Fresh off the back of a logo overhaul and brand refresh, we chatted with Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair’s founders, Lee Cotter―who handles menswears―and Astrid Olsson―who designs for the women’s line―about their humble beginnings in 2004, their impressive global expansion, their collaborative endeavors, and their diverse designs.
Alright―let’s start with the simple stuff. Where does your name come from and what does it mean? Sounds like an ancient shoe repair shop on Fifth Ave. in NYC.
Actually, the name is inspired by an old traditional shoemakers shop in London, a small family business that restored old, classic shoes and sold them again.
We fell in love with the respect they had for the product and wanted to honour the craftsmanship behind it by naming our brand Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair.
A little more broadly, what inspired you to make the label in 2004? What was it like at that time and how have you changed since? How has your perspective on your business altered?
Both me and Astrid had worked in the business for several years before deciding to create something on our own. I think we both felt that we wanted to stop and do it for real, if you know what I mean. We love the process behind creating clothes, and we’re not taking any shortcuts. We create clothes the classic way by draping on the mannequin, a matter of slow fashion instead of fast fashion. The atelier started out as the heart of Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair and has always stayed that way.
Swedish fashion is making some tremendous waves right now―and has been for some years. There seem to be hundreds of labels and even more popping up every day. How do you stick out from the crowd… and how do you benefit from the outpouring of talent from your country?
We will always carry our Swedish heritage with pride, I think it’s great that there are so many talented designers emerging at the moment, and I definitely think we benefit from each other’s success. Since we have our roots in a more classic fashion tradition, where craftsmanship and tailoring is key, I think we have found our own path holding our two lines in the collection; an experimental couture collection made by hand in our atelier, paired together with our ready-to-wear collection.
I’m curious as to why you started an e-commerce site. Many people do this―it’s the way of the future!―but did you have any special reason? Also, you don’t have a physical store yet, correct? Do you plan to open one or are you just going to stick to online while continuing to distribute your wares to boutiques?
We do have two physical stores in Stockholm and, since August last year, one in Singapore, too. Opening our online shop has been fantastic and a great way to communicate directly with our customers―wherever they may be! We are aiming at opening more physical stores internationally, but will always keep the online alternative as well.
Let’s talk about clothes now. You have a very unique aesthetic, one that pairs the high end with the more casual and playful in a very inventive way. You’re elegant but don’t seem to take things too seriously. Tell me a little about how you approach designing collections.
Since a large portion of our collections are created through draping on mannequin, I think we always tend to keep a very open mind during the design process – if you’re too set on what you want to create you might miss all the fantastic “mistakes” along the way. In that sense I would say we have a very playful approach towards designing, our atelier is a melting pot of experiments and tests to try new ideas and theories.
And on that note, I get the sense that you have a pretty good sense of humor as well. Why is designing fun for you?
To enable yourself to create you need to be able to relax and let your guard down. We give ourselves the freedom to create with passion and our lust to experiment is always prioritised within the company.
We have no great legacy to live up to, we are creating it as we speak!
There’s a very severe contrast to much of what you produce. Either things are totally black and white or else, when they have color, they’re very striking. Bold ginghams… shiny materials and light-absorbing matte ones… super tight and super loose… highly geometric and rather undefined… that sort of thing.
Yes, we like contrasts and we like to push things to its edge, to create a certain rhythm between opposites.
You also seem to utilize a lot of odd fabrics and materials. While there’s plenty of cotton in your pieces, you incorporate a whole mess of unusual synthetics and blends. Why do you have this tendency?
I would say that materials are our colours. Since we tend to design in a very monochrome colour palette, the surfaces and textures of materials is what we use to create different expressions.
We are true material fetishists and are constantly searching for new fabrics and techniques for treating the fabric. While we will always love the classic organic qualities such as high quality wool or cotton, we also love the synthetic and technical fabrics emerging such as nylons etc. The quality can be absolutely fantastic―something I think people still need to learn, today we have come a very long way from the terrible polyester fabrics dating back to the 60s and 70s…
I always like collaborations and am really drawn to your luggage pieces with Alstermo Bruk. How did that partnership come about? Have anymore similar projects in the works?
Alstermo is a fantastic Swedish company dating back to 1804 that we have always loved. It started up with us ordering a few special made pieces for our Spring10 show, which later on ended up in a collaboration where we developed a few pieces based on their classic luggage cases. As for the future, we will most likely come up with similar projects―keep your eyes open!
What are some labels that inspire you? Both from the past and present…
We tend to look at architects, sculptors, artists and photographers instead of other designers. Shapes and expressions in other creative fields are very challenging and exciting to transfer into the world of fashion.
What are your plans for the rest of 2011? And beyond?
Be true to ourselves and never compromise our vision. We would love to open more stores abroad, to extend our world to other markets and communicate what we do in our own atmosphere is one of our goals for 2011 and beyond!