Dressing Up the Baby Bump

Every pregnancy is different. I was one of the lucky few to enjoy the elusive “easy pregnancy” my first time around – with really no symptoms or complications and mobility enough to continue working out through my 36th week. The entire time I only purchased one single item of maternity clothes – a pair of jeans. Most would consider my second pregnancy close to, if not equally as easy, and so I do hate to complain, but by comparison to the only other experience I’ve known, this third trimester has hit me like a ton of bricks. I feel more hot mess than radiant glow, walking has become waddling, and the mere act of changing clothes is as tortuous as creating outfits themselves that can be worn to work while still upholding my revised comfort requirements.

It is not easy to feel beautiful during this time, but when the sun came out and the temps climbed into the 50s on an early New England Easter this year, I managed to pull it together for the day – thanks to equal parts gracious husband, our country club locale, and some fortuitous fashion synergy. I’ve always been a proponent of pairing high and low fashion and it’s possible that this outfit set a new personal best in pushing this concept to the extreme. The bump-friendly babydoll dress is straight out of Forever 21, circa 2010, and probably cost around $24. Thankfully, it’s slightly too-short length can be overlooked due to the more conservative drop of the plaid coat by Marni, which I scooped from Barney’s Warehouse with an original MSRP price tag of $1970. I felt very Betty Draper in it, although in the context of a pregnancy related post, she’s probably not the best role model to be referencing.

The shoes are some of my favorites by Rachel Comey (sold at Anthropologie a few years ago for $398) and I love how the nude base with thin black straps mimics the yolk detail of the dress. Needless to say, this will have been the last day of my pregnancy to wear such high of heels! In fact, since becoming a mom three years ago, I rarely ever wear heels anymore, what with the newfound attention to practicality that innately happens when you become a parent. And along those same lines of shifting priorities, although it is always fun to dress up and feel fashionable, I’m even more looking forward to putting outfits together for our new little girl who will be arriving next month! It’s exciting little premonitions of the future like this that will undoubtedly be what helps me get through the home stretch of this otherwise tedious pregnancy. Wish me luck!

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Mara Hoffman’s Latest Journey

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to enjoy the special experience of attending Mara Hoffman’s Fall ’16 ready-to-wear presentation. The inspiring collection was set against the historic neo-Gothic backdrop of the Refectory event space at the High Line Hotel – a grand room originally (and opportunely) named Hoffman Hall, in honor of Dean Hoffman, the visionary behind this late 19th century building development for the General Theological Seminary.

Photo from Remodelista

To no surprise, every aesthetic detail was considered for yesterday’s event – from the handing out of tarot cards at check-in to live music by Chargaux, an of-the-moment Brooklyn based string duo. Yet having just come in from single digit temps outside, the hall seemed especially crowded with everyone still clad in their warmest accouterments. At first this made me wish that the event had been organized in a more traditional catwalk format, but once I spotted the tall, radiant Mara, bustling in and out of the sea of bundled guests, I realized that I wouldn’t trade this intimate gathering for anything. Throughout the presentation she stayed busy saying hi and hugging everyone she knew, as well as taking moments to share the excitement with her adorable young son.

Once I had taken everything in and said my own enthusiastic hello to Mara, I took a closer look at all the pieces and truly fell in love with the assortment. From the rich jewel tones and luxurious fall materials to the vintage inspired silhouettes, this season Mara has translated her iconic prints in an especially artistic and sophisticated way. The collection description we were handed goes on to elaborate:

“Mara Hoffman’s Fall 2016 collection delves further into fantasy with a collection that evokes the essence of powerful female identity reflected through extraordinary moments and icons in time. … It’s the coming together of masculinity and femininity in one dramatic, climactic pilgrimage through time and space.”

Women’s Wear Daily more specifically reported that the presentation, “was based on an imaginary dinner party attended by her three muses: Jerry Hall, Grace Jones and Cher.” With Mara further explaining, “I wanted to represent a woman’s journey, a woman who has traveled all around the world.” As an avid follower of the Mara Hoffman Instagram account, I know that Mara truly lives this dream – just in the last few weeks I admired her vibrant photos from a trip to Peru! If Mara’s Fall 16 collection allows its wearers to experience even just a taste of her worldly journey (through time and space, no less?) then I’ll be the first customer in line.

