‘Some shoes can be too exposed’ – founders of Malone Souliers on ‘modest’ footwear

The brand's footwear designs are sharp, with clear architectural influences, but it’s the London-based label's quiet approach to luxury that has garnered it a cult following.

Mary Alice Malone and Roy Luwolt of Malone Souliers. Courtesy Malone Souliers
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There’s a phrase that Londoners use to describe a certain type of shoe. Those glamorous but undeniably uncomfortable heels, which all women fall prey to at some point in their lives, are referred to as “taxi-to-dinner” shoes, because that’s about as far as you can walk before discomfort turns your strut into a wobble. Mary Alice Malone, the designer behind London-based shoe brand Malone Souliers, makes a point of not creating those kinds of shoes. Comfort is king, she tells me. “It’s everything. It’s where we start,” she says during a trip to Dubai to unveil the autumn/winter 2017 collection with luxury e-tailer The Modist.

Because Malone pursued furniture design before finding her calling in footwear, she understands ergonomics. “I want women to be comfortable standing and I want them to have a natural gait when they walk. Part of the beauty of high heels is a woman in motion, so if she’s walking like a hobbled horse, then I don’t care how beautiful the shoes are, I consider that unsuccessful design,” she says. It’s similar with furniture. “Both items need to be functional before they can be beautiful. You’re bound by functionality, and there is technology to adhere to before you can come to the pretty lines and pretty colours.”

When we meet, Malone is wearing a black boiler suit with exaggerated shoulders, and a pair of slides crafted from wine-coloured velvet, from her new collection. She has two piercings in her nose – a ring in her septum, and a turquoise stud on one side. Joining her is the brand’s co-founder and managing director Roy Luwolt, who wears a kimono-style robe, a total of five chunky silver rings and fur-lined Gucci slippers.

The shoes displayed around them range from pointed, backless slippers to the label's signature mules. Some of the designs are decorated with linear gold straps and some – such as the ones Malone is wearing – with plush velvet or metallic detailing reminiscent of men's brogues. Designs are sharp, with clear architectural influences, but it's the brand's quiet approach to luxury that has garnered it a cult following, and the attention of The Modist's founder Ghizlan Guenez, whom Luwolt calls a "powerhouse".

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Discover the autumn/winter 2017 shoes from Malone Soulier – in pictures

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While Luwolt acknowledges that modesty is generally dictated by what’s worn above the shoe, he notes that “the loudness [of shoes] is where modesty is pulled or pushed”. Malone believes that some shoes can look vulgar and that her own designs have strong ties to modesty. “Our approach to shoes is this tension between conceal and reveal,” she says. “Some shoes can be too exposed, and that’s something I’ve always shied away from because I don’t think it connects as much with the innate femininity of the wearer. I like when there’s substance and intrigue to the shoe; I think that’s where the beauty comes from.”

Low-key luxury is part of the brand’s DNA, which has found favour with high-end clients worldwide. “I think we’re like the geeky students in class; we don’t play the mainstream approach,” says Luwolt, explaining that the brand is selective about the names that it aligns itself and collaborates with – fashion label Roksanda, for instance.

“We get excited about the celebrities who wear our stuff, only when they are certain celebrities,” he says. Many, such as Emma Roberts, Solange Knowles, Ellie Goulding and Poppy Delevingne, have worn the brand’s footwear, but the celebrity moment that stands out most for the duo, was when their block-heeled Marjorie shoes were worn by Amal Clooney. “She wore the shoes in a conference room – I mean, nothing interesting at all, but obviously probably saving like a thousand lives in an hour or something like that,” says Ruwolt. They were sent a photograph – a tight shot of Clooney wedged in between chairs and a wooden table. “Even though that’s not the most beautiful or red-carpet photo, we were like: ‘Oh my God, she’s wearing the shoes.’” Still, Luwolt emphasises that famous names are not the brand’s target. “Celebrity isn’t our main sort of channel; it’s certainly a support service, but it isn’t number one,” he says.

And for those looking for something extra special, the brand offers made-to-measure services. “It’s an important aspect to preserve; we are handmade and that’s something that follows the traditionalist approach to craftsmanship,” explains Luwolt, adding that made-to-measure represents about 3 per cent of the business. “It was never meant to be bigger. Increasing exclusivity – that very phrase itself is a contradiction and a paradox.”

Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, June 15.

hlodi@thenational.ae