Shoe Revolution: High Tech Meets High Craft
When Paul Andrew announced in New York last week that he would launch a specialist line of sneakers as part of the Paris Men’s show in June, it seemed like another step forward for the designer of fashionable footwear.
This shoe man has already been nominated Accessory Designer of the Year for today’s CFDA Awards. And now, the British-born, New York-based designer is adding yet another string to his bow. He has already launched a line of modernised classic men’s shoes. Now, working with actor Ansel Elgort, son of legendary photographer Arthur Elgort, the sneakers are set to be another fashion attraction.
The current flow of good news started with his appointment last year as Women’s Footwear Design Director at Salvatore Ferragamo. It seemed to be the pinnacle of a career built over two decades, as the designer worked for Calvin Klein and Alexander McQueen and then built a line of his own in 2012. This has continued during the relationship with the Florence-based empire, founded in 1927.
“They have had a great many people in the company designing their collections, but I am the first named designer since Salvatore passed away (in 1960),” said Paul Andrew, whose velvet bootees in vivid colours, or classic flats with “Ferragamo” engraved on a silver buckle are a long way from sneakers. But that does not mean that stretch boots with a variety of geometric patterns are not carrying some of the virtues of sports shoes.
“This is state-of-the-art technology – high tech meets high craft,” the designer said, explaining just what the Ferragamo footwear is carrying inside.
“We totally revolutionised the measurements and the fit with almost every shoe that is in the collection, changing the length of the arch and the volume of the toe box,” he continued. “And one of the most important things was that I added to every single shoe a memory foam, so that it actually cups around the ball of your foot.”
The first live appearance of the new Ferragamo footwear, which has been slow to appear in stores worldwide, was for the show in Milan in March. That was at a joint launch with Ferragamo’s Head of Womenswear, designer Fulvio Rigoni.
But having had the chance to see Paul Andrew’s work up close, it looks like both a technical revolution and a return to the spirit that is part of the Salvatore legacy. The new designer shoe has re-defined the graphic “F” heel-curve for velvet or suede shoes and boots, following the “F” as tribute to the Ferragamo name.
Other shoes, although still vivid in colour, have more traditional funnel heels or are attached to a web of shiny leather straps. The heels are galvanised using the same process as for a car finish; while others have grosgrain added, in a reference to Salvatore’s “shoe sock” of the 1930s. Yet another finish is the super-matte-black effect borrowed from the surface treatment of Mercedes cars.
Paul Andrew is quick to reference the Ferragamo founder and his visionary work. He describes how Salvatore visited Japan in the 1930s and “actually went to Tokyo and saw the geishas wearing socks with their sandals”. Andrew’s response was to create tech-knit sneakers and malleable ankle boots.
“So this was based on the silhouette originally created, but twisted a bit more on a high heel,” the designer continued. “You’ll see that there is no stitching on the shoes. I drew a pattern that was digitally copied, then we built a mould. Then we laid down the lining, then a layer of padding, then the suede. The laser cuts by itself and the edges are heat-sealed. You can do it in fabric, velvet – anything.”
So what is the difference between working for Ferragamo and creating his own-label shoes? They will now include the yet-to-be-seen sneakers, which were announced at a dinner held in New York by beauty brand Jo Malone London.
“Well, I try to put a different hat on for different brands. There is an aesthetic difference between both,” Paul Andrew said. “This is definitely more advanced because that was the way that Salvatore was thinking.”
The designer’s own collections, varied and detailed, tend to have a theme. For example in 2016, Istanbul was the subject, producing shoes rich in embroidery and colouring. The display in Paul Andrew’s showroom in February was inspired by the African wood and marble sculptures of the Modernist artist Constantin Brancusi, interpreted as shoes with column-shaped resin heels and leather treated to look like wood. Others were in python, cast with metallic foil and hand-woven brocade.
Paul Andrew seems unique in the new generation of designers in his fascination not only with shape, but also with texture. That is surely inherited from his father, who was an upholsterer for the British royal family. Now his son is fast becoming the 21st-century’s king of shoes.