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Meet the Campbell Soup Scion Making Artfully Crafted Shoes

The designer of indie favorite Malone Souliers discusses her first collection for men.

A Malone Souliers loafer in patent leather Malone Souliers

Malone Souliers’ heels in butter-soft leathers are an insider favorite of stylish women from London to Tokyo. Now Mary Alice Malone, the brand’s Pennsylvania-born designer (and Campbell soup scion), is letting guys into the club with her debut collection of men’s shoes. The jaunty spring lineup includes an array of loafers—with variations ranging from sleekly minimalist to dandyish eccentric—and, coming this fall, an elegant, all-purpose boot.

Since launching her brand in 2014, Malone quickly made a name for herself among footwear’s elite. Shoemaking, however, wasn’t her earliest calling. As a teen dressage champion, her equine skills got her selected for the under-21 American Olympic team. But a fascination with craftsmanship led her instead to Cordwainers, the London shoemaker’s school that has been a bastion of footwear artistry since 1887. It was here that she learned the meticulous techniques of traditional, handmade shoes. That expertise serves Malone Souliers’ customers well, yielding shoes that are not only exceptionally well-made but remarkably comfortable.

Mary Alice Malone, a boot from her forthcoming fall collection.

Designer Mary Alice Malone and a boot from her forthcoming fall collection.  Malone Souliers

Malone’s understanding of the variations in the anatomy of each individual’s feet—a consideration not often seen outside of bespoke shoemaking—means that collections take instep height into account and are all road-tested extensively on real people.

We spoke with Malone about her approach to combining old-world techniques and modern style in her new collection.

Why did you decide to get into men’s shoes? 

I have always envisioned that one day there would be a Malone Souliers man standing alongside the woman and the time finally felt right to explore the world of men’s footwear. As my women’s line has succeeded and grown, we have been fortunate enough to receive increasing requests from our key clients to expand into menswear.

Who do you have in mind when designing? Any male style icons?

Men have fewer options than us ladies do, so for them, it’s all about line and proportion in their clothing and shoes. I’m always really fascinated with those who are really confident with themselves, they have an ease about what they wear. Of course, I go back to vintage inspirations for men, like the Mad Men era. Everything was just made differently then. Style icon wise I would have to say John Hamm from Mad Men and Frank Sinatra.

Malone Souliers velvet loafer

Malone Souliers’ ‘Miles’ loafer in Bordeaux velvet, $491  FarFetch

Where did you first learn to love the men’s shoe? 

As traditional men’s patterns form the foundation of shoemaking, men’s shoes were actually the very first kind I learned to make when I studied at Cordwainers. It is, therefore, both an exciting challenge for me, as well as a nostalgic project that takes me back to my artisanal shoe-making roots.  My father was also always incredibly well dressed, buying little and often, and making things last for years. He would wear 20-year-old Patagonia shirts and look stylish.

Who in your mind has historically made the most beautiful men’s shoes?

I do have profound respect for Jermyn St companies like John Lobb—they have mastered all of the classic cuts down to the detail.

What is the ultimate difference in designing and making men’s and women’s shoes? 

The structures, patterns and materials are typically much more traditional in men’s footwear than it is for women’s, so the entire design process is actually very different. What’s also an interesting challenge is that, in the past, men’s shoes have been predominantly functional. Nowadays, however, men are starting to look beyond this element of practicality for something that sets them apart from the crowd. It is fascinating to explore the ways in which to balance those more traditional structures with new and exciting offerings. I wanted to create something traditional yet different, but not wacky.

Malone Souliers croc-embossed calfskin loafer

Malone Souliers’ croc-embossed calfskin loafer, $569  FarFetch

Can you describe the making process in detail?

All our shoes are handmade in Italy by artisans who have honed their craft perfectly. To make them comfortable, the fit of the last is very important—so I start with that. During fittings, I always ask myself: is it wide enough around the joint? Does it leave room for the toes? What is the back curvature so that it stays on but does not pinch? Then, once I have a prototype, I move the buckles, the seams, the toplines and maybe choose a different material to make sure the shoe wears well. My approach has always been to standardize fit as much as possible, so we reuse lasts.  Most of the collection being slip-on styles means they can all be made on the same last.  Boot lasts need to be different about the ankle and heel so that you can get your foot in them and wear comfortably.

What can we expect to see next year?

I do think men have lost patience with wanting to lace-up shoes, hence the loafers. However, there will always be demand for a classic lace-up Oxford or Derby so we will look to introduce them, and also a softer loafer.

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