The Fifth Element

Designers Lee Cotter and Astrid Olsson
In 2004, Astrid Olsson and Lee Cotter began their clothing label Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair. Yet, oddly enough, they don't repair shoes, and the Swedish couple doesn't even work on Fifth Avenue. When the designers decided to name the label after an old shoemaker's shop in London they were simply paying tribute to the old-world craftsmanship that the name stood for. In Astrid's words, "Attention to detail and love of fabrics is something we honor and for which we stay ready to walk an extra mile to achieve. The label is inspired by an old shoemaker's shop in London that has gone from generation to generation, passing on knowledge in craftsmanship of this old profession. Since classic tailoring and pattern-making remain a priority in the collections, we named the line Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair."
Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair spring/summer '07 collection
The duo came to appreciate this dedication to craft long before they started their partnership. Astrid took the more traditional route by getting her design degree, while Lee chose to learn the trade through direct experience, working his way up in the retail industry. Their combined know-how and divergent strengths show in the clothes, which encompass both a men's and women's line with plenty of gray area in between. "The androgynous stroke is always present in the collections. We find inspiration in conserving tradition as well as breaking those same norms," says Astrid. The inspiration for the collections often comes through the same sources each season: architecture, sculpture, and Cubism. "Our creative focus will always lie in draping technique where the silhouette progresses through sculpting. In contrast, these advanced shapes are combined with classic wear such as the old man's chino or the classic white shirt."

The androgynous stroke is always present in the collections. We find inspiration in conserving tradition as well as breaking those same norms…"—Astrid Olsson, Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair

The women's pieces in their latest collection for spring focus on mixing shapes, including voluminous pieces with more tailored lines such as the stretched-out shirt-dress made with pleats at the bottom to add volume. The designers focused on a loose evolution when creating the line, so what was intended to be a sweater may have grown into a dress. Many of the tops, including cotton knits as well as wispy jersey, employ excessively cut-out sleeve holes that elegantly follow the line of the shoulder blade. Lee's English roots show in the men's line where Anglo-minimalism reigns supreme, but look closely and intricate details emerge such as twisted pockets and hidden buttons. The pants have a slim silhouette and typically simple features, with the exception of the surprisingly successful cuffed and pleated pair.
Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair fall/winter '07 collection
This season finds them expanding from the constraints of past collections and the colors, which began as only black and white, have also progressed to include muted neutrals like grays and browns. According to Astrid, "The men's and women's collections have grown more defined and holds a range of experimental items as well as those necessity items you mix with them." Men and women will both love their sexy, simple tank-tops with their window-like floating seam, one of the many re-imagined staples that can easily fit into almost any wardrobe. The accessories share the same quality: mid-calf high leather boots, simple black flip-flops, and a black braided all jumped out, begging to be worn. It sometimes seems like Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair can tackle any fashion they set their mind to&mdah;just don't ask them to repair your shoes anytime soon.
Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair fall/winter '07 collection
Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair is available in New York at Bird, 220 Smith Street, Brooklyn, and at Opening Ceremony, 35 Howard Street. For more information, go to
Photography by Thomas Klementsson
The Swedish label Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair use the lore of an old shoemaker's shop to inspire a fresh new line of wares.

More from Fashion

R29 Original Series