Leon Max Spurs Growth for Footwear

Leon Max wants to bring his footwear to a store near you.

The ready-to-wear designer, best known for his eponymous collection and the contemporary Max Studio line, is making a wholesale push with revamped shoe offerings.

His Pasadena, Calif.-based company took footwear back in-house in 2011 after ending its licensing deal with New York Transit. Karen Baker, president of the firm’s footwear division, noted that Max wanted more control over the look of the shoes.

“Leon’s philosophy is beauty first, commerce second,” she said.

Spring ’14 marked the firm’s first shipments to wholesale accounts, which so far include Nordstrom.com and select boutiques. Going forward, Baker and her team are targeting high-level department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

“The distribution we want to be exclusive,” she said, noting the footwear also will be available in the company’s six branded retail stores. “We’ll expand where it’s appropriate, where we sit next to the right shoes in the right environment.”

The two collections — Leon Max and Max Studio — are both created by footwear designer Mark Buettell and target different areas of the market with distinct price points and design sensibilities.

Baker pointed out that Leon Max is a sophisticated, directional line produced in China with elevated materials such as Italian hand-burnished leathers and genuine snakeskins. For spring ’15, the collection emphasizes geometric shapes and artistic laser cutouts on feminine heels and flats. The average retail price is $325.

Meanwhile, Max Studio footwear, also produced in China, retails for an average of $198 and caters to a younger audience with more casual styles. The spring ’15 offering ranges from wedge sandals and flat espadrilles to athletic-inspired laceups and footbed slides.

“We’ve encouraged Leon to add categories because we know the department stores will want to test out different types of product,” said Baker. “We’ve expanded the casual piece to give the line a better balance.”

Looking ahead, the Leon Max and Max Studio ready-to-wear could also be offered for wholesale, though Baker said a team is still being put into place for that initiative. “Leon would like to have the collections together in the stores with the footwear,” she explained.

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