When Kari Sigerson decided it was time to throw her hat back in the ring after years of consulting and ghost-designing shoes for other labels, she knew precisely whom to turn to: a former colleague she had taken under her wing early on, Eliza Axelson-Chidsey.
“Eliza worked with Miranda [Morrison] and me at Sigerson Morrison all those years ago,” said Sigerson one recent rainy afternoon in Soho at interiors emporium BDDW, where the duo’s debut collection for spring ’16 was presented. “We are the alumnae, after all.”
Hence, they formed Alumnae, their newest endeavor of sophisticated Italian-made sandals, slides and minimalist loafers, most ringing in at $400 to $800, or, as Sigerson put it, “just below super-duper high luxury, but still incredible quality. We are that sweet spot.” Axelson-Chidsey noted that the name also has another meaning. “It’s about heritage. It speaks to the years of experience we have working together and with different craftspeople who have made shoes for a really long time.”
Sigerson is making her return several years after an acrimonious breakup with Marc Fisher Footwear, which purchased Sigerson Morrison in 2006. (The founders left in 2011.) “I’ve been thinking about all of these shoes for a long time that haven’t had a place,” she said.
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There was also a certain aesthetic that both designers felt was missing from the market. “We looked around and thought there was an opportunity to do something really clean, pared-back and thoughtful,” said Sigerson. “But still feminine,” added Axelson-Chidsey. Beyond a working familiarity, the two women share a roster of factory contacts and production know-how that have enabled them to bring a designer hand to the high-contemporary label.
The women’s brand launched for spring ’16 with notoriously picky showroom The News and quickly secured retailer The Apartment in New York and Los Angeles, along with its online offshoot, TheLine.com, plus a selection of specialty boutiques. For the New York-based duo, who act as co-designers, this is exactly the audience they had hoped would respond to their work. “Out of the blue, we had some stores in Japan rush to order it, which is very flattering since they are so specific and discerning,” said Sigerson.
Upon examining the collection, it’s not hard to see why reactions have been favorable right out of the gate. The all-flats lineup of 30 styles features flattering asymmetrical strapping, glossy leather turban twists and finely woven uppers. Loafers come pre-broken in, with collapsible step-on heel backs, while a high-vamp round-toe mule is their version of a ballerina.
Most styles slide on easily or have cleverly disguised fastenings, while supple suede soles finish each shoe for a wafer-thin profile. “I don’t think we’ll ever do high heels, but never say never,” Sigerson added. “It’s more about wearable, easy, smart shoes that every woman should have and wants to have.”