Patrick Cox’s New Play: Inside the Designer’s Return to Footwear

Patrick Cox Shoes
Patrick Cox
Tim Jenkins

Last month, writer-actress Lena Dunham took to Instagram to reminisce about her childhood obsession with Patrick Cox’s renowned Wannabe loafers.

Alongside a photo of one of the designer’s old ad campaigns, Dunham wrote in a post to her 1.8 million followers: “Strong memories of telling my mother I would perish if I didn’t get Wannabes by Patrick Cox. Three sizes too big … and I still wore them [every day].”

The designer, whose career has been filled with dramatic twists and turns, has spent a lot of time reminiscing about those glory days, too. But now, Cox says, he’s focused on the future and his new footwear venture — a men’s and women’s shoe collection called Lathbridge. (The moniker is derived from Cox’s middle name.)

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While he quietly debuted the line for fall ’15, he’s making a bigger splash for spring ’16, starting with a presentation today at London Collections Men.

Then, Cox heads to Pitti Uomo in Milan and the Capsule shows in Paris and New York in the coming weeks.

“I’ve wanted to [have my own line] again for a while now. I just had to work out how to do it,” said the designer, whose namesake label closed after it was acquired in 2008.

In the years after, Cox dabbled in a variety of unexpected projects: He opened a buzzed-about sex shop-themed bakery in London and even considered going to medical school.

In 2011, Geox came calling, and Cox began working with the Italian brand on a collaboration that is now in its fourth year.

“It got me back to Italy, and everything seemed new again,” Cox said. “It made me want to design again.”

The Lathbridge line, which for spring includes about 24 styles for men and the same number for women, plays up brogues, loafers and sneakers, with floral prints as well as buffalo hide. They retail for 250 to 500 pounds, or about $388 to $776 at current exchange rates.

Patrick Cox Shoes A spring ’16 sneaker Courtesy of Designer

Cox is also gearing up to launch a fall line of mostly men’s looks at select retailers, including Harrods and Selfridges.

“There is still an appetite for men’s shoes designed by Patrick, and this collection, incorporating unusual materials with a mixture of both traditional and contemporary styling, should resonate with his existing fan base as well as new customers,” said Rebecca Farrar-Hockley, buying and creative director at Kurt Geiger, which operates the footwear departments of Harrods and Selfridges. “There is certainly white space for something new in the area that Patrick understands
so well.”

Here, Cox sounds off on his latest venture, offers advice to young designers and talks about the biggest ways the industry has changed.

Why did you decide that now was the time to launch your own label again?

PC: I’ve been working at Geox for four years. It’s fun, but it’s also frustrating — at the end of my day, it’s not my collection. The buck doesn’t stop here. I had always been my own boss and had my own line since I was 22. So much of what happened felt like unfinished business. I registered the Lathbridge trademark three years ago, so that shows you how long I’ve been thinking about it. It feels like fashion is swinging back to my aesthetic — with mid-heels, flats and chunky soles. This collection is fun and playful, slightly offbeat and quirky.

You’re launching at retail with mostly men’s styles but are expanding into women’s for the second season. Was that an intentional strategy?

PC: It was easier to start with just one factory, and when you think of British brands, you think of men’s. I did bring out some men’s shoes in women’s sizes for the first season. For spring, we have [low] heels for women, loafers, walking shoes. But it’s still quite casual.

What’s your take on the crossover between men’s and women’s fashion today?

PC: It’s a new world. We’re moving past these clichéed ideas of certain things not being gender-appropriate. We’re in a modern age that is accepting of new ideas. Gay-anything is just so completely normal today.

What are the biggest ways the footwear industry has changed since you began?

PC: When I started, my competitors were named shoe designers who were CEOs and ran their own brands. That doesn’t exist today outside of Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. Everyone has money behind them, private equity or hedge funds — and there are so many big mega-groups.

Also, the fashion cycle has sped up so much. Celebrities wear things straight off the runway, or the High Street stores copy them. By the time they’re in the store, you’re so bored with them. Consumers say, “I already saw so-and-so wearing it four months ago.” I wouldn’t mind if the system slowed down a little bit, but there must be some way to show closer to the season. It’s intelligent what brands like Burberry do, by selling off the runway. They realize that fashion fatigue can set in. I don’t know what the [long-term] answer is.

Your ’90s hit style, the Wannabe loafer, still elicits strong reactions. Why do you think it’s had so much staying power?  

PC: It’s amazing how much goodwill there is. There’s so much product being jammed down people’s throats, so for people to still hold onto them [makes me proud]. The other thing is, I’m considered vintage now. I’m out in Portobello Market in London, and I see them — and there’s so much of it on eBay. I’ve got friends in their 30s who bought their first pair when they were 14.

What’s the best advice you could give young designers?

PC: Be yourself. Find your own signature as early as possible and stick to it. No one needs another designer who’s going to knock off Prada. Protect your name. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone own it — or make them pay dearly for it. Pay attention to the business side, and be wary of your partners. Don’t trust [any] one person, unless you happen to have a life partner or you’re a brother-sister duo.

There has been so much strong young talent coming from the U.K. in recent years. Why do you think it’s such a big moment for British fashion?

PC: The young talent was always here. No one paid attention to fashion when I was starting out, but now there’s so much support. People like John Galliano, who is beyond talented, would have built their businesses a lot faster [with more funding]. It’s a different landscape today. There are incredibly talented people out there. I adore what Sophia Webster is doing — her shoes make me smile. This new generation is a bit more savvy. The schools taught them to pay attention to the business.

Now that you’ve gotten your new collection off the ground, what are your goals for the business?

PC: There’s no five-year business plan, no world-domination talk. I don’t want to be in Italy Monday through Friday, like I was for 20 years. I’ve got my dog, my life in London. I’m doing this for personal pleasure, not for fame.

Patrick Cox Shoes A spring ’16 butterfly brogue Courtesy of Designer