Paul Andrew‘s one-of-a-kind designs may have catapulted his name to the forefront of the fashion industry, but it’s the footwear and accessories designer’s almost regal charm that truly make him unforgettable (of course, his melodic British accent and dazzling, white smile don’t hurt). A personal appearance at Nordstrom‘s Houston Galleria location would be my first (albeit too brief) encounter with the British-born creative.
During our meeting, Andrew exuded a calm, collected aura, the same air found throughout his collections — eclectic, yet poised. His shoes provide just enough spunk to stand out in a crowd, but they’re never the obnoxious stiletto begging to be noticed. It’s this very appeal that landed Andrew the coveted first-place prize in the famed CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund competition, as well as securing the designer a number of other accolades and countless collaboration opportunities.
Andrew told me he would be in the city for less than 24 hours — because when you’re an international design sensation, well, duty calls.
“I was sadly in Houston for only seven hours, but I wish I could have explored the museum district,” Andrew explained in a follow-up email interview. “I’ve heard incredible things about the Menil Collection, and I’m a fan of James Turrell’s work, so a visit to his Twilight Epiphany Skyspace would have been a must.”
Andrew sent me packing with a beautiful illustration depicting a shoe from his collection — inscribed on the page’s bottom left corner, “With love, Paul Andrew.” A few weeks later, an email interview followed. Here — go inside the head of the man behind the brand.
What sparked your passion for shoemaking?
My career path became clear quite early in life. My father was the Queen’s upholsterer at Windsor Castle, and being surrounded by luxurious textiles and artisan craftsmanship was a enormous influence. In high school, my favorite class was design technology, because I loved the idea of designing something that could enhance a person’s life and the being able to create it using modern technological advances. But fashion was always my first interest. As a young child, I saved my pocket money for fashion magazines every month.
The aspect of designing shoes that I love so much is how a woman’s demeanor, posture and attitude can be changed due to her shoes. Sliding on a sexy heel alters the way she walks, carries hersel,f and positions her body — shoes have an incredible power to shape a woman’s presence.
You had extensive experience with some of the world’s most famous fashion houses before launching your own line. How did your tenure with other designers affect your brand?
Yes, I worked for Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Narciso Rodriquez and Alexander McQueen before launching my own brand. I enjoyed working with each of them for very different reasons: Alexander McQueen for his boundless creativity; Narcisco Rodriguez for his clean, sexy aesthetic; and Calvin Klein for his unwavering commitment to minimalistic design. With Donna Karan, though, where I was the head of design for shoes and accessories for 10 years, I was pushed to think about comfort and the needs and desires of a real woman.
It wasn’t about creating shoes that made her into an object for male consumption, it was about celebrating every aspect of the woman, including her need for comfort. That’s something that has become incredibly important to my collection. For this reason, I’d say that Donna was probably the most formative experience for me professionally.
With the release of Amazon’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund series, audiences have been given a special look behind-the-scenes of the insider fashion competition. How did your win in 2014 help propel your brand, and what was the most memorable moment of the competition?
Receiving this accolade from such an esteemed panel of judges, including Anna Wintour, Diane Von Furstenberg, Jenna Lyons and Reed Krakoff, not only increased brand awareness, but made an enormous difference in my business. I saw a significant jump in wholesale partners wanting to either stock Paul Andrew for the first time, or expand their existing assortment.
During the competition’s Maybelline-sponsored design challenge, I was tasked with making a pair of shoes that were inspired by New York City, which led me to create a over-the-knee boot in stretch suede with a hand-embroidered New York skyline. That challenge actually became the springboard for my Fall 2015 collection, which was entirely inspired by the city.
What idea were you trying to get across with your most recent collection, and where do you draw inspiration?
Every season, I take inspiration from a new city that I have visited. Last season was New York, this season is Hong Kong, and for the upcoming Fall 2016 collection I was inspired by Istanbul. I was particularly influenced by the Hagia Sofia, whose tile-work, luxurious embellishment and intricate yet minimalist architecture had major influence on the work.
The collection wasn’t a political statement in any way, despite the region’s current turmoil and heartbreak, but I did want to draw attention to the cultural history of the region, which is not only beautiful, but has also had an impact on the trajectory of design worldwide. It was a pleasure to research and celebrate that history.
One shoe from your collection you feel every woman should own?
In Spring 2014, I launched a style called Rhea, which is a deceptively simple flat slingback style. I say deceptively, because there was so much design and engineering that went into that shoe to make it the perfect, simple everyday shoe. Everything from the angle of the strap to the tension of the elastic was carefully considered so that it’s a staple of a woman’s wardrobe. A woman can wear them with cropped jeans on the weekend, a tapered pant for work or a gown for an insouciant evening look.
What can we look forward to from your men’s shoe collection?
Launching men’s shoes has been a really long time coming for me. It’s a natural progression of the brand, and I’m really excited for customers to experience this new product, which I feel doesn’t look like anything else in the market.
Every season, I work with around 10 designers on shoe collaborations for Fashion Week presentations. For Fall 2016, I worked with Rosie Assoulin, David Koma and Jonathan Simkhai, among many others. It’s a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding. It often allows me to go outside of my specific aesthetic and do something that maybe is not right for my customer, but it is still beautiful and creatively fulfilling.
What celebrity would you love to see in your shoes?
I’m so fortunate in that some of the most talented and beautiful celebrities of this generation, including Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o and Cate Blanchett, have all worn my shoes. But if could see anyone from past or present, it would have to be Marlene Dietrich. I love 1930s film, and she was a sensation of the period.