Mara Hoffman fringe sweater, Rag & Bone leather overalls, upcycled silk scarf from an NYC flea market, vintage Icelandic wool coat, Converse Limited Edition Punk-Pack studded sneakers.

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Gallery Preview: Down Mexico Way

Photo by Michael Goodman

One of my favorite shoes I created last year was a pair of tropical flat sandals for Elizabeth, another friend and coworker at Converse. It never fails that each morning when I finally make it to work and slump into my chair, feeling rushed and disheveled, Elizabeth is already there at her desk looking perfectly put together. Her long blonde hair is interestingly styled, she’s almost always wearing lipstick and she doesn’t even use a chair, opting to stand at an elevated desk like a graceful statue. Her fashion style is equally on point, mixing neutral clean-cut basics with trend-right statements – like a fun palm print romper! It didn’t surprise me when I found out she was planning a destination wedding in Mexico, designed around a tastefully tropical color palette of terracotta and greens with an effortless relaxed vibe.

With all of this inspiring imagery to work with, the shoes came together like a breeze. Unlike most sandals you would find at a store that might feature one – maybe two – colors, I was able to take the opportunity of designing a shoe from scratch to incorporate all of the elements in Elizabeth’s color palette. The single coral colored strap (in nubuck leather, to capture a true matte terracotta finish) and the variegated tones of the green palm leaves (which give the effect of dappled light) are grounded by pearlized champagne lambskin in order to coordinate with her ivory dress and kept the sandals feeling bridal. I reinforced each leaf with a lightweight anodized green copper wire to ensure it wouldn’t wilt and edged the outsole with a micro gold chain to keep the style from looking too casual.

To showcase the finished product, we took a cue from the success of our Five Guys photo shoot with Allison’s hamburger shoes and brought Elizabeth’s palm sandals to a nearby Mexican restaurant, Margaritas. There, we were able to shoot the shoes against backdrops of Mexican tile and tropical plants – with very fun and vibrant results. While I know it was tempting to just go barefoot the entire time while at their beach resort in Mexico, I’m thankful that Elizabeth was as equally pleased with the results of her custom wedding shoes and was happy to hear they were a unique detail that helped make the day truly unforgettable.

View more of Elizabeth’s wedding and her tropical wedding sandals here in our Gallery!

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Misc. Six

Last week I turned 33 (my Larry Bird birthday) and despite all the fun and cheer that comes with a birthday celebration, it’s also a prime opportunity to do a little soul (sole?) searching as I look to the next year ahead. I decided to work this out a bit through a Misc. Six post, themed around reassessing my dreams and goals through inspiration. In taking stock of life at 33, I don’t feel physically older (ran 4 miles yesterday!), but as my last post alluded to, I have a new awareness of some confusion around the contribution I’m making in this life. Of course, I’m helping to raise an amazing little boy, who, at just 2 years old, is so sweet, funny, imaginative, brave, and clever you’d think he was twice his age (not to mention he can count to 10, swim underwater, and hit a ball out of his own hand). But impressive offspring aside, there’s still a stubborn desire to leave a creative mark on this world as well (how to juggle those two entities is a whole other problem).

The first major question comes from my day job, where I’m currently one of many designers on a team, each with a quantitative output of design work. I haven’t yet considered this a qualifying life accomplishment, however, since there are more prestigious titles beckoning from higher up on the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, in these more directorial roles, you trade your daily designing for meetings, management and politics, making it even harder to see the impact of your unique creative voice. I think many of my coworkers feel similarly and lately I’ve been inspired by two amazing colleagues who have taken their side projects to the next level in order to see their art make its way out into the world. Number 1, above, is Allison Bamcat, who’s been applying her masterful use of surreal color and sweetly disturbing subject matter to hand-sewn pouches and totes (not to mention the original artwork, which she shows in galleries around the world). Number 2 is Burrow Handmade Goods from textile designer Jess L’Abbe, who has translated her signature geometric doodles into luxurious cotton throw blankets and other home accents. It’s always inspiring to witness pure ambitions rise above the drain of a demanding day job.

