CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rachel Mallory Richards has some bad news -- at least for some of us ladies. Pointy-toe shoes are coming back into style.
She ought to know. She designs them.
Now 34, the Charleston native and George Washington High School graduate has worked for about 10 years in the design business. She is vice president of design for B Brian Atwood and Boutique 9 shoes in New York City. The brands are part of the boutique section of the footwear division of the Jones Group, the mammoth parent company.
Also new for fall, she said, will be shoes resembling smoking slippers -- "like something Hugh Hefner would wear" -- and the "Pistol Boot" or "Beatle Boot" -- a more casual boot with a chunkier two-inch heel. Whether they will sell is another matter. Like all shoe designs, the process takes about nine months to a year to go from an idea to a sale.
Richards couldn't remember a design disaster, but she quickly recalled a major coup. "It was a shoe for RACHEL Rachel Roy. It had a special molded heel like a bunch of little pyramids," she said.
"The shoe took off. It took us from being in 50 stores to 400 stores with just one style. You know you've made it when someone knocks you off."
Richards oversees the design of a 30- to 40-item collection per brand for four to six markets a year. That's heels, flats, sandals, boots, sneakers.
To accomplish that, she and two others on the design team take "design inspiration trips" at least twice a year. "It takes me all over the world to shop and observe street culture and trends," she said.
Usually she returns to Paris and to Italy, Milan or Florence. "And a wildcard, a place I have never been before." This past year, she chose Istanbul and Copenhagen as off-the-beaten-fashion-paths to see what footwear and trends were there.
In Paris, she likes to visit consignment shops because she often discovers vintage shoes in excellent condition. "I like to find old things and reinterpret them," Richards explained.
She'll also head to Paris' old Jewish section, Le Marais, where there are lots of little boutiques. And she'll stroll the Champs-Élysées, checking out the high-end stores because brands like Dior and Louis Vutton will have their best products there for their Parisian clientele.
She'll shop, take photographs and observe.
"A good designer is aware of their surroundings, noticing the small things," she said.
Once back in her New York office, "I'll start sketching. I do everything by hand." The rough sketches are reviewed with the sales team, then a prototype package is prepared for each shoe.
This time, each sketch is like an architect's drawing, indicating the exact height of the heel, the thickness of a strap. The proto packages are sent to the manufacturer in China, where half a pair of each design is made and returned to New York.
Using a foot model, Richards said, "We make little adjustments, cut straps here, take something off there. We fill out forms on needed changes so the factory is clear on what to do next."