‘Shoes are the one thing that women put on their body that physically change them,’ declares Mary Alice Malone, creative director of new shoe label Malone Souliers. ‘It’s a small thing but it hugely impacts your whole physicality and your emotional being.’ But fashion, and footwear specifically, didn’t always register on Malone’s radar. She met Roy Luwolt, Malone Souliers’ managing director, at a dinner party three years ago while she was studying international politics. Luwolt, who has a background as a consulting strategist for luxury brands, was working as a venture capitalist at the time. Their sharp, enquiring minds clicked and the seed for a luxury, handmade and uncompromisingly sexy shoe collection was sown.
The pair named the brand after Malone’s surname and soulier, ‘a very old French word that specifically refers to a women’s delicate shoes,’ she explains. ‘It implies luxury, femininity. It implies a made-to-measure element, which is something I like. Shoemaking is a very old tradition and one that is very well grounded in England. It was nice to capture that nod to the old world because that’s our basis; that’s where luxury came from.’
The duo both experienced an international upbringing (Luwolt was the son of American diplomats and visited more than 45 countries in his childhood, while Malone grew up in Pennsylvania, horse-riding to Olympic standards), and the pair have based their atelier in London. ‘It makes a lot of sense to be in London for a brand that’s heavily focused on quality, craftsmanship and handmade elements,’ explains Luwolt. ‘It's a creative hub, and our factory is in Italy. We’re very happy to be here because the community supports that and it does translate when we go further afield – Paris, New York.’ From starting out to the finishing details, designer Mary Alice Malone tells The Style Report more…
‘Unfortunately I have not been one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted to do since they were born – I find those people quite enviable but I feel like it���s taken me a long time to find my niche. I majored in international politics in college and then I moved to Colorado in the United States and started taking loads of art courses, studying colour theory and welding, making furniture.
‘I found all that 3D design more interesting, much more natural. Then I got distracted and opened a store in Colorado but I sold that when I moved to London to do shoe design. For me, making and building things is what I find interesting, it’s what I’m most passionate about. Shoes are a really interesting combination; they have to be built and they have to be functional, but beautiful, too.
‘As a shoe designer, you have to have an amazing imagination because unlike clothes, we can do a certain amount of mocking up but you really have to be able to visualise a 3D product. While we work in 2D with materials and technical drawings, there is sometimes a little bit of a surprise when you actually make the sample; you don’t really ever know what it will be like until it’s a finished product. Lasts [metal and wood moulds used to shape a shoe] are funny things; you can’t just pin or tape the leather to them. It’s not until you have a fully finished product that you know what you have, or not.
‘You get so good at self-editing. As most designers will say, in the creative process you’re really hard on yourself. You start out with something and then you can’t look at it anymore; you want to go and cry for three days! Then you come back to it after you’ve given it some space and you say, “This was actually quite good” or “This needs some work” – you can be more subjective about it. The creative process is a very emotional one so you have go through that whole run of emotions and say, “Actually, I really like this – this is where I want to go this season” or “This doesn’t go with the mood that I’m trying to present”.
‘I come from a line of very strong women who have always gone out and done their own thing, so it was quite natural for me to start my own label. That’s what my mother and my grandmother did – not in the same field, but they’ve always very much been pioneers, so that comes very naturally to me. I guess it was not until I had fully explored studying that I was ready to actually do something, though. My family does not do fashion; I was never playing in anyone’s closet when I was little, I just love making things. That’s where the creativity comes from – that’s where it all comes from, the ability to make something.’
‘Each design doesn’t necessarily start from one place, so five shoes out of the collection will come about because there’s a material that I really had to work with, or there were colourways that I loved. Whereas the other half of the collection comes from reading books on the psychology of sex, and sex in culture, or even researching the history of fetishes. I like that it is one massive jumble.
‘I do not design for myself, at all. I think maybe because I grew up so far from fashion and the idea of having to look a certain way or be a certain way. I’m fascinated with this woman who has it all – this woman who puts on make-up every day and does her hair and presents herself so fabulously but then also has an amazing job or she’s happily married with three kids. This woman who is everything but she’s always herself. She’s someone who, when she walks into the room, everyone knows she’s arrived. I guess this is the woman I have in my head that I design for. I think it’s more of a worldly thing because I don’t ever see her as having one type of job, one type of look. It’s more the embodiment of a type of woman. I pick it up on different people all over the world, in different societies, different cultures. It’s just an embodiment of what a real woman is.
‘I’m a perfectionist. I love working with millimetres – the tinier the detail the better. With furniture, if you’re working with hundreds of pounds of wood, it’s harder to be specific, or at least it was harder for me to be specific. I love the fussiness and the perfectionism of millimetres. We have to be very careful about how much of the foot you see. When you have lacing, I think it’s quite easy to forget how much the lacing actually covers the foot; the tighter spaced they are, the less you see. Then we have our lovely stiletto that has been very carefully manicured. We’ve been quite fussy about the shape of the stiletto; how much it comes in, where it starts – obviously, we put a lot of pressure on the heel, so if it’s in too far, it doesn’t stand quite as steady. And then the shape: we’ve chosen a round one, rather than square, and quite slim and simple. With heels, you’re not working with a whole lot of material so you have to be quite particular with the details.’