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5 Questions for Jenni Kayne

Though the d’Orsay shoe originated in the 1800s, Jenni Kayne made it a modern fashion must-have when she launched her version of the bisected silhouette alongside her first apparel collection in 2003. A decade later, that shoe is hotter than ever.

“I’ve never [seen] one product have such an impact,” said the Los Angeles-based designer. “It feels like a new shape, but it’s also super-classic.” Kayne’s flat d’Orsay, carried by Saks Fifth Avenue, Shopbop.com, Piperlime.com and others, remains the signature shoe for her eponymous label. And over the past few seasons, myriad brands — from the juniors’ to luxury worlds — have added similar styles to their offerings. Even more jumped on the trend for spring ’14.

“A lot of people have made their version of it, but that hasn’t really slowed our sales,” Kayne said. “The people who can afford it love having ours [for $450 and more], so we have been doing it in tons of different fabrics — a rainbow of suede and leather that changes each season.”

She added a kitten-heel d’Orsay to the mix for pre-fall ’13. And for spring Kayne played with a variety of other timeless constructions, such as a pointy-toe flat she calls “a more buttoned-up version of the d’Orsay,” as well as a lug-sole loafer and strappy sandal with metal toecap.

Other new endeavors for Kayne include a flagship — her third — that bowed in Montecito, Calif., in October. A multibrand housewares boutique called Jenni Kayne Home also opened in Montecito the same month. “It’s everything I think is chic, interesting and new,” the designer said. “I love it, and I have been fortunate that the stores do well.”

She hopes to open more retail locations — for both fashion and home — on the West Coast within a few years. Additionally, a website relaunch and the debut of handbags are in the works for the label. Children’s footwear is a possibility, too. “I’ve had requests for a little d’Orsay, and my [2-year-old] daughter definitely loves to run around the house in mine,” Kayne said.

The designer opened up about being a blogger and responding to the ever-changing fashion landscape.

Was there a specific moment when you first realized the Jenni Kayne d’Orsay would be a hit?
JK: I
t took a year to see it blow up. A blogger in Asia, who had more followers than I knew anyone could, tweeted about it. Our phone was ringing off the hook and our Internet orders were going crazy. We almost didn’t think it was real. It had so much momentum and it grew from there.

How important is the footwear category to your overall business?
JK:
It has become super-important. In terms of retail, I have three [flagship] stores, and shoes are one of the biggest sellers there. My No. 1 e-commerce seller is my shoes.

You’ve also created a separate online presence with your home- and family-focused blog, Rip + Tan. Why has it been important for you to have a second creative outlet?
JK:
I am a Virgo, so I do a lot of research. I care about all the beautiful things in life, whether it’s a wooden flashlight or a beautiful dog-food container. Seeing all those little things around my house makes me happy. My friends would always come to me for an array of different things: “I’m having a baby — where do I get this or that? Where do I get the perfect linen napkin?” I decided to put it all together into a lifestyle blog. I definitely do talk about my [label] because I live in my clothes, but it’s not meant to be a vehicle for that. It’s meant to be about all my favorite things and a little peek into the way I live my life.

What influences your brand’s clean, wearable aesthetic?
JK:
It changed after having children. [It now prioritizes] comfort and being able to move around but still look great. I want to be able to go to work and look put together and then sit on the floor in a music class with my kid and not feel like I’m going to stand up and look disheveled. It’s just functionality and living realistically. For shoes, that means I can’t walk around in 4-inch heels all day — that’s just not practical to me. I want to create shoes that are super-chic, wearable and comfortable, that [work] in the day or night. And I’m always inspired by the 1990s because that’s when I grew up.

How has the industry transformed since you launched 10 years ago?
JK:
The whole landscape has changed so much from when I started, just in [the amount of] designers. Fashion Week is a completely different animal, and it’s all about the Web and e-commerce, and having your own retail. People still want things that are new and different and special, but my customers are looking for pieces that have longevity and are timeless and seasonless. It’s too much to shop every season for new clothes.

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