Number 3: In a similar vein, I recently stumbled on a new-to-me blog called “The Jealous Curator,” who’s tagline “Damn. I wish I thought of that.” succinctly captures the sentiment of utmost admiration. After scrolling through about 50 pages of blog posts from the curator extraordinaire, I could easily confirm the clever tagline earns its keep, with page after page of compelling visuals and interesting art techniques. This blog gave me a renewed faith in all the artists out there following their dreams and pushing to create newness. I also love how the curator herself, Danielle Krysa, explains the cause and effect of her blog, “I’ve realized that jealousy can actually be turned completely on it’s head, and used as fuel to get back into the studio. It can only stop you if you let it. That’s when the magic transformation from jealousy to inspiration starts to happen… thank goodness.” Above is my own small collection of inspirational favorites from the Jealous Curator.

Number 4: I believe it was this image of a geometric stained glass window (above left) on my Pinterest feed, which lead me to the website of Swiss artist Sipho Mabona, who turned out to be a master origami designer. I was quickly sucked into his personal blog, getting a taste for what inspires him (often footwear!), and enjoying his work-in-progress shots. Instead of kicking back and being satisfied as a one-note origami artist, Mabona pushes the limits of how the fold lines he designs can translate in various mediums and also how they can be experienced in a range of scales and environments. His thought process seems really progressive and I find it quite beautiful how he is able to both celebrate simplicity and elemental form while having a sky’s-the-limit attitude at the same time.

Getting back to a reassessment of my own creative contribution, of course there’s my little hobby of hand making custom wedding shoes to consider. Now that I’m a mom, I’ve only been averaging about 4 pairs per year and each new project turns into a major imposition to my support system as I try to carve out uninterrupted time in my studio. On top of that comes the pressure of a hard deadline and the perfection every woman strives for on her wedding day. It has surely occurred to me that I could save a lot of added stress by avoiding the wedding industry all together and so I’ve started to consider how I might put my studio to use in other ways. For example, taking a cue from Number 5 on my list, Nancy Benoit. Having inherited her grandfather’s set of shoemaking tools, Nancy not only offers made-to-order lifestyle shoes through her own label, Sole of Vermont, but also hosts basic shoemaking workshops out of her home studio! Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Number 6 is a shout out to my good friend Lisa – a fellow mom, 2nd grade school teacher, and expert cake maker. Just as my custom shoemaking will need to continue only as a hobby for now, so too will Lisa’s culinary pursuits remain in a similar state for the time being. Nevertheless, I hope that someday she is lucky enough to follow her dreams and take that passion project to the next level. Until then, I count myself lucky to have a friend who would know me well enough to make special high-heel shoe cupcakes for my birthday (which tasted as wonderful as they looked!)­ I definitely don’t have all the answers for finding creative fulfillment, but while indulging in this special treat, I was reminded that even one little cupcake can be a step on the journey of artistic contribution. Hopefully these six miscellaneous morsels of inspiration will serve as encouragement for you, too.

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Pull up a Chair

Michelle was one of the first people I worked with when I started at Converse and although we no longer work on the same team, we’ve remained friends over the last four years. I have to admit that in setting out to design her wedding shoes, I took as much inspiration from following her Instagram and Facebook accounts over all these years than from the information packet she filled out for me. After a quick skim of her pictures online, anyone can see that Michelle cherishes her family – especially her brother Anthony (to the left of the bride), whom she affectionately calls her “twin.”

Anthony is the owner and founder of The Situate Chair Company, a business where he designs and builds Adirondack style furniture using modern materials. As an owner-artisan myself, I can appreciate Anthony’s entrepreneurial spirit and the foundational elements his company stands for: Style, Comfort and Durability. With these principals in mind, Anthony incorporates classic styling, ergonomic curves and marine grade materials into all of his products and I know Michelle is very proud of all that he has accomplished.

From Anthony’s Situate Chair Company to Michelle’s coastal-chic style wedding, it’s easy to see how growing up on Boston’s South Shore has instilled a similar love for the nautical New England aesthetic in both these siblings. Therefore, I thought it was an appropriate tribute to integrate the most iconic design element of an Adirondack chair into Michelle’s wedding shoes. The ivory back slats of the chair work like an art-deco style t-strap sandal, accentuated by tiny gold studs that function like bolts on a chair and surrounded by a simple blush pink structure that coordinates with the bridesmaid’s gowns.

The other element of these custom wedding shoes is the lace skirt around the kitten heel. This material is the same lace as was used to create Michelle’s custom veil, thus establishing a literal coordination within her ensemble. The lace brings a softer, more traditionally bridal element to the otherwise geometric upper pattern and visually creates the silhouette of a wedge, which is a common style worn around Massachusetts’s preppy beach towns.

