For nearly 30 years, the charismatic husband-and-wife team have worked alongside each other to build some of the biggest brands in the women’s business.
After an early stint designing shoes for sportswear brand Esprit, the two launched their own label, Sam & Libby, to fill the void they perceived in the affordable-fashion space. Their bow-topped ballet flats, offered in a rainbow of colors, became one of the hottest shoes of the 1980s, with a staggering 7 million pairs sold. By starring in their own ad campaigns, the Edelmans became household names, with fans lining up for their autographs during their in-store appearances.
After taking Sam & Libby public in 1991, sales began to flag, and in 1996, the Edelmans sold the brand to Maxwell Shoe Co. and stepped away from the industry.
But they weren’t done yet. In 2004, they made a triumphant return, launching Sam Edelman.
“Sam Edelman is very much about finishing what we felt was an unfinished voyage in the fashion business,” noted Sam Edelman. “We saw an opportunity to do fashion footwear at a great price.”
The brand quickly rose to the top of the contemporary category, garnering shelf space at retail heavyweights such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. Six years after its launch, the Sam Edelman label got a major boost when industry giant Caleres acquired it. Expansion ramped up, and the brand delved into new categories, including apparel and handbags. It also launched the lower-priced label Circus and opened its first retail stores.
In 2012, Caleres also helped the Edelmans realize a long-held dream: buying back the Sam & Libby brand. Under an exclusive distribution deal with with Target, the label relaunched in 2013. This year, its iconic bowed ballet flat turns 25, and to celebrate, the shoe is being offered in 25 colors.
The Edelmans say their success in the shoe business has been all about teamwork.
“Sam and I just work so well together. We’re on the same path; we have the same vision and passion,” said Libby Edelman.
Added Sam, “We think a lot alike, and I know I’m wrong most of the time. We’ve put that together into a very successful relationship.”
Now in its 29th year, the FN Achievement Awards honor the year’s brightest talents, while the Hall of Fame recognizes those who have left a deep and lasting impact on the shoe business. Over the years, prior inductees have included Salvatore Ferragamo, Roger Vivier, Phil Knight, Paul Fireman and Manolo Blahnik.
Click through the slideshow below to see highlights from past FNAA ceremonies: