Narciso Rodriguez Sounds Off on Return to Shoes

While Narciso Rodriguez will likely garner plenty of attention for his fall ’13 ready-to-wear collection when it hits the runway tomorrow, the designer wants to shine the spotlight on footwear, too.

“Reintroducing shoes has been great for the whole company,” Rodriguez said of the fall ’12 relaunch (after a five-year hiatus). “We’re all very dedicated and we’re design junkies, so it has brought new excitement and new energy to the company and the team. It also [has generated] really great buzz for the brand again.”

Lisa Park, DMM for women’s shoes at Barneys New York , which was the label’s exclusive partner for its footwear launch last July, noted that the shoes have resonated with consumers on multiple levels.

“His footwear always has an edge, but in a very feminine and sexy way,” she said of the single-sole pumps and boots in suede and exotics, which are made in Italy and retail from $795 to $1,295. “He’s also a master at mixing materials and colors in unique combinations that you won’t find in any other collection. He pays great attention to every detail, combining clean lines, sharp silhouettes and modern styling with quality and craftsmanship. He’s extremely attentive to our customers’ needs and is always eager to hear and to incorporate their requests.”

In addition to building a presence in U.S. luxury doors, Rodriguez’s 16-year-old label also recently partnered with a new showroom in Italy that will help drive global growth. All told, the footwear collection is in 30 doors and five countries.

After the runway show tomorrow, the designer is diving straight into the next season, with plans to increase the shoe offerings and expand into new categories. “The pace is the most exciting and the toughest part,” Rodriguez said.

Here, the designer discusses his upcoming plans for footwear and next big categories, and his White House connection.

Why has footwear become a major focus for you?
NR:
I love designing shoes. I have sketchbooks that date back through the years when I was at Calvin Klein. Shoes are so sensual, whether they’re flats — if it’s the right flat — or heels or boots. They are just so sexy. The 3-D quality and architecture of shoes is something I find fascinating and really love to work on. I can sit for days and days and just sketch pages and pages of shoes. It’s almost therapeutic for me.

How upbeat are you about the footwear market as a whole?
NR:
I’m very positive, not only because of the reaction to our collection, but because of the energy that’s in accessories today. I know I love shoes, but to see how much consumers love shoes and accessories is really great.

What is your design philosophy for shoes?
NR:
There is no difference [between my approach to footwear and ready-to-wear]. We really think about the cut, and there is great consideration put into every seam. And we try to be as precise as possible in all the details — the proportion, the purity and the quality.

What is luxury today?
NR:
People use the word luxury in a flippant way — anything can be called luxury — but you know when you are holding or wearing something that has true luxury in it. It makes you feel completely different. It is about creating product with great integrity. People want that and they will pay for it.

Which retailers are leading the way in the high-end footwear market?
NR:
Certainly Barneys has brought great new energy to New York. [COO, EVP and Chief Merchant] Daniela Vitale and [CEO] Mark Lee have been incredible because they have done such an amazing thing not only with their shoe floor but with the whole store. To have been chosen as their partner for the footwear launch meant a lot to me. There is also so much going on at Selfridges and at Level Shoe District in Dubai.

Which other footwear designers do you admire?
NR:
I was very fortunate in the 1990s to work with Manolo Blahnik on different collections, and he is just such an amazing talent and person. I was also fortunate to collaborate with Christian Louboutin, and I have so much admiration for the things he has accomplished. Tabitha Simmons [is a new name] who is doing really beautiful work.

Now that shoes are off the ground, what other categories would you consider exploring?
NR:
We’ve been discussing expanding into small leather goods, and we’ve been talking to different eyewear manufacturers. Because of the success of the fragrance, eyewear would be a natural. I also have been very eager to solidify something in the intimates and swim areas. These are all very natural progressions for the company.

You’re also focused on growing your international business. What countries are priorities?
NR:
We have points of sale in Russia that are important to us, and China obviously is very important. We have been exploring different opportunities in [those markets]. The company is in a great period of growth, and we are open to so many new opportunities.

You ventured beyond the core luxury market in November by collaborating with Kohl’s. Has that been a positive experience?
NR:
It is great fun. It was a really interesting project where we came together with a great team that was receptive to listening to what I had to say about quality, cut, fit and color. It was a great learning experience for me, too. It was exploring a different market, and it was one of the most fun projects I’ve ever worked on.

Would you consider the same type of collaboration for footwear?
NR:
Sure, if the right opportunity arises. I’m very open to things, and I always say, “never say never.” Ultimately, a designer wants to dress as many people as possible and make his work available to many people. That’s why I am fascinated with collections at other price points — at the Kohl’s level and in the contemporary market. I’m always curious to see what people wear. It inspires me.

How important has celebrity attention been as you have built the label?
NR:
It’s important, but the most important thing is to make a product that you’re proud of. I love seeing women like Jessica Alba, Julianna Margulies, Claire Danes — my loyal girls — and really interesting new girls like Kristen Stewart [wear the brand].

Your label is also a favorite of Michelle Obama. Why do you think the first lady has become such a major fashion icon?
NR:
From a citizen’s perspective, I really love the president and all he’s accomplished, and the first lady has been so great for fashion. She is taking young [designers] just starting out and turning them into household names. She has supported established, independent and foreign designers. She has embraced fashion in such a beautiful way and made it so much about her personal style and how eclectic life is today. She is someone to admire.