it comfortable so I did things like build in a mini platform which I then filled with padding. People in general don’t understand technicalities of making shoes. Any given shoe will usually feature 80 different components made by different factories.
A style from the spring/summer 2016 collection
Everyone says your shoes are super comfortable – what’s the secret?
The way I construct my shoes are so specific. Even today shoes made according to measurements established to the 1970s, but people’s feet have changed thanks to things like yoga etc. That’s why I really work on construction to accommodate a modern fit.
How does each collection form in your mind?
Every season I take inspiration from different city. Hong Kong is the city for spring/summer 2016. There’s so much here, the history of culture, what is growing around us, the skyscrapers. Every collection has a balance. I design silhouettes which are forever like the new sling back, Rhea, which is a core classic that can take any colour or fabric. Then you have other pieces that are more instinctual such as the new gladiator with buckles up the calves. I do what I feel is right – it’s never about a checklist.
Now that you’ve conquered women’s shoes, what’s next?
Men’s! There’s an interesting niche in market because what’s available now is either too classic or tricked out. There’s a space for something in the middle. I live close to Wall Street and I see guys walking to work and they are so put together, but their shoe choices are not always the best!
What’s the secret to surviving in the fashion world today?
The key for me is to stay strong and stand for something. That’s the success of any fashion brand at the moment. If they have no real identity they are going to fail as there are so many choices out there. At the same time, I don’t see us becoming this huge conglomerate brand, many of which are struggling today. What’s more interesting in fashion at least at this moment to discover a niche, emerging brand that offers something new