With a long-spanning career of 15 years that belies his age, British-born shoe designer Paul Andrew has worked within some of the most prominent fashion houses along the way. Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Alexander McQueen and Narciso Rodriguez are just some of the brands listed on his impressive resume, but that aside, the US-based creative is a force to be reckoned with.
Branching out from these luxury brands and launching his own line in spring of 2013, his eponymous label has since garnered several awards — the coveted win of the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and a subsequent nomination for the 2015 CFDA Swarovski Award for Accessory Design included. A shoe designer to the celebrities, Andrew has shod the feet of Hollywood names like Emma Watson, Olivia Munn and Lupita Nyong'o. Not suprising for a designer who approaches his craft with an unparalleled aesthetic of sexiness without severity.
In the quiet opulence of Raffles Hotel, Buro 24/7 sat down with the designer and picked his brains on what drives his passion, his outlook on the future, and his take on the sexiest shoes for women.
The whole reason I started my brand was to make women feel more beautiful, to empower them, and to add a level of comfort into their footwear.
How did your passion for shoemaking start?
It's something I wanted to do for almost as long as I can remember. My father was the upholsterer to the Queen of England, so the most magnificent antique furniture and fabrics constantly surrounded me. My mother, on the other hand, was an executive in a digital company so I grew up in an interesting environment where business, technology and artisanship exists side-by-side. Then I discovered fashion, and shoes are the incredible combination of those interests, in a way.
Since the launch of your own line, you've won several prestigious awards, including the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. How has that helped your career and what have you taken away from it?
I feel extremely privileged to be one of the finalists. Looking at those who came before me, from the likes of Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang and Joseph Aquazzura; all incredible brands that have gone on to succeed internationally. The idea that I've been recognised by the same panel of judges to be worthy of that award is a real honour. I don't take anything for granted. I understand that now the work really begins in order to really establish myself. But it really energises you and encourages you to move forward.
Talk us through your design process.
It starts with my travels as I'm always on a plane. Every season, I take a city as an inspiration. I go to these cities and I do a lot of sketches. I visit museums and antique shops where I take a lot of photographs. And then back in New York, I start sketching shoes loosely based on that inspiration. I'm also very invested in the craft and how they're made, so I spend a lot of time in the factories making the heel. Lastly, I cut the patterns and then of course, I choose and develop fabrications and embroideries.
You are now branching out into the Southeast Asian market. Why did you choose On Pedder to carry your line?
Well, they have such a curated variety. The designers they carry are the best in the industry and I couldn't imagine a better retail partner to work with in the region. I think that simply having your collection as part of their assortment is one of the things that really feels like I'm starting to make it. The idea that they wanted my line and that they've already been successful with the shoes; it means a lot to me to have them as a business partner.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your new Hong Kong-influenced spring/summer 2016 collection.
I first visited Hong Kong last January but the city wasn't what I imagined it would be. I was taken aback by the fact that it's a modern metropolis with a skyline full of skyscrapers, yet on the streets there's still this integrated history and culture of China and even the British colonisation. So it's a mixture of all of those aspects that I've tried to instill in the collection. It's the idea of contemporary architecture mixed with tradition, like this Chrysler Zenadia pump with its modern heel and silk jacquard — it reflects the harmony of my inspiration.
As a male designer creating shoes for women, how do you relate to the inherent femininity of your craft?
I try to get in touch with women as much as possible. In fact, my team is entirely female. The whole reason I started my brand was to make women feel more beautiful, to empower them, and to add a level of comfort into their footwear. I recognise that shoes in many markets were crippling women, as they couldn't walk in these staggeringly high heels. So I do a lot of work to make my footwear the most comfortable. That's how I sort of try to get into a woman's head. I spend a lot of time with women. I've done a survey to test the market to comprehend the best fit and I strive everyday to understand what women want.
I'm also excited to meet the women that have bought my shoes, who have supported the brand, and to listen to them and their needs. It's important for me to always have my ears open and to listen. I will always take that information back to the design studio and let it inspire what I do the next season.
Do you find that to be the defining factor that sets you apart from other established designers?
Without question. I think that most designers are much more focused on aesthetics and less on practicality. I think that when you consider both of those things, it's a winning combination. It's about this modern elegance of chic and refinement but simultaneously comfortable.
You've designed shoes for a lot of celebrities, but who would be the one person you dream of designing a pair of shoes for?
I've humbly and very happily dressed a lot of celebrities in our generation, including Cate Blanchett who I greatly admired, Jessica Chastain and Emmy Rossum. But I think more of the past and the old silver screen stars who are so glamourous and beautiful. For example, someone like Marlene Dietrich or Joan Crawford — I would love the idea of dressing them, even though it's a fantasy (laughs).
Looking back at some of your earlier collections, is there a shoe that you would deconstruct and make better? How would you improve it?
Well, I don't want to say the wrong thing because I've spent a lot of time over the years really trying to perfect the fit and comfort. I don't feel like I've ever really put a shoe out in the market that doesn't meet those requirements. Although in terms of fabrications or colours, I do look back in retrospect and think "Oh my goodness, I shouldn't have used that, perhaps", but for the most part I don't have any regrets.
If you were a woman, what kind of shoe would you create for yourself?
I can only look at it through the perspective of me trying to dress the women that are in my life. I don't think women should feel obligated to one shoe. I think it's more about a wardrobe, at this point. Everything from flats to kitten heels, to mid to high heels. I do think that a classic pump is an important staple in any wardrobe. And to also have a fantasy shoe; something that takes you to another universe. It's what makes you feel great and special — isn't that what everyone needs in their life?
Who would you love to collaborate with on a collection?
Every season, I've collaborated with several designers for shoes for their runway show. Right now there's a Paul Andrew shoe for Rosie Assoulin, Tanya Taylor, Victor Alfaro, Alexander Louis — a lot of emerging ready-to-wear designers. It's really fun for me to do these collaborations because they all want different things and they all have different ideas for fashion and silhouettes.
For me, it's great to be in close contact with ready-to-wear designers so as to understand the trends of hem lengths and pant volumes. This way you understand the season and you're designing shoes that work with the clothing trends. It's about adjusting the way that you design to work with the proportions of ready-to-wear.
Your label has been growing quite exponentially in the past few years. Where do you see yourself in five years?
I'm trying to take things one step at a time. I realise there's still a lot of work to do and firstly, I really want to roll out the women's line. I find there's still many aspects to work on here: More product categories, and to really establish the brand name in women's footwear. But I certainly have ambitions for other product categories. I think that men's shoes could be really interesting and maybe even children's shoes, at some point. And who's to say that eyewear, fragrance or ready-to-wear isn't a possibility?
What do you think are the sexiest shoes on a woman?
Oh, that's difficult. I think the classic pump with a twist is the sexiest shoe, particularly this bright lemon yellow Zenadia pump in my collection. The way I've cut the shoe gives it a very curvaceous form and when it's on the foot, the heel mimics the line of the body. Also, its cut is different from a regular pump as it goes toward the ankle so it grips your foot well. Although it may look like a simple shoe, it's anything but as I've spent many hours cutting the pattern in order to make it comfortable yet sexy. As always, it's about the curves.
Paul Andrew is available at On Pedder.