Good news: eye-wateringly expensive shoes aren't cool anymore. Just take a look at this season's front rows; instead of big-budget brands, the editors, buyers, stylists and bloggers were championing a new wave of lesser-known, independent footwear designers. From Icelandic label Kalda’s butter-soft leather slingbacks to Berlin-based Aeyde’s intricate sculptural heels, the new favourites offer comfort, sustainability and affordability without skimping on design values.
How does a London fashion editor come across a small Icelandic brand like Kalda in the first place? Social media, of course. "I would have to credit Instagram," says founder Katrín on how people discovered her label. "It has been instrumental in reaching a new audience, especially buyers and industry people," she says.
Discovering hot new designers feels even better when the price is right: most of these new footwear labels pitch a pair of luxury leather shoes at around £250 – not exactly high street cheap, but far more accessible than the latest £6k feather boots by Saint Laurent. "We source the same materials as big luxury houses," explains Aeyde cofounder Luisa, "but due to our direct-to-consumer approach and strong digital strategy, we're able to provide our products at a different price point."
If designer-looking shoes without the designer price tag sounds good to you, read on for six of the new cult shoe brands on every fashion girl’s radar.
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The story: Leather craft is in founders' (and sisters) Beste and Merve Manastır's blood: their father is one of the oldest hand-craftsman in their hometown of Istanbul, Turkey. "Handbags are the most tangible face of our childhood and infatuation with our father and his artisanship," Beste and Merve say. "The history of Manu Atelier already started many years ago when we were two little girls.” Launched in 2014, Manu Atelier are best known for their insanely popular geometric-shaped bags in bold colours, and have just launched their first footwear collection at Selfridges.
The look: The collection, which took two years to develop, cherry-picks from across history; featuring a Victoriana slim-heel boot, 1950s style Mary Janes and '90s mules and sling-back sandals. Though production will be done by an external manufacturer, Manu Atelier are keen to minimise as much waste as possible, and will be using the same leather as that used for their bags.
The fans: Who isn't a fan? After Eva Chen posted a snap of Manu's Pristine bag on Instagram in 2014, everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Bella Hadid has been spotted carrying Manu Atelier designs.
The most-wanted style: We've go our eyes on Manu's mules which wouldn't look out of place in Carrie Bradshaw's wardrobe.
The price tag: From £216.
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The story: Wandler is yet another amazing Dutch brand to lust over. Set up by founder Eliza Wandler in 2017, the luxury accessories brand specialises in bold colours and sculptural shapes, and is a favourite for its mid-range price points.
The look: Comprising of five distinct styles - the Bente Kitten, Isa Sandal, Niva Mule, Lina Boot and Lotte Mule - the collection is inspired by nine women in Eliza's life who embody the 'modern femininity' that defines the brand. Like Wandler's bags, the footwear collection is made in Italy from high quality leather, and according to Eliza, are "elegant with unexpected dimensions" and show "clean structured lines with the signature use of dynamic colour ways." Perfection.
The fans: Wandler's bags have been spotted at every fashion week of the past few seasons, and on the arms of stylist Georgia Tal and Instagrammer Linda Tol, as well as every buyer worth their salt. Expect the same of the footwear collection.
The most-wanted style: The Lina Boot - a pointy-toed ankle boot with a curved, skinny heel that comes in a bold zebra print, bright blue or icy white.
The price tag: From £330.
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The story: Icelandic designer Katrín Alder launched Kalda in 2016 with a mission to make quality shoes more accessible to people like her and her friends. "I think shoes are a personal statement for women, and I wanted to offer them this tool of expression without a massive price tag," she says.
The look: From fluffy pink mules to metallic Western ankle boots and a variety of styles in bright patchwork snake print, Kalda designs make a serious fashion statement.
The fans: Fellow Icelander and fashion stylist Ada Kokosar, along with actress Tilda Swinton and Instagram's Eva Chen.
The most-wanted style: The new Cyland shoe – a pointed mule with an architectural spiral heel.
The price tag: From around £340.
