Like many footwear entrepreneurs, Enrique Corbi and business partner Arnaud Zannier bowed their independent label after identifying an untapped opportunity in the market. But instead of a missing category, they were responding to “a gap in the market for having fun,” said Corbi, who hails from a shoemaking family and designed footwear for Lacoste and Paul Smith before striking out on his own.
Corbi and Zannier launched N.D.C. Made By Hand in 2001. Twelve years later, the Belgium-based men’s and women’s label is still creating styles with joviality in mind. Priced at $300 to $700, the shoes aim to give off a subtly whimsical vibe with playful-yet-understated embellishments such as creative leather treatments, handmade charms and pops of neon on soles.
N.D.C.’s main market is Europe, where it has two flagships, but the brand, which sells stateside at Barneys New York and Shoescribe.com, as well as a number of independents, is looking to increase its wholesale footprint here. “I don’t want to be everywhere, I just want to be in the right places with the right shoes,” Corbi said.
Here, the designer chats more about staying small, his dream customer and why everyday people are his main muses.
1. You have a relatively limited distribution. Is that part of your overall plan?
EC: What I don’t want to do is compromise the principles and foundations [under] which we created the brand. We will never compromise in quality, construction or raw materials. My dream — my objective — is not to create a mega-corporate thing. It’s just to do nice products for a nice bunch of people worldwide and make a living out of it.
2. What kind of customer do you have in mind when you design?
EC: My ideal consumer would be anybody who believes in the lifestyle that we live. Anybody from 25 to 50-something — somebody who cares about what is on his feet, somebody who wouldn’t compromise quality just to be trendy, somebody who wants to be classy but understated at the same time, somebody who wants to be elegant but not necessarily flashy, somebody who is very self-confident.
3. Where do you get most of your ideas?
EC: My real inspiration on a daily basis comes from the streets. When I walk down the street and see people, my inspiration comes from what they do and how they live — real life. I am also very fond of literature and films. I’m waiting for the Cohen brothers to make another movie. They’re my favorite.