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When shoe shopping left them looking for more, college friends Barri Budin and Hilary Rosenman launched Madison Harding in 2007. "There was no shoe line we loved — and could afford," recalls Budin, whose previous experience was in sales at a multibrand showroom, while Rosenman worked for four years with longtime friend and designer Charlotte Ronson. Inspired by a shared love for vintage, the pair based their Brazil-made collection on their personal style (and named it for the streets where they grew up). Here, the girls show Footwear News a typical day of vintage shopping, eating out and collaborating.
"Chanel, Louis Vuitton" whisper the knockoff peddlers as I navigate Canal Street in New York to spend election day with the Madison Harding duo. Wearing matching jeans (not planned, they insist), the designers have come straight from casting their ballots. "Our aesthetics have always been very similar," Barri explains of their label. "Very 1960s and '70s vintage. That's why we work." And five years in, "we're still making shoes for women like us," adds Hilary.
At the studio, the girls get down to business, allowing me to sit in on their pre-fall design review. "The vibe is 1990s supermodel off-duty, tomboy with a 1970s influence," Hilary says, referencing their inspiration board. "We make shoes that are basic enough to outlast trends, but include elements that are fun and new," Barri adds, explaining that they are currently designing four deliveries per season to keep things fresh. "It's easy to design fall right now because it's everything we want to wear but can't find," Hilary said. For spring, the collection showcases Polynesian prints with a touch of rock 'n' roll, priced for $100 to $250.
After working up an appetite, we venture to The Smile on Bond Street for a healthy comfort-food lunch. As we indulge in a giant peanut-butter-and-jelly cookie for dessert, our conversation turns to brand building. The pair notes that driving traffic to their newly launched e-commerce site is a priority, while they also are adding such marketing initiatives as a weekly newsletter and website exclusives. "Now that we have our own voice, we can get customers engaged and really brand the lifestyle," relates Hilary. "All we ever wanted was to create something exciting and accessible for girls like us."
Any day with this pair wouldn't be complete without vintage shopping. "Why do I like everything crafty?" asks Hilary, inspecting an embellished leather satchel at Edith Machinist. "Because it's one-of-a-kind," Barri responds, showing Hilary boots similar to a pair she wore at Skidmore College. "I wore those Georgia Boots to death," Hilary admits, modeling a velvet trench coat before buying it. Discussing retail, the pair say they would like to add to their current roster of accounts, which includes Anthropologie, Amazon.com, Piperlime.com, Shopbop.com and Nordstrom.com, and expand into other categories. "I would love to do vintage online. I've already started shopping for it," confesses Barri.
When the conversation turns to the brand's good fortunes in 2012, the duo admits the road hasn't always been easy. "When you're starting out, you can have a false sense of how amazing your stuff is," Hilary says. "We're definitely conscious of utilizing all our resources." Case in point: Barri and Hilary have taken turns planning, photographing and styling the brand's lookbooks. "We jump at the chance to do it because we have a vision and it's what we love to do," Hilary explains. And Barri points out that, by necessity, "designing has become a fairly minimal part of what we do."
Next up is a collaboration meeting with Lisa Fuller of Court Jeans, whose office is conveniently located next door to the studio. While Lisa, and fellow co-owner Nicole Tondre, currently sell Madison Harding shoes at their Mulberry Street store, Court Shop, they are always on the lookout for the perfect shoes to pair with bellbottoms. "Bells have such strong styling. You need the shoe to be high for extra length, but it can't be too chunky or spindly," Lisa explains. "We could package the bellbottoms and shoe collab to sell on the Web," Barri suggests, and the whole group agrees.