5 Questions for Marco Delli

When Alegria by PG Lite added men’s footwear to its comfort offering last season, the Pomona, Calif.-based brand tapped veteran designer Marco Delli to give it an edgy look.

Delli, who has built a celebrity following for his 26-year-old eponymous line, lent his services to the men’s collection, which includes colorful casuals for spring and novelty boots for fall. Next, he will put his spin on a series of anti-slip looks targeting the duty market, a niche business for Alegria.

Although Delli was given free rein with the assignment, he acknowledged making some compromises when it came to balancing fashion with comfort. (Delli has experience working with a range of brands including Taryn Rose, Bacco Bucci and Vespa.)

“The difference is mainly the silhouette,” he said. “When you do comfort, you can’t do pointy shoes.”

In addition, he integrated the brand’s substantial cork-and-memory-foam insole into the bottoms without making the shoes look bulky. And for the uppers, Delli experimented with materials. “I always use very texture-y and unique leathers for my own line,” he said, noting that he was careful to stay within Alegria’s moderate price points of $140 to $160.

And while entering the men’s business can be challenging for some women’s brands, Alegria projected the category could eventually account for 30 percent of sales, Delli said. After all, he added, the brand’s loyal female customers requested the new line.

Here, Delli talks about his design inspiration and the challenges of luring young consumers into the comfort arena.

Many fashion-comfort lines focus on women. Why have men been so ignored?
MD:
Men’s is always a second thought in fashion and comfort because the volume is higher for women’s. With my own line, I’ve always catered to men with great results. I learned men tell friends about their purchases. And there’s no objection to price as long as they find quality, style [and] comfort. [They’re] very loyal when they like something. They always come back. [However], it’s also more challenging to design for them [because] they’re not adventurous. But today, men are more open. The media and Internet helped [make that happen].

What is your design process?
MD:
I don’t go into stores and look at shoes. I get bored when I see too many. Everything looks the same, plus I don’t want to be influenced. But, obviously, I need to study the market depending on the shoes I have to design. For my own line, I [can] do whatever I like. For Alegria, as when I design for other brands, I need to make sure I address the collection for the [target] customer and [not make] the same old shoe.

How closely do Alegria’s men’s and women’s styles mirror one another?
MD:
The goal is to have [female] consumers bring their [male] friends and loved ones to buy Alegria. That was my experience when designing for Taryn Rose — ladies brought their husbands, boyfriends, children to see the men’s line. They already have the experience of wearing something comfortable, different and not boring. Alegria’s women’s design director, Megan Gold, and I share ideas without interfering with our [individual] talents and visions. Obviously, I can’t do men’s shoes [like Megan’s], with flowers, but they’re crazy beautiful and I love them. How do I [turn that] into men’s? I use colors, [which] I love.

The term comfort can scare off young consumers. How can you lure them to the brand?
MD:
I never think about age, because it doesn’t matter. We can catch men [of any age], from 20 to 70. In the past, the [term comfort] could turn off a customer because it wasn’t known to be attractive. It meant orthopedic. Things changed a few years ago. You can [now] make a very comfortable shoe still look cool and updated. It’s about the product and image you transmit to the consumer.

Why did you focus on boots for the fall ’13 collection?
MD:
I like boots. I always did well with them in my own line. [Personally], you never see my socks because my shoes have high vamps. I like to see pants and the shoe, not the sock. For the fall [boot] collection, think downtown New York meets Italian Alps meets Steve McQueen. It’s a blend of nature, rider, military, fashion-outdoor. It’s suede, tumbled and pull-up leathers and unique fabrics. When designing, I [thought] of Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig as James Bond, soccer players David Beckham and Ronaldo, Chris Brown, Usher, Justin Bieber, Dr. Oz, and then top chefs like Fabio Viviani and Gordon Ramsay.