A la Mode: A fetish for design
Words and Photos Christian Razukas
Malone Souliers makes its bow in Jakarta
“Very great, very specific, very unabashed and unsurprised elation,” Roy Luwolt says, when asked about Malone Souliers’ reception after On Pedder recently launched the rising shoe brand in Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Singapore.
“Rather than having to introduce it to the consumer, it was a case of ‘We understand it. Thanks for making it local’,” says Luwolt, a venture capitalist and graduate of Michigan State University’s prestigious business school.
Luwolt has been working with London-trained fashion designer Mary Alice Malone to develop the brand, which has found a following among celebrities such as the luminous Amal Clooney, Bella Hadid and Blake Lively.
Let’s take a closer look.
CONCEAL AND REVEAL
Mary Alice, called MA for short, doesn’t use gimmicky language to describe her design DNA. “We’re presenting shoes that embody the design ethos of the brand, season after season,” she says. “It’s a nice way to introduce yourself.”
Some of the quintessential Malone Souliers pieces on offer at On Pedder are the Savannah, an open-toe stiletto with leather laces and a boot-like rise to the ankles that boasts an architectural wave; another version features a sueded front and leather heel in sedate rose.
MA also offers a striking take on mules as closed-toe stilettos with elegant lines in sky-blue patent leather bound by double straps in bubblegum.
The shoes, which are made by hand by craftsmen in Milan, mix fetish touches like leather laces and elaborate laces along with immaculate lines and flowing curves for a curious projection of sexiness and power.
This “conceal-and-reveal” cue is something MA takes from one of her inspirations, the 1950s and 1960s-era exploitation director Russ Meyer, famous for films such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
“Russ Meyer has a very interesting way of creating femininity,” MA says. “All of his women are over the top in the way they appeal to men. They have lots of make-up, very full proportions and are very scantily clad.”
She continues. “At the same time, they are incredibly independent. They control their own fate. They go wherever they want, whenever they want and are really deadly.”
DESIGN LIKE A MAN
“I am not designing for myself. I’m not even producing something that I myself want to wear,” MA says. “I approach design like a man.”
Despite that, comfort is a hallmark of Malone Souliers. “I spend a lot of time arguing with men about how women have toes. There are a lot of high heels on the market that are not made for the human foot. I want women to be comfortable.”
This is evident in things such as the cushioning inside every pair she designs, as well as MA’s “spring-o-later”, a small piece of plastic applied to the stalk of a mule so it follows the foot and stops you from making flip-flop sounds when walking.
It’s an unpatented invention from the 1970s that MA came across in London. “During my studies, I spent a lot of time going all around. If there was someone who held vintage flats for the last 45 years, sitting there for 45 years–really smelly and moldy, I would go look through them.”
Courting customers to the brand remains challenging, Luwolt, who as a venture capitalist brokered deals such as UK retailer NEXT’s 70-million-pound acquisition of Lipsy, said. “Don’t go into a store telling an inter-generational, passed-down customer that they should just look at you when they’ve been buying what they’ve been buying forever.”
You’ve got to knock at the door a few times, he says, first introducing the brand, then waiting a little longer the next time.
“The third visit, you ask if you can stand at the door and eventually maybe you’re invited to dinner–and if you’re invited to dinner, maybe do you mind if I date your daughter?”
Italy he likens to a cartel for new brands– “’You’re not Italian’. It’s just that simple” –while there’s snobbery in the UK: “You’re not in until you’re “in’–and when you’re in, passion is not what you get. You get a household acceptance. You’re just one of the family. There isn’t much contemplating.”
Meanwhile, luxury customers in Asia are knowledgeable about global trends and what they want, Luwolt says. “They’re choosers. A lot of it comes from the prevalence of new money. They have an intrinsically rebellious spirit about purchasing power.
However, it was in the US, where Malone Saunders took root most easily. “It really did genuinely take off like an actor or an actress,” Luwolt says.
MA, however, remains comfortable bouncing between the extremes of fashion and business, as well as in her design ethos.
“Women are considered contradictory. Humans are contradictory–and that’s what makes us interesting,” MA says. “Why not play with that?”