It’s necessary to note that my one regret in this design is the too-small peep-toe, which, due to the nature of the nearly pointed almond toe shape, doesn’t allow for the toes to actually peep out of the opening.

Nevertheless, just as architecture and landmarks of the coastline have inspired the Situate Chair Company, Katie Blauer custom wedding shoes are inspired by the women who wear them. In both of these cases, the outcome is a style that is a simple, yet elegant look that can be passed down from generation to generation. Michelle has already mentioned to me that she would consider passing her wedding shoes to Anthony’s girlfriend to wear in the next family wedding and it is this meaningful sentiment that makes everything I do worthwhile. See more of Michelle’s wedding shoes in the Gallery!

Special thanks to Scott Zuehlke Photography for sharing these beautiful wedding pictures with us.

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An Evening with Libby

The Two Ten footwear foundation is a charitable organization focused on the mission of “shoepeople helping shoepeople.” For over 75 years, the foundation has been providing financial assistance (emergency funds and scholarships) to anyone in need from the footwear business. Within Two Ten, there is also a sub-community called Women in the Footwear Industry (WIFI) – a group who inspires, supports and educates women through its mentoring program and gatherings put on by local chapters. I’ve attended every such Boston event since moving back to the area 4 years ago and tonight’s get-together was one of the best.

It was An Evening with Libby Edelman, the co-founder of Sam & Libby and Sam Edelman shoes, hosted by my very own employer on the top floor of our amazing new world headquarters. For an hour, Libby entertained a room full of ambitious ladies from Converse and other surrounding footwear companies with the story of her career and subsequent advice she’s learned along the way. Between attempting to glean every drop of wisdom and admiring her effortless boho-chic ensemble, I, too, was thoroughly riveted.

Libby spoke to us on topics like networking, culture, patience, traveling, work-life balance, and philanthropy. As for inspiration, she was generous to share with us a page highlighting some of her favorite things. She also answered about what success looks like to her. In asking myself the same question, I’d say that being given the honor to similarly inspire the next generation through the telling of my own career journey would be one of the best measures of accomplishment. But in recognizing that dream, it’s hard not to worry about the choices I’m making now that are crafting that very story.

This notion is then followed by a series of spiraling questions: How is my time best spent reaching my goals? Where can I find more time? Am I the mentor or the mentee? An individual contributor or a leader? What does my leadership voice sounds like and what kind of an impact can I make? Or should I quit my job and dive into my own project? Am I taking enough risks? As a mother am I completely selfish for even asking these questions? And why am I bothering to write a blog when all anyone wants to do is scroll through pictures on an Instagram feed?

I suppose these are existential questions that are nearly impossible to answer (yet always worth considering). If anyone would ever like to chat on such topics, I am open to offering advice as well as accepting it – please reach out and get in touch. In the meantime, if you’re a woman in the footwear industry, please consider joining WIFI and donating to the Two Ten foundation. Thank you!

All pictures courtesy of Two Ten / WIFI Boston.

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The Big Bang

When I began my brainstorming for Jessica’s New Years Eve wedding shoes, my mind was focused on capturing the fireworks that would be exploding over us in celebration that night. After bouncing some ideas around with my team, we decided I might actually be able to translate the spectacular event onto a pair of shoes using fiber optic technology. While my first sketch (shown below) was so non-traditional that it scared the bride away from the concept, I still thought this idea was too special and unique not to pursue, at least for myself.

First, I ordered two packs of fiber optic hair extensions, which had the lowest-profile LED unit of any other light-up gadget I could find. I designed the back half of the shoe to be a horizontal representation of my tulle mermaid gown, which also served nicely to obscure the battery packs. From there, I opted for a conceptual interpretation of the fireworks by laying the fiber optics under the upper and feeding each strand one by one back up through a pinhole in the material.

The mid-process result was my favorite, as the shoes took on an avant-garde life of their own, most closely resembling the light-up waterfall of an exploding firework. Regretfully, the next step was to give the shoes a haircut by trimming each strand down to the surface of the upper. While this still allowed each little light to glow, I failed to cement the fiber optic strands securely enough between the layers of the upper, so as I danced the night away at Jessica’s wedding, many of them slipped back through their pinholes, disappearing under the leather.

