After a decade of working for Christian Louboutin, Pierre Hardy and Oscar de la Renta, Alexia Aubert decided she was ready to do things her own way.
“I was bored with the notion of seasons,” said the founder of one-year-old French shoe label Solovière, which was named for Aubert’s grandfather.
“There is so much rush in the market, and the styles become disposable so quickly. People are putting too many different elements into a shoe — it becomes like a panini of trends: a layer of espadrille, a layer of welt sole, a sandal. I’ve had enough of that.” Instead, the 33-year-old wanted to focus on two simple styles — a slip-on and a laceup, she said recently at her chic Rive Gauche studio in Paris.
That purist approach quickly made an impression on major retailers. Paris concept store Colette picked up Solovière’s styles the first season, and Le Bon Marché soon followed suit. “Alexia is very invested and has lots of energy in developing her ‘baby,’” observed Maud Tarena, Le Bon Marché’s commercial director for men’s fashion. “[There are] not a lot of [styles], but very specific and trendy moccasins.”
When the shoes sold briskly in the men’s department last season, the retailer decided to integrate the line into its women’s department, too.
Solovière has found the most momentum in Japan and Korea, which now account for over 60 percent of the business. In the U.S., Barneys will carry the label starting in spring ’16.
Aubert said her signature and bestselling style is the Matthieu, an ultra-soft laced loafer made of one piece of leather with an origami-likefold on top, which the designer refers to as “vagabond chic.” It’s aimed at both sexes. “I was thinking of Jack Kerouac wearing it on the road. Because you cannot write a book and wear a sneaker,” she deadpanned.
In fact, Aubert believes the sneaker craze is on its way out. “One of the reasons why [Japanese retailer] United Arrows is working so closely with us is they believe the sneaker is over —leather and fabric are back,” she said.
The label’s artisanal approach includes crafting all of the shoes in Italy, in the Tuscan countryside. “We could have had a better price point [by sourcing] in Portugal, but the finesse is not the same. Italian shoes are instantly recognizable,” she said. Prices retail from 280 euros ($318 at current exchange) to 390 euros ($443).
For spring ’16, the designer has added a capsule collection for children, which is available for pre-order on the label’s website. The leather slipper and low-cut bootie are decked out in Solovière’s signature print, a multicolor harlequin check.
Looking ahead, the designer’s fall ’16 collection will focus on warm and cozy fabrics, including suede, astrakhan, velvet and brocade — as well as tweed-like fabrics. And winter 2016 will see the launch of evening.
As Aubert expands, she is tapping into the know-how she developed while working for other labels. Having learned the ropes as an assistant at Christian Louboutin, where she started in 2004, Aubert became head of studio at Pierre Hardy only four years later. In 2010, she moved to New York to be director of footwear design at Oscar de la Renta. “At Louboutin, I spent a lot of time in the factory,” she said. “It was about understanding the basics. At Pierre Hardy, I learned how to do men’s and sketch — Pierre is an amazing sketcher. At de la Renta, it was all about the U.S.,” she explained.
Aubert still designs for other brands, including Leonard, Shiatzy Chen and Elie Saab, but that’s mostly to finance her own label.