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Aerin Lauder's affinity for footwear is genetic.
"There are wonderful pictures of me at a very young age, trying on my grandmother's [the late beauty legend Estée Lauder's] high heels," said the new entrepreneur, who last year bowed her own luxury lifestyle company, Aerin LLC, where she is creative director.
Not surprisingly, Lauder, who still serves as style and image director at the family business, is starting off this fall with a beauty line (a licensing deal with Estée Lauder Cos.) and will then debut jewelry, sunglasses, housewares and gift items. The Aerin footwear collection, set to launch for spring '13, is part of a global, multicategory push.
"We are [rolling out different lines] over a year and a half, so the products will come out gradually," said Lauder. "The consumer won't be bombarded."
For the footwear piece, Aerin LLC teamed up with Jimlar Corp., whose other licensing partners include Coach and Calvin Klein. "We are delighted to have the opportunity to work with Aerin, to express her timeless sense of style in an elegant footwear collection," said Jimlar co-president Larry Tarica.
Lauder described the look of the inaugural collection — which includes 15 styles of flats, wedges and mid- to low-heel sandals in snake, calf, patent leather and grosgrain — as fashion-forward yet practical. "This is very feminine, and there is something very easy about it," she said of the line, which retails from $179 to $400.
"It's very much about the woman who is juggling many different things. There are not as many of those high, high, high unwearable shoes."
Lauder said footwear was a natural fit for the Aerin mix, given that fashion has always been a personal interest and area of expertise.
"As creative director of Estée Lauder, I went to all the [runway] shows and I [developed] relationships with designers," she said. "I've always had a passion for fashion and accessories, so it was a perfect next step after beauty to go into [the footwear] category."
And although high design is at the core of the label, the moderate price point is also key, according to Lauder. "[The shoes] have an incredible level of detail, but at the same time, they are affordable," she said. "That is a huge part of the whole position of the brand."
The line will hit retail in March and is being targeted to major department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus, Lauder said. Nordstrom already has signed on as a wholesale partner. The footwear also will be available on the Aerin e-commerce site, which is set to go live in November.
As retailers continue to preview the new collection, fashion insiders are upbeat about the venture, noting that the designer has the advantage of garnering instant buzz.
Laura Solin-Valdina, owner of NYC Stylist, said, "Putting a timeless and approachable face like Aerin's [at the forefront] of the brand is quite genius, and it seems to be a trend as of late."
Here, Lauder discusses the way family has shaped her career choices, why shoes are a lucrative category and how her personal style inspired the new label.
Why was footwear among the first categories you decided to debut?
AL: We are launching beauty first because that is obviously my heritage, but I've always loved shoes. Shoes are a really important part of fashion; they are the final accent to any look.
Aerin is one of many spring '13 shoe launches, What makes this category so hot right now?
AL: Accessories have become such a huge part of the fashion world, and they are an obtainable luxury. [For example], if you want to participate in the whole black crocodile concept but maybe you can't [afford a designer] blazer, you can embrace it in a pair of ballet slippers. Also, people love to go shoe shopping for entertainment. Shoe departments are always packed and busy, even when stores are having problems [moving other products].
Why is Jimlar Corp. the right partner for the collection?
AL: It's the management, the people, the quality, the execution and the other brands they have partnered with. I really respect Rachel Zoe and Calvin Klein. We are always looking for the best in management and strategy. That's something I've learned from my uncle [Leonard Lauder] at Estée Lauder. He said, when we worked with different brands such as MAC or Bobbi Brown, that he always looked for partners with wonderful teams and quality management.
What other advice has your family offered up?
AL: The idea that whatever you do, do it well and do it with passion. They have been very supportive.
What are some of your favorite fashion brands?
AL: I love Proenza Schouler, Oscar de la Renta, Céline and Chloé. What Rachel Zoe has been doing is incredible. I love her sensibility. Her point of view is really special and really strong.
Does the aesthetic of your shoes match your personal style?
AL: The footwear line is very much a reflection of me. It's feminine, it's luxurious and it's aspirational yet obtainable. The [styles] of the shoes are all named after different beaches in Europe, so that's the ultimate storytelling. All the different products represent what the brand is about.
How involved are you in the design process?
AL: I have a team of designers I'm working with at Jimlar and internally, so it has been a group effort, but I'm actually very hands-on. Always being involved with every little detail is important to me because the product has my name on it. It has to be the best it can possibly be, whether it's a lipstick formula, a glass or a shoe design. I'm completely passionate. I have never done shoes before, but I have learned a lot and it has been exciting.
Which footwear brands are your biggest competitors?
AL: We have a lot of competitors, based on distribution and price point. [Some of them] could be Repetto, Michael Kors and Tory Burch. There are so many amazing designs out there. This will just be another point of view.
What is your marketing stategy?
AL: Social media and editorial will be a huge component, whether that's [via the Aerin] website or through partnerships. We will also be doing a book about style, fashion, home and living, and there will be elements of shoes within the book. We will advertise eventually, but for the first year or two, we will do what [Estée Lauder] always did with beauty ... a lot of it was through PR and social media.