If the shoe fits…

Luma from Anthropologie’s Philadelpha home office discusses
Schuler & Sons with Anthro lovers at the Chelsea Market Anthro.

Earlier this week two of Anthropologie’s shoe designers gave an after-hours chat at the Chelsea Market Anthropologie here in NYC. The subject? Shoes of course! Inspiration, the design and production process and a spring preview were all covered during the early-evening chat. The Anthro lovers met Luma, who works on Anthropologie’s in-house shoe lines (i.e. Miss Albright, Schuler & Sons, Lucky Penny, Pilcro, Holding Horses, etc.) and Brian from the Leifsdottir line.

The event began with a detailed description of what each in-house line is about. Schuler & Sons is meant to represent the handmade artisan’s work, with extra details and classic shoe shapes with modern materials. Miss Albright should evoke vintage designs and feminine details with a modern twist. Pilcro represents a new interpretation on basics, while Holding Horses represents a more rugged, well-worn aesthetic. Leifsdottir rounds out the group with forward-thinking designs meant to keep the wearer on-trend if not ahead of them.

Brian from Leifsdottir chats with a Chelsea Market staffer.

From there we learned about the shoe design process and it had my wanderlust in high gear! Each year members of the shoe design team take part in Anthropologie’s Around the World Trip, which is 2 weeks of inspiration-focused jet-setting for inspiration. The trip goes in one direction around the world, taking the team across two oceans and to various destinations. For the shoe team one of the highlights is the Lineapelle show in Italy. During the world’s “most important international exhibition dedicated to leather” Anthro’s team digs through thousands of leather samples to purchase some of the materials they’ll use in their shoe designs.

After the trip it’s back to Philadelphia to design the shoes. I was surprised to learn that just like an outside design house, Anthropologie’s buying team selects certain designs from its in-house shoe team to send to production. So like any company the shoe team has to sell their designs! The team sketches and uses shoe lasts (a model form) to create samples which are presented to the team, the buyers, and other Anthropologie departments. From there the purchased designs are sent to production. Anthro produces its shoes in Italy, Brazil and China.

Why China? A few reasons, we learned. First, making shoes in Italy is expensive and for shoes Anthropologie tries to keep the price point below $178. (This doesn’t include boots.) In Brazil it’s challenging to import items for shoe production — they’d prefer that you use materials local to the country. So if an Anthro shoe design calls for a leather or material that’s not easy to get into Brazil and would be expensive to produce in Italy it’s made in China.

From there it was on to a 2012 Spring Preview. For Anthropologie, expect to see three trends: molded wood heels with interesting angles and cutouts; vachetta leather used plentifully on straps and accents, and soft nubuck died in appealing hues. The vachetta leather was appealing to the team because of its natural color and the way it patinas over time. In the photo above the far right pair of shoes has a vachetta double-strap. The nubuck feels like suede (it’s not) and takes dye very well, like the two pairs of shoes on the left in the photo above. And I saw heels with carved-out squares, and another that looked like two impossibly stacked pieces of angled wood. The shoes next spring won’t lack visual interest!

My favorite pairs were the laser-cut nubuck designs. The intense hues and gentle slope of each pair look comfortable and pretty. It will be awhile before these shoes hit stores and now I don’t want to wait. Luma recommended treating these with a waterproofing spray to protect the shoes. We also got a sneak peak at Pilcro’s spring trinket flats, which will feature the Eiffel Tower, a tennis racket and a bumblebee!

For Leifsdottir, we can expect more fashion-forward designs with incredible imbellishment. I saw one pair of wedges with a thick platform and what looked like a killer arch curve. But they were actually very comfortable! The design team for Leifsdottir is inspired by the brand’s European heritage and strives for shoes that look incredible yet are wearable all day. I loved a pair of woven clogs and flats with large polka dots in leather and a comfy leather insole. Brian from Leifsdottir mentioned that Leifsdottir’s flats have a slight wedge inside for comfort. I could feel the thick leather insole that would keep me comfy in the flats all day.

After the chat I asked about boots. Specifically, does Anthropologie have plans to make narrow and wide-calf options? The answer: they have talked about it internally. To make different calf thicknesses they’d have to produce shoe lasts of each size and half-size for every different thickness. So if a boot runs from size 5 to size 11 in three calf widths, that’s 39 forms! I could see how it would get expensive though I hope they do it anyway. Right now the design team tries to incorporate elasticized panels into the boots to allow for some give. I’ve had to pass up many pretty boots because they wouldn’t fit my calves. I hope that Anthropologie considers making more varied-calf options in the future.

What’s your favorite Anthro shoe brand? What are you hoping to see for Spring 2012?

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