Monday, April 22, 2019

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Designing Footwear Collections from the Ground Up

Today I'd like to share some insider information with you...that is, how we come up with new designs and collections for the coming seasons.

We usually start working on a new collection about a year in advance. It's a good time to muse and get inspired because it's the same time of year as when the new collection will come out. It's genuinely hard to design a Summer collection in the middle of Winter, and even harder to take photos when it's snowing outside, so we try to work far enough in advance to help us with mood and media both.

Our designs always start with original vintage shoes, advertisements, and images. Here are just two we referenced for color, bows, and tongue ideas.
Speaking of mood, that's where it really all begins. Working with the design team (me, Nicole, and Abby), we throw out a bunch of ideas and feels and impressions. When we all circle around one, a color scheme starts to come together. As an example, Foxtrot Summer came from the feeling of dancing at an evening garden party on a warm night, surrounded by flowers, jazz, and champagne...then the color palette developed from several original 1930s fabrics, the kind of diaphanous printed silk chiffon found on puff-sleeves '30s tea gowns.

Our color palette with Pantone callouts for Foxtrot Summer 2019. We pulled these swatches from illustrations, original shoes, textile designs, and more.
Once the feel and the palette are a go, we agonize over the shoe designs themselves. We try to stick to some "rules" (guidelines, more like) in terms of what kinds of shoes to include in the collection. For instance, there ought to be a low-heeled or flat shoe, an oxford, a pump, a sandal if it's summer, and a nice spread over different heel shapes and heights.

When designing a collection we want everything to feel cohesive. It should feel both cohesive in color palette (not TOO many reds or yellows or blues) and in style (they can't ALL be sandals). We also don't want entirely two-tones or entirely suede, etc. To keep everything balanced, we place all of the design and colorway mockups on one page together to take a look at the whole.

Taking a look at the whole Foxtrot Summer collection together, to make sure everything feels balanced. We check out both style and color on this tear sheet.
Once everything is approved, it's off to sampling. This is the fun part - we pick leather colors, component colors (like shoe laces and other decoration), and see the designs come to life. But it's almost never a winner right out of the gate! Sometimes colors in real life don't work so well together and we have to figure out why - for instance, is that yellow just too YELLOW? Does that blue actually work with that red? We typically go through two or three rounds of samples getting the materials, colors, and fit just right.

The protoypes are almost never correct on the first try - take the first sample of Daphne, for example. WOW YELLOW, right? Fix that! But we also made a lot of changes to the design, which created a better balanced design in the second sampling round. 
And the rest...well, you know what happens next. :-)

If you'd like to see the result of the examples I've shared here, head on over to - Foxtrot Summer is on pre-order April 25th - Mary 17th, 2019.

"Cora," one of the new designs in the Foxtrot Summer collection.



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