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Fashion shopping in Hong Kong

Paul Andrew, shoemaker with cult following, says craftsmanship key to success

Andrew, who learned his trade working with Alexander McQueen and Narciso Rodriguez, has built a brand with a distinctive DNA based on Italian craft and materials sourced from specialists with a long pedigree in shoemaking

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 February, 2016, 5:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 February, 2016, 5:01am

Paul Andrew’s celebrity fan list might be a mile long but one of his favourite customers is based in Turkey. The shoe designer was making a personal appearance at a high-end department store in Istanbul when the woman found a limited-edition style that she loved. Rather than buy a single pair in her size she purchased the store’s entire stock so no one else could have it.

It may sound extreme, but Andrew’s shoes have elicited a cult-like fervour among women ever since he launched his eponymous label two years ago. According to Andrew, the secret to his success lies in crafting incredibly comfortable shoes.

“The way I construct my shoes are so specific. Even today shoes are made according to measurements established in the 1970s, but people’s feet have changed. That’s why I really work on construction to accommodate a modern fit,” says the designer, who was recently in Hong Kong to launch his spring/summer 2016 collection at On Pedder.

Andrew’s talent was known as far back as 1999 at fashion school in London. His graduate collection was spotted by fashion stylist Yasmin Sewell, who bought the entire line (story sound familiar?). It wasn’t long before he was working with Alexander McQueen and being written about in the pages of Vogue.

Opportunity struck again and he headed to New York to work with Narciso Rodriguez. He spent the next decade working for esteemed fashion houses such as Donna Karan and Calvin Klein designing accessories.

“I had the best of both worlds. I was travelling to Europe every month working with artisans but then heading back to the US to work with major scions of industry who taught me the business. It was difficult to break away from working with other people, but I saw a major opportunity for shoes. For me, it is always the most important part of the look, so I knew there was a lot to build then and I was right,” he says.

When Andrew finally launched his first collection in spring 2013, trends dictated heavy platforms and chunky shapes. In order to stand apart from his competitors, he developed a sexy yet refined silhouette based on the classic pointed toe pump. After surveying 500 women he created the Zenadia, an architectural style with scalloped edging, which is still his best-seller.

“Shoes had become sculptures for the foot – it wasn’t realistic. I remember speaking with several editors about how I was interested in doing a pointy toe pump again and many said to me said how uncomfortable they were. My mandate at that point was to make it comfortable so I did things like build in a mini platform which I then filled with padding. People in general don’t understand the technicalities of making shoes. Any given shoe will usually feature 80 different components made by different factories,” he explains.

For the next few seasons Andrew went about building a recognisable DNA for his brand which would celebrate made-in-Italy craftsmanship, a cachet that he believes holds value in today’s luxury world. He sourced materials and hardware from specialists with a 100-year history, finding the best buckle makers and fabric mills specialising in unique textures. While these would form the basis of each collection, he would also seek inspiration from the various cities he had visited, from Dubai to Hong Kong, which is the focus of his spring/summer 2016 collection. Highlights include his signature pumps and silk jacquards, while more fashion-forward designs include mules embroidered with Asian-inspired florals and finished with a Lucite heel.

“There is always a balance in each collection. I have silhouettes which are forever like the new slingback, Rhea, which is a core classic that can take any colour or fabric. Then you have other pieces that are more instinctual such as the new gladiator with buckles up the calves. I do what I feel is right – it’s never about a checklist,” he says.

Also new this season is an exclusive Gold Collection with Lane Crawford, featuring three styles designed for ultra-luxury connoisseurs.

“I feel the Chinese consumer is so discerning so I wanted to push boundaries to create jewellery for the foot. The hand-carved heels and buckles are plated in 24-carat gold, while another style is decorated with crow feathers dipped in gold. They look luxe but I don’t feel they are so precious. I feel that luxury now is coming from the fit and comfort of a shoe. It’s something you feel rather than see,” he says.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Andrew has plenty of plans in the pipeline. Next season he hopes to further expand his product line to include casual styles such as sneakers and espadrilles, while adding a men’s line.

“The key for me is to stay strong and stand for something. That’s the success of any fashion brand at the moment. If they have no real identity they are going to fail as there are so many choices out there. At the same time, I don’t see us becoming this huge conglomerate brand, many of which are struggling today. What’s more interesting in fashion at least at this moment to discover a niche, emerging brand that offers something new,” he says.