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The story: You probably spotted byFAR’s cult shoe designs in London’s most 'grammed pop-up shop, The Basics Store last summer, or their recent collaboration with British high street favourite Whistles. Run by Bulgarian-born twins Valentina and Denitsa and their sister-in-law Sabina, the label was launched in 2011 as a response to the lack of well made, inexpensive shoes in fashion, picking up influential stockists like Net-A-Porter, Need Supply and Moda Operandi along the way. Fun fact: the name byFAR is an acronym of the founders’ sons' names: Filip, Alek and Roman.
The look: Vintage-inspired boots, mules and sandals, updated in contemporary colours and finishes, with a real focus on comfort. Each pair is made using surplus leathers and suedes sourced from Bulgaria, which allows for the lower price point, and also means each design is sustainably made in limited runs.
The fans: Kate Bosworth, Elsa Hosk and Karlie Kloss are just a few of the high-profile names who have joined the byFAR fan club.
The most-wanted style: Any of the label’s '90-inspired square-toed mules. We love them in pink suede.
The price tag: From around £240.
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The story: Alan Buanne and Vanissa Antonious met as teenagers living in Sydney and have remained best friends ever since. After they both relocated to London for jobs in fashion (at Nicholas Kirkwood and Harper’s Bazaar respectively), they noticed a gap in the market for minimalist shoe design at an affordable price. The result? Neous launched in 2017, creating beautifully hand-crafted shoes designed in London and made in Italy.
The look: Alan and Vanissa are inspired by the clean lines of mid-century architecture, modernism and contemporary art. Expect unusual colour combinations and innovative fabric combinations like leather and Perspex, with block heels making each design extra comfortable and wearable.
The fans: Big-name Insta stars across the globe, from Pandora Sykes to Diletta Bonaiuti.
The most-wanted style: The label's graphic ball-heel designs: choose from leather mules or slingbacks.
The price tag: From around £385.
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The story: Designer Laura Villasenin launched Miista in 2010, after moving from her native northern Spain to east London. Her designs are characterised by a nostalgia for home married with the urbanity of her new city life.
The look: All Miista styles are crafted in Spain using a distinctive hand-stitched crochet technique with natural linen threads. Expect elegant shapes, rich colours and understated detailing. "Despite the quality of the pieces and sheer skill involved in making them, Miista is ultimately committed to delivering shoes at an affordable cost," says Laura. "We reject inflated prices and high profit margins to stay true to our ethos and customers."
The fans: Effortless style icons of all ages, like Sienna Miller, Jeanne Damas and Lyn Slater of Accidental Icon.
The most-wanted style: The Aline – a flat, slightly pointed slip-on that is the embodiment of Miista’s signature patchwork stitching technique.
The price tag: From around £150.
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The story: Having honed her craft at brands like Donna Karan and Tory Burch, Spanish designer Mercedes Castillo launched her eponymous footwear collection in New York in 2017, with a distinctive aesthetic inspired by architecture and mid-century design.
The look: Sculptural heels, geometric details and a vivid colour palette. No overt branding or logos here: the emphasis is purely on the unique silhouettes and quality craftsmanship.
The fans: American actresses like Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars) and Zoe Saldana.
The most-wanted style: The Izar sandal – a clean-cut asymmetric design on a tapered block heel in bright suede colours. "Izar epitomises the essence of the brand," Mercedes says. "It’s minimal and architectural, but flattering and feminine at the same time."
The price tag: From around £250.
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The story: Aeyde was founded in 2015 by friends Luisa Krogmann and Constantin Langholz-Baikousis, with a mission to design shoes with longevity, rather than focusing on trends. "We try to understand and get inspired by the wishes and needs of our community," says Luisa. "We don’t just focus on the next big trend piece." Each pair is dreamed up in the duo’s small studio in Berlin and hand-crafted at family-owned factories in Italy.
The look: Clean, timeless shapes are given high fashion credentials thanks to fresh prints and colourways – think mustard suede, graphic snake print and pastel patent leather.
The fans: London fashion blogger royalty like Lucy Williams, Anna Vitiello, Florrie Thomas and Katherine Ormerod.
The most-wanted style: The Lou ankle boot – part of the collection since day one, this flat yet super sleek boot is reimagined in new colours every season.
The price tag: From around £240.