For Alejandro Ingelmo, designing shoes is truly part of his DNA, but his creativity doesn’t stop there. The designer recently opened a serene little shop at 51 Wooster St. in Soho, enthusiastically throwing himself into every detail, relishing the process of creating the perfect vibe in the new space. I arrive in the upstairs showroom, and Alejandro, excitement brimming over, is immediately raving about his latest additions to the shop: a roller-top desk from the 1880s for his studio space in the rear, a new rug and planters out front. “You’ve got to see my desk. It’s from the 1880s and it’s in mint condition. I’m so proud of it,” he says.
It’s been a busy season for the designer. After a long haul in Paris to show his spring collection, he traveled to the Lineapelle show in Bologna, Italy, and then to London for vendor training at Selfridges. But even during all that, he found time to wrap up his designs for fall ’11 and finish his design space at the rear of the store. Soon, the designer will officially move his inspiration boards, swatches and hardware into the studio, which he admits is a relief after working out of his apartment since his 2005 launch. “I feel like I’ve grown up. It was time to move on from the live/work space,” he says.
Alejandro describes the store as eye-opening, saying, “Now I understand the business from a retail perspective that isn’t possible from the outside. It’s been an education for me. I feel like I’m getting my master’s or doctorate working down there.” The designer also says that connecting with customers has been a learning experience. “By meeting people who walk into the store, you see who you can appeal to. You put a face to your customer and hear what they’re asking for.” When I ask whether their requests include the new mid-heel, Alejandro says he’s open to the idea, albeit only partially. “I’m never going to stop doing super-high heels, but women can still be sexy wearing something a little lower. It’s the girl who decides. Is she willing to give up her heels?”
As far as mid-heels go, Alejandro cites a spring ’11 single-sole wedge as an example of maintaining a downtown edge on a lower heel. He is wary of the execution of a low heel height on a non-wedge, saying, “When you lower the heel, sometimes it hurts the aesthetic.” So is there pressure from retailers to offer a mid-heel selection? He says that if you want more SKUs, you have to offer more variation. “But a woman always wants to look sexy. I don’t think that will ever go away,” he says. “It’s interesting to see the whole process, what buyers want and what consumers really want. The challenge is to balance those, but we’re getting close.”
Since his store opened on Fashion’s Night Out Sept. 10, Alejandro says he’s seen the amazing power of old-school word-of-mouth advertising. “The store has been phenomenal,” he says. “We’ve seen a snowball effect with friends and friends of friends bringing other people and coming back. It’s the same thing we’re seeing with the men’s shoes when my friends and I wear them around. We don’t have a ton of walk-in traffic [at the store] yet, but it’s the ‘if you build it, they will come’ idea.”
Back to business, I ask Alejandro about his best markets and what his plans are for future growth. The U.S. market remains the biggest for the collection, which retails from $450 for basic pumps to $1,100 for boots at independent stores, as well as Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. But the designer says Europe is not far behind. New stores have picked up the spring collection, including Dover Street Market in London and Antonioli in Milan. And IT in Hong Kong also has signed on. “I’m in a good place now in terms of business and distribution,” Alejandro says, adding that getting your own business off the ground is no piece of cake. “There are so many bumps in the road. It’s those bumpy times when you’ve got to put on the gas and get moving.”
About next steps, Alejandro jokingly says,“For now, I’ll stick to my store and selling my shoes one by one to the neighborhood. I feel like the town cobbler.” But there are definitely more than status-quo plans on the horizon. Small leather goods, men’s bags and new store locations are goals for the designer, who says, “I have the resources, but I want everything to be on point, so it won’t be right away.” Men’s bags might be the first step for Alejandro, because, as he says, “everyone’s either buying Jack Spade or Louis Vuitton. There’s no in between right now.” As for potential future store locations, Los Angeles and Miami top the designer’s list.
Alejandro also is working with students at the FIT as an honorary adviser, speaking to classes and critiquing final projects. “I started talking to students and found there aren’t enough outlets for graduates, so I’ve mentioned that to the Council of Fashion Designers of America. It’s definitely a starting point. I wish I would’ve had someone to talk to.” As a new member of the CFDA, Alejandro says, “The more I get inolved, the more I want to help people.”
Our conversation moves to what to expect from Alejandro’s spring collection, which he says is all about cleaner silhouettes, asymmetrical details and a balance between being soft and edgy. Looking around his new atelier-like store, the designer says, “I’m as close as I can be to what I design. It doesn’t get any better than this.”