Ashley Olsen Shares Her Shoe Design Philosophy

What was the starting point for The Row’s first full-scale shoe collection for pre-fall ’16?
The loafer was the one that started it all. From this last, we were able to build a boot and a Mary Jane, too. I love referencing a traditional, basic style — like a Chinese slipper, which inspired our Mary Jane — but in new materials to elevate it and make it more interesting. Our smoking shoe was our take on a classic menswear silhouette.

How do you approach designing footwear?
I’m so lucky that I’m a sample size and can wear them all. It’s been fun because throughout the process, I’ve been able to fit all the samples on myself and make sure they are exactly right, which is how we started with the apparel, too. Now I try on clothing when it’s more model size and made for the runway. Shoes are nice because I can dive into the comfort. Everything we do, we take into account the quality and how things feel. There are a lot of opportunities for us in footwear.

The Row Shoes
A mule with lucite heel treatment.
CREDIT: Courtesy Image

Flats always feature in your aesthetic for runway shows. Will you ever deviate from that?
Yes, of course — we will expand in time. [For now], it felt right to stay in the more grounded, everyday spirit of the ready-to-wear and build off the evening-slipper idea. Down the line, we’ll introduce more of a range. It’s interesting talking to [buyers] — they say that in the past several years, business has shifted to 70 percent flats. I was really excited about that, and we made the collection tight and focused as a result.

Do you watch what other brands are up to?
I shop around and see what’s out there — rarely, and only when I can. I don’t like knowing too much about what everyone else is doing because it sticks with you. I like to grapple with my own instinct instead.

What’s the best shoe lesson you’ve picked up from your longtime collaborators, such as Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik?
It’s about instinct. Styles we’ve done with them are still in their collections. We are inspired by their ability to just go with what they think is right, above all. And comfort, of course. I can’t wear an uncomfortable shoe. Rarely do you see me in stilettos.

The Row Shoes
A loafer from the new collection.
CREDIT: Courtesy Image

[Editor’s Note: This story first ran in print 020116]

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