Sole man Paul Andrewís shoes are chic, elegant and (gasp!) comfortable

August 3, 2015

Paul Andrew Laguardia high-heel sandal.

New York-based shoe designer Paul Andrew already has a signature pump (the Zenadia), a CFDA Vogue/Fashion Fund Award, a high-end collection sold at Neiman Marcus and Net-a-porter and a capsule collection with J.Crew. In the three years since launching his namesake brand, heís more than hit his stride.

But when it comes to the red carpet, heís still learning, which is why he brought his collection to Los Angeles for the first time recently, to meet with the gatekeepers to glamour: celebrity stylists.

"(The red carpet) is a totally different formula," the designer said over lunch at the Palihouse in West Hollywood. "They are ever so specific about the materials and the colors. You canít have any embellishment on the toe because it might snag the gown. Some girls will only wear an ankle strap because they are afraid the shoe is going to fall off, and some wonít wear an ankle strap at all."

Still, all the fuss pays off, he says.

"Whenever we dress celebs, it impacts business not just on a domestic level but globally," he says. "People post about it on Instagram, and then you will hear from retailers they have more requests about that certain shoe." (Emmy Rossum, January Jones, Kendall Jenner, Taylor Swift and Gwyneth Paltrow have all worn Paul Andrew shoes on the red carpet.)

Andrew, 37, was showing styles from his pre-spring 2016 collection, which will hit stores as awards show season is kicking off toward the end of this year. Inspired by a recent trip to Hong Kong, the rich lineup features emerald satin evening wedges; slingbacks in a brocade based on the print of a vintage cheongsam and flat evening sandals covered in milky jade Swarovski crystals.

But one thing you will never see from Andrew is a shoe a woman cannot walk in.

"At the time I was launching my brand, everyone was wearing staggeringly high platforms. Shoes felt so vulgar, and my personal preference has always been for a single sole, light, elegant shoe. I thought, ĎThis has got to be coming back. I have to launch it now,í" says Andrew, who spent 15 years designing shoes for other brands before launching his own in September 2012.

Before setting out to start his line, he did a survey of 500 women around the world, "because part of what I disliked was seeing women walking down the street hobbling. Thereís nothing less sexy than a woman who canít walk in her shoes. And so many shoes in the market now are built according to measurements established in the 1970s. Today, so many people are doing sports and wearing sneakers all the time, the anatomy of peopleís feet has changed."

The survey involved scanning peopleís feet, including the arch, the width and the length of toes. "In general, people are much wider than they were and the foot size is much bigger," says Andrew, whose shoes are designed in Manhattan, and made in Italy and Spain. "Weíre now cutting up to a (European) size 43 (size 12 in the U.S.), which is unheard of."

Andrew hails from the rural English town of Maidenhead, close to Windsor. His father was the upholsterer to the British royal family. "He had a workshop in our house where he spent all this time with these amazing brocades. So of course Iím drawn to those fabrics."

While Andrew was studying at the Berkshire College of Art & Design (now Reading College), a professor encouraged him to concentrate on footwear, pointing out that the shoe business was growing exponentially, and there would be an opportunity for designers.

In 1999, after Andrew won Londonís Graduate Fashion Week, a charity event that showcases the work of 1,000 design students, the London buyer Yasmin Sewell bought his graduate collection for her store, Yasmin Cho. She introduced the young designer to several big names in the London fashion scene, including Alexander McQueen, where Andrew apprenticed for his first job.

Soon after, a Vogue editor in New York suggested he move across the Atlantic, where a number of big American brands were looking for accessory designers. He launched footwear for Narciso Rodriguez and worked as the head of shoes and bags for Donna Karan (resin heels with stars inspired by mosques was a highlight there) and Calvin Klein (where his mid-heel biker boots were a hit on the runway).

"I made a lot of mistakes on other peopleís dollar," Andrew says. "Shoemaking is a craft you need to learn, not just something you can do. I hand-make every pattern, every heel, every last. You donít have that skill set when you come out of school."

From his lineís first season, he was able to sell to Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York. The collection, $445 to $1,395, is also available at Neiman Marcus and Net-a-porter.

Early on, his Zenadia pump, with its wing-like topline detail, became a signature. "Itís a versatile shoe, in that it can take many materials well, and the winged detail holds you in if youíre narrow, and if youíre wide, it gets your bunion to stay in the shoe," he says.

Andrew also sells a lot of slingbacks, which he offers in five heel heights. "Iíve tried to perfect the fit and the tension of the elastic. You see too many women with slingbacks falling down. Itís not nice-looking."

The J.Crew CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund capsule collection in stores now features riffs on some of his most popular styles, including a pair of fringed gladiators, priced from $398 to $598. Next up for Andrew is launching his own e-commerce site and his first menís collection later this year.

Heís also quite taken with designing around a single city as inspiration. The fall 2015 collection landing soon is inspired by New York City: skyline-embroidery on a disco boot, Chrysler Building spire-as-a-heel and more.

Might LA someday capture his imagination? Says Andrew, "It could very well."



Associated Press