With whimsical designs and elegant silhouettes Paul Andrew started his eponymous label in 2013, I have been a fan ever since. Fast-forward about five years and what once was a small brand has grown into an award-winning label and retail juggernaut selling in most top-level stores. So, when the opportunity came to share with you, pretty birds, his words of wisdom, years of experience working for some of the fashion industry greats and what it takes to live more stylishly, we jumped at the chance.
You’ve worked alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, was footwear design always a career you wanted to pursue?
Fashion was always my first interest and 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 an enormous influence. In high school, my favorite class was Design Technology; I loved the idea of creating something that could enhance a person’s life, and be able to create it using modern technological advances. When it came time to choose a field of study for university, fashion footwear design seemed like the perfect amalgamation of all my interests.
When did you first decide to start your namesake label?
It’s important to remember that before launching my collection, I worked for fifteen years behind the scenes for several fashion luminaries including Alexander McQueen, Narciso Rodriguez, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. Working alongside each of them granted so many experiences– that will always feel like milestones in my development as a designer. In 2012, after a decade and a half of experience in the market I felt secure in my decision to breakout on my own.
What are some of the challenges you faced early on when starting your own company versus working for an established brand?
I really had to master a balance of pacing myself and pushing myself. The goal should be to create a lasting brand that becomes part of the fabric of internationally recognized design. As for me, my hope is to grow Paul Andrew consciously, deliberately, and with an eye to sustainability.
You are now also the first ever Designer Director for women’s shoes at Ferragamo, how does your design process/inspirations differ between the two brands?
The spirit of Paul Andrew is obviously personal: It comes from my personal history and my experience in fashion, and is a spirit that is technically based in New York but truly global in spirit. For a small luxury brand, our distribution and footprint represents that– The aesthetic is rooted in everyday glamour and sophistication. The spirit of Ferragamo is quintessentially Italian. It is quite symbolically headquartered in Florence and its point of view has been centered around craft. My strategy is to marry innovation to that, in making products that continue the Italian tradition of the handmade but for the fast-paced, digitally minded audience of today. I recognize that it’s crucial for me to compartmentalize aspects of my life, and when it comes to my work, its essential that both brands remain separate entities and not bleed into each other. I’m fortunate that throughout my career I’ve had plenty of practice designing for several brands simultaneously so I’ve actually become quite adept at isolating one concept from another. At this point in my career, I now have the experience and knowledge– I’m prepared to do this, and do it the right way.
Take us through your design process. Where do you find your inspiration, source materials, etc.
I like to start with an over-arching touch point – an artist like Brancusi for example – and then it’s hours and hours of research and pouring over books, and developing unique fabrics and leathers. 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 and then I sketch until a shoe feels fully realized. Of course, though, footwear design doesn’t stop at the sketch. I travel to my Italian factories, just north of Milan, twice a month to guide the prototyping and production process.
What tips would you share with someone wanting to break into the industry?
As I mentioned, before launching my own brand, I spent 15 years working in the industry for renowned fashion houses. My learning experience at each house was entirely different and undeniably invaluable. My advice is to take as much time as possible to work under someone you admire professionally– soak up their knowledge like a sponge.
Can you share with us some tips on how to manage work-life balance?
That is a work in progress. I now essentially split my life between New York, Florence and my country house in Connecticut. Every free few minutes on my calendar is precious—The busier my life becomes, the more crucial it is that I’m efficient.
If you could describe the aesthetic of the brand in three words what would they be?
Chic, elegant and joyful. Whenever a design doesn’t feel quite right to me, I usually find that it’s missing one of these characteristics.
Now in the age of social media, how do you feel like it impacts a business?
It’s a remarkable tool and continues to evolve the landscape. Thanks to the internet and social media, It almost seems that the world has gotten quite small– The sartorial desires of women globally have become more inline and inclusive. Women in every region are seeing the same tastemakers, influencers and trends, and I think the aesthetics of women globally are more streamlined now than ever before.
What do you think someone should look for when investing in a quality pair of shoes?
I cannot stress the importance of fit enough! When I started my brand, I did a study of five hundred women from all over the world and looked at what they really needed for a shoe to be practical, comfortable, and desirable.
What trends do you see coming up in footwear?
I’m seeing a return to an ease in dressing—Lower heels feel quite fresh right now, not to mention functional.
What are some of your favorite pieces from your current collection?
The stars of my Autumn/Winter collection are a series of slouch-boots I designed in lipstick red, black and a stunning winter white.
If you had one tip on how to live a more stylish life what would it be?
Maybe I’m biased… but why not try dressing from the shoe, up? The aspect of designing footwear 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 herself, and positions her body – shoes have an incredible power to shape a woman’s presence, and a strong charisma is always stylish.