Alejandro Ingelmo Designs Shoes with Modern Sex Appeal
by Laurie brookins
When Alejandro Ingelmo launched his footwear label six years ago, his aesthetic seemed deeply rooted in the styles he’d been exposed to as a child: The fourth generation in a family of shoemakers, the early work of Miami-born Ingelmo reflected retro influences that reminded him of the shoes worn by the women in his family, most notably his Cuban mother and grandmother. His designs featured details that were decidedly more romantic than sexy, with heels more practical than powerful, and details like gold piping that ran along the seams of a somewhat conservative black suede pump. Indeed, when we spoke shortly after he launched that inaugural collection, it was clear his heritage was integral to his passion.
That element has never veered far from Ingelmo’s mind-set, and yet, what a difference a few years can make. “I really did work that piping into so many designs,” he recalls with a laugh. “There’s been an evolution in my work, no doubt about it.”
One glimpse at Ingelmo’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection reveals the artistry, refinement, and sex appeal now inherent throughout his work. For example, you can’t help but marvel at his Origami open-toe platform pump, with its cunning folds of tone-on-tone suede and patent leather jutting skyward from the top of the foot, its 120-millimeter heel only adding to its sculptural appeal. It’s a shoe that both beckons and dares you to ask a salesperson to see it in your size. “I love the reaction it’s gotten,” Ingelmo says of the style. “And the thing is, I know it isn’t for everyone. It’s a very bold shoe, a very editorial shoe. You have to have a lot of confidence to wear it. But everything I do tends to be very structured, working within a sort of confinement, and that shoe was really about working outside my comfort zone.”
Striking the balance between heritage, sophistication, and that ongoing challenge to his comfort zone seems to be the central focus of Ingelmo’s work. His Spider wedge platform sandal, for example, makes a statement with its wide straps wrapping seductively around the foot, while his Woven Crosby ankle wedge bootie reflects both the tradition and artisan detail Ingelmo longs to keep in his work.
Indeed, step into his eponymous SoHo boutique, and Ingelmo’s love of craft and tradition is front and center: He modeled the store on his grandfather’s shop in Cuba. “It’s like an old cobbler’s shop; I very much wanted that feeling,” Ingelmo says. “I wanted it to feel warm and that it reflected my heritage, because I’m really proud of where I’m from.” In the back of the store and in Ingelmo’s office, you’ll find blackand- white photos of his grandfather’s store and factory—both shuttered after Fidel Castro took control of Cuba. That event led Ingelmo’s family to flee the island, with half heading to Spain and the other half settling in Miami. Today, Ingelmo splits his time between New York and Miami, calling his South Beach apartment “my hideout.”
Such inspiration seems to have served its purpose, as Ingelmo continues exploring new challenges in his upcoming Fall collection. “I haven’t introduced a new heel for a while, so I did a heel for Fall/Winter that feels a bit more Mod,” he notes. “It’s really cool, with a geometric feel—from the back it looks like a chunky heel, and then from the front it looks like a stiletto. It’s a whole play on shapes and geometry and perspective.” He’s also working with kitten heels for Fall, adding that “I did it with a pointier toe and scooped out so it feels very sexy.” Might we be seeing a backlash against the sky-high platforms of recent seasons? “I don’t think they’ll ever go away, but when I see the women who do the Real Housewives shows start to come out with their own shoe lines, and they’re all about platforms, it’s a bit of a turn-off. If everyone’s going a certain way, that makes me want to go in the opposite direction.”
While his early influences were so uniquely and specifically defined, lately Ingelmo seems to find his greatest inspiration in exploring the unknown. “I think that’s very true,” he says. “I guess I’m just growing up.” Alejandro Ingelmo, 51 Wooster St., New York, NY, 646-692-8184. Available locally at Neiman Marcus, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-6161
photographs by greg delman (ingelmo, origami shoe)