It all starts with a vision of the perfect shoe. For shoe designers like Angelique Joseph, seeing footwear move from sketch to shelf is a constant process. Joseph is the lead designer for Naturalizer, a top brand for St. Louis-based international shoe company Caleres.
Many will know Caleres by its former name: Brown Shoe Co. The 137-year-old business went through a rebranding process in May and opened its new-look headquarters in Clayton just a few weeks ago. From the rebrand to the HQ alterations to Saint Louis Fashion Week, it’s been a busy year for Caleres and its employees.
But the design process never stops. Joseph says designers like her are constantly traveling both domestically and internationally, seeking out the latest trends.
“When we’re shopping, we look at all stores in the city: high end to mainstream,” Joseph says. “We look at apparel, jewelry, accessories…it all affects shoe design.”
Going to parts of the world that are currently in the season you’re designing for is key. Joseph often travels to fashion capitals such as Paris, Milan and London, along with up-and-coming places like Stockholm and Amsterdam. She also visits domestic hot spots including New York City and Los Angeles.
“We look all over to get inspired and bring our ideas back,” Joseph says. “Then we have a huge kickoff meeting where we talk about what we saw in terms of trends.”
Right now, she says, shoes with heavier soles and platforms are back in style, a style that won’t get lost in the corresponding resurgence of wide-leg pants. This is why it’s important for designers to keep an eye on apparel, accessories and jewelry in addition to footwear trends.
Joseph and her team decide what vision and look the shoes are going for, whether it’s rocker-chic, quiet attitude or something entirely different, which the company refers to as the shoe’s “story.”
“Depending on what our stories are, we start researching what’s selling and what’s working,” she says. “We see what our competitors are doing. Then, we start putting preliminary ideas down on paper.”
For Naturalizer, a brand that delivers feminine, stylish and comfortable shoes in a way that’s relevant to the busy lifestyle of today’s woman, starting from the ground up is important. Joseph says her design team starts with the bottom of the shoe and progresses up from there.
“We don’t even think about the top part of the shoe at first,” she says. “We have to figure out the overall shape of the shoe first. Does it have a blocky heel? Is it pointed? Is it square?”
Once the initial bottom shape is down, the designers can begin working on the top of the shoe, which they put together based on the stories they’ve decided on.
After getting the designs down, the designers have a series of critiques with the sales and marketing teams. They have two or three meetings before the shoe is made as a sales sample. “In the design review, they’re just seeing sketches; it’s just basic black and white on paper,” Joseph says.
The process then moves to a prototype review. The prototype is usually just one shoe in one material, just to give the teams an idea of the vision for the final product.
Joseph lists all the teams involved – and there are many – including the sales team, the sample team overseas, the fit team, the material team, the developing team, the pricing team and the production team. Although she doesn’t know exactly the number of people involved in the timeline of a Caleres shoe, she estimates it in the hundreds.
“The hardest part of the design process is selling your vision,” she says. “You have the vision and image in your head, and you can picture it. But you have to get everyone else to grasp the concept. You have to make sure you’re not too far [ahead of trends] but not too far behind, either. You don’t want to be stale.”
Joseph’s favorite parts of the job are the opportunities to travel – and, she says with a laugh, the discounted shoes. As a designer, she loves seeing people literally walking in her shoes.
She recalls being in New Orleans for her birthday and seeing a young woman on Bourbon Street wearing a pair of Naturalizer shoes that she helped design. She also saw three different pairs of shoes on three different age ranges of women, and since Naturalizer is trying to broaden its age range and diversity of products, she says that was “pretty cool.”
“It makes you feel like what you’re doing is working,” she says. “I always love going up to people and asking them why they bought the shoe. It’s so personal why you like a certain shoe and why you bought it in the first place.”
This story was originally published at laduenews.com. Read it on LN’s website here.