Henri Lepore Dezert is off to a good start.
The Los Angeles-based designer, who launched his Milan-produced women’s collection in February, has already signed on to do an exclusive capsule collection for luxury e-tailer Moda Operandi (set for a March 2015 release).
His namesake collection, which retails from $950 and up, focuses on its use of exotics, offering stiletto and sandal styles in python and stingray finishes. Below, we ask Dezert 5 essential questions:
Where do you create your product?
HLD: We manufacture everything in Milan, and it’s all handmade. We work with a shoe manufacturer that does Manolo Blahnik and Oscar de la Renta. I’ve always had a real interest in Italian shoemaking. It’s one of the few things that’s been left untouched as far as fashion manufacturing goes. I originally went over to Milan to be with family, but it lead to me touring factories and exploring how shoe production runs there.
Your cousin is Nanette Lepore. Did you grow up in a fashion-focused family?
HLD: I started working in fashion because of Nanette. I moved to New York City when I was 19 years old and put college on hold to find out what I wanted to do with my life. I then went to work with Nanette and spent a decade working in New York. Growing up around her, it really felt like what I should be doing. I also grew up in my family shop — my father is an upholsterer — and there are a lot of similarities with upholstery and shoemaking, even in the tools used.
Tell me a bit about the styles you focus on.
HLD: I like things that are timeless. I’m not a big fan of turning a heel into some sort of crazy, dramatic object. I try to search out the latest and greatest exotic materials out there. I use a lot of python and stingray. I’m not looking to find the Mona Lisa painted on top of a snakeskin — it’s more working with the natural lines of a skin or leather and bringing out the natural qualities of it.
Have you been talking with any other retailers?
HLD: We’ve been talking with Bloomingdales. Within the last month, we’ve actually received a ton of interest from China. A lot of high-end boutiques. We just signed on to do an exclusive 15-shoe collection with Moda Operandi. I’m working on the collection right now and hoping it will lead to us being in their boutique full-time. When you’re a new designer and get to the level of commercializing, you want to work with retailers that fit the brand image.
HLD: I’m really cautious with how the luxury market is right now. It’s a day-to-day strategy that we’re still figuring out. We’re funding this whole project with our own income from other things. Everything that we do right now is special, so we want to continue to make every thing a special thing.