Shoe designer Kristen Lee steps out in a new direction for men and women. By Loryn Hatch
Constructing shoes is no easy feat. As designer Kristen Lee explains, "They're the only piece of fashion that you actually walk in—they have to perform." Never one to retreat from a challenge, Lee launched her women's modern-by-way-of-slightly vintage line in 2004 as an answer to all the "shoes out there being designed by men for this idea of a sexy woman," she explains. "I wanted to make feminine shoes with an edge by a woman for a woman," she continues, which this fall, translates to a lively assortment of brightly hued and sometimes subdued suede, leather, reptile, and fabric platforms, heels, and flats that balance the quirky and the sophisticated for both day and night.
And after a string of like-minded collections that meet her criteria for "shoes with an urban sensibility and a vintage feel for under $400 that you can actually live in," Lee has recently introduced a men's line called The Reform Party. Keeping things simple and sans fuss, Lee designed three variations on the classic loafer, giving each style a distinct persona, set of color options, and matching attache. "It's very small and experimental with classic, simple, uniform-style," she says, adding that "men's fashion has really been revitalized in the past couple of years by American brands like Trovata, Thom Browne, Band of Outsiders, Steven Alan, Earnest Sewn, etc., and I think the men's accessories market needs to catch up."
It's hardly a surprise that Lee is at the forefront of this movement toward more sophisticated everyday men's styles. Backed by a business degree from NYU and a design degree from Parsons, she's equipped with the dual skills to both assess the market and fill in the gaps with designs inspired by a life spent building shoes in New York, L.A., Italy, and, more recently, Brazil. And according to Lee, it's this willingness to fearlessly pursue a passion that has been the key to her growing success.
"Everything I learned in business school I had to throw out the window to start my line," she says. "If you want to be an independent designer you're taking a big risk—you may never succeed from a business perspective, but you have the luxury of doing what you love every day and working toward a dream." And with two lines and a store in the works, it's safe to say that Lee's dream is by now a reality.
Shoe designer Kristen Lee steps out in a new direction for men and women.