As well as making divine clothes for women, Rachel Comey has a cult following of dudes who live—and would give their right arm—for her shoes. The NY-based designer started out her career in menswear just before the current tidal wave of gentlemanly sartorial awareness hit, and back then even her most classic men's shoes were considered daring. Fast forward to spring 2010, and Comey's newly launched e-commerce site for men's shoes is up and running. It's the first time the entire collection will be available to the fans (including a pair of Cuban heels she has lined up for the fall), and each spanking new pair gets a video moment of its very own. Read the full interview with Rachel Comey after the jump.
Why did you decide to do the online store for men's shoes?
Well, because my men’s distribution is very limited, and we were doing a lot of styles that I like that were more difficult for a store. I wanted to just get them out there and give them a chance. I wanted to experiment, to do a video instead of the still images and not make this major business move or anything, but just conduct more of an experiment, a project. Since we started the site, it’s interesting because about 80 percent of the orders have been international. Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Japan—all over. It’s been crazy. Maybe not 80, but up there. Already there’s seventy or more countries that have been on there.
Men go crazy for your shoes. What is it that makes your shoes extra special?
The lasts, and the subtlety of the lasts (molds)—the shape of the toe and the length—I think are all really important. Also, having an interest in the classic silhouette and not being afraid to play with it and do weird things, like add colored soles or combinations of weird fabrics and materials. At the same time I try to avoid anything too designed and tricky. For a lot of guys, there's that moment where they want to transition out of wearing Converse or whatever—you know a pair of shoes you can wear with jeans and a suit. It’s that first moment where they're like “Oh my god, I have to go to this thing, I need a shoe!” That’s when they start panicking. Our classic shoe, our Derringer, has been that. We also have another one on a wider last, Evans, which is kind of that shoe. That first classic men’s shoe. For fall there’s a printed leopard print corduroy, and then we have some printed wools. On the site right now we have the vegan shoes, the non-animal product shoes, which are a wool or canvas upper, a rubber bottom and then nylon lined.
And why did you decide to add vegan shoes?
Those were inspired by a friend, a graphic designer that I work with. He’s a vegan and always looking for non-animal products in his belts and shoes, which I think is the hardest thing for a man. He’d been asking me for a long time and I just couldn’t picture it, but at some point I just thought, Oh wait, I could just do our classic shoe, just by finding more interesting, non-leather products. It’s been fun to have, and we’ve carried it over into the women’s a little bit.
Have you noticed guys being more adventurous nowadays?
I think so. Even our classic shoe, the Derringer, which we’ve been producing for years and years and years now, at the beginning it seemed kind of wild. The last shape and the sole being kind of thin and low. It seems to have progressed so that now I feel like it’s really classic. There’s a lot more available retail now, and I think it’s a lot more normal for a guy to go into Opening Ceremony or Odin.
What's the main difference between your male and female customers?
Women I think are a bit more open minded, or just willing to do a lot more experimenting. The men are very particular about the minutiae of a shoe. I guy might buy three pairs in the same style. It’s like, when they find that thing they want to have it for a long time, and be able to incorporate it into their wardrobes as a staple.
I noticed you’ve added heels to your fall line.
I have one style, yes, that’s a high heel that I’m excited about. But it kind of has a longer toe, and I could see the musician character with the tight pants rocking the heel, just pushing the boundaries a little. The upper is still very classic.
So, when you’re checking out a guy—how important are the shoes?
Pretty important, I’d say. Don’t you think? But, I mean, I have an open mind. I have a good friend that just came back from Serbia with these May Jane galoshes, and they are crazy looking but I’m kind of just really interested that he’s pulling them off on those rainy days.