Why Telfar Clemens Will Be the Next Big Thing in Shoes

Following his much-hyped spring collaboration with Converse, buzzy designer Telfar Clemens is launching his own line of footwear for fall ‘20.

Two styles, a loafer and a riding-meets-Western boot come in black and brown and feature his TC logo as a cutout. In the case of the boot, you can hold them like a handle, much as you would with one of his breakout bag styles — which is kind of the point. He hopes this new category will bring the brand the same success as the bags.

“I expect these will be in a lot of places in the next year,” he told FN in a preview before his coed Pitti Uomo show today in Florence’s historic Palazzo Corsini.

The new collection also featured an update on the ERX Converse sneaker sandal he debuted in September and jokingly dubs a “snandal.” Even some of the pants had a footwear theme. From a distance, it looked like the models were wearing shorts over leggings with a high boot, but the pants were actually made from just one piece with a shoe underneath.

Shoe detailTelfar show, Backstage, Spring Summer 2020, Paris Fashion Week, France - 23 Sep 2019
Telfar’s spring ’20 Converse collab “snandal.”
CREDIT: Shutterstock

The designer has spent the last month or so working in Italy and the collection draws on the art of the Italian Renaissance. “It’s a huge honor to be able to do this. I’m learning so much about Florence historically,” he said.

He was inspired by pleated garments that feature in Renaissance paintings, and he translated the idea into pleated panels on jeans and jackets, pleated T-shirts and a pleated high-collar dress shirt that took six days to make.

He also drew some clever parallels via graphic illustrations featuring the rather more recent Harlem Renaissance by author Brontez Purnell.

Other nods to Italian Renaissance clothing were one-piece braided tops that look like to a corset worn over a T-shirt — “like a knit without it being a knit” — and a peplum hoodie that turns into a bonnet.

His goal, he says, is to create “elevated streetwear” that’s also democratic, “like a high-neck dress shirt that’s the same price as a T-shirt.” Similarly, his take on the suit arrived in jersey with digitally printed stripes.

It’s the same democratic notion that has made his $150 starter price bags so successful. The show featured oversize versions in new colorways of gold, silver, copper and chocolate, while a new orange version is launching exclusively with SSense.

“There was nothing like it in that category before and the customer didn’t exist,” he said, “so I decided to make the shopping bag that everyone carries but put my name on it.”

Although he admits it took a while to build, the gamble paid off. “No one even wanted it for the first two years, but then the customer built itself; first women then guys and now even skater boys are wanting it,” he said.

The African American designer has always walked resolutely to his own beat. “I just identify with being myself,” he says, “I don’t really feel like I fit in anywhere, so I just fit into the world of what I am.”

He’s been making unisex clothing since he launched his label in 2005 — before “genderless” was even a thing.

“I have been doing what I do before it was a buzzword,” he says. “We make clothes that are for everyone, but when I was doing that 10 years ago, no store wanted to buy them because they didn’t know how to or what floor to put them on. It just turned out that I kept my focus the right way and kept going.­­­”

“I never wanted to just make a women’s or men’s collection, so I stuck to my instinct of just doing what felt right,” he continued.

The same goes for sustainability. While other brands are railing about overproduction, Telfar is pragmatic. “I don’t expect to be here in 10,000 years anyways,” he deadpanned.

Prior to the show, the designer staged a decadent 40-person dinner with fellow artists and collaborators in his Palazzo Corsini venue, detritus from which formed the set for the production. New York-based jazz collective Standing in the Corner played the soundtrack to both events, and dinner guests like the rapper Hirakish and Butch Dawson were either cast in the show or sat in the front row.

He has always been about collaboration, whether with individuals or brands like Converse. Where the latter is concerned, he says that the attraction is that, “they give you a different point of view; you get to know their customer and they get to know yours.” Bigger picture, though, as he says, it’s the same. While Telfar is obviously a brand, “the clothes are worn on other people’s bodies so you can only express yourself through other people.”

As for the future, FN asked if he would consider working as well as the creative director of another brand, like Off-White designer and Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh. “It would depend on who it is,” was his answer. “Right now, I want to be the designer of my own big fashion brand, but I wouldn’t say never.”

Short term, there is more excitement in the works, most likely a collaboration during Men’s Fashion Week in the French capital. “You can look forward to seeing something really cool over the next couple of weeks happening in Paris,” he revealed. Watch this space.

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