Despite the less than perfect wear-test results, working with this unique material for the first time was an exciting and fun experience that I look forward to perfecting in the future. Have you ever noticed there’s something about watching fireworks that switches your brain into memory making mode? I’m sure Chris and Jessica will never see a fireworks display again without thinking of their magical wedding night and I have no doubt that you, yourself, have a special fireworks memory of your own!

Here’s mine – watching Hunter witness his first fireworks, Greensboro, VT, 7/4/15:

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Society Room Wedding

Last weekend we woke up out of this long winter hibernation to stretch our legs on the dance floor of a lovely family wedding at The Society Room in Hartford, CT. The unique building, constructed in 1893 to house the Society for Savings mutual savings bank, still boasts the exquisite gilded ceiling, original light fixtures and even the bank vault itself. Fortunately, my Halston Heritage gown, with its angled velvet panels, deep-v keyhole neckline and twisted drape front felt appropriately art deco for the setting. Although no custom shoes were involved in the event, the gathering of family, historic surroundings, a rocking band and some fabulous black-tie fashion made for an excellent evening out to kick off the spring season.

Halston Heritage draped jersey twisted-front gown, Maison Scotch faux fur stole, Cole Haan pewter peep toe pumps, Banana Republic paisley velvet clutch, David Yurman jewelry.

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Ravishing Red

In the world of color psychology, my high school friend Jessica, is most certainly red – the personality color characterized by strong will, ambition and energy. Along with a hilarious sense of humor and a penchant for movie quotes, these are all traits that I’ve always known to describe Jessica. A successful business woman armed with a law degree, she is now the owner of multiple Pure Barre fitness studios – a franchise easily recognized by its – you guessed it – bright red logo.

Jessica, at her bridal shower, opening the custom Pure Barre Converse I made for her.

People with red personality are also quite competitive and are not willing to settle for second best, so it came as no surprised that Jessica was planning a New Years Eve wedding at one of Boston’s top venues, The Boston Harbor Hotel. My challenge in designing her custom wedding shoes was to make a bold statement while still maintaining the classic elegance that her lace dress and formal surroundings demanded. Luckily, after reviewing the list of details in her information packet, there was a lot to be inspired by.

While Jess wasn’t so confident about my idea of using fiber optics to represent the New Years fireworks (a concept I later used on a pair for myself!), she was totally on board with wearing a bright red wedding shoe. Her dress featured a unique removable high-neck lace bolero and so I designed the shoe to have a similar high neckline of shear lace (see below, along with my initial sketch). For this I sourced some exquisite red French trim from Quebec that matched perfectly with the metallic red Italian lambskin that would be used on the rest of the shoe. An art deco crystal brooch positioned over the toe coordinated with Jessica’s rhinestone belt for the finishing touch.

The description found on psychologia.co for the color red personality also explains that, “People with red personality type are usually quite active, cheerful and optimistic,” and that “Many people want to be around them in hopes that their joy and happiness will rub off on them too.” This is undoubtedly the case with my friend Jessica, whether through her warm welcome to anyone coming into her studio to the radiant charisma she exuded all throughout her wedding. That night, the red shoes were a symbol of her strong presence that will surely lead to a lifetime of continued success, both in business and her hew marriage.

Miller Studio Photo. See more of Jessica’s wedding shoes on her page of our Gallery!

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Misc. Six: Winter Edition

With our record breaking snowfall over the last few weeks, Massachusetts is officially the snowiest place in America right now. In fact, it’s become nothing short of comical (see some of my favorite memes above). In Jimmy Fallon’s monologue last night, he described a Boston resident’s reaction to yesterday’s light storm in Washington D.C. as “Four inches of snow? I left for work this morning out of a second-story window! Cowboy up!” It’s true that for most, all this snow is nothing but a huge nuisance, but for me it’s been a chance to revel in wintery fashion more than ever. I think I’ve hit a personal record for consecutive days wearing some sort of fur or fair isle to work – so in keeping with this theme, I’ve compiled some favorite winter-related items of interest.

I first saw Mischa Lampert’s Mickey Mouse hat in a magazine ad for the Stowe, VT luxury boutique, Winterfell. Although I already own a high end fur pom-pom hat handmade in Berlin, Germany, my first thought when I saw this image was, “What could be better than one fur pom-pom, but two!?” After stopping by the shop and trying it on, I can attest that the materials, craftsmanship and patterning of this hat (there is a slight brim at the front) is sublime. On Mischa’s website, her words about design are as well put together as the items themselves. She describes, “I choose to create accessories because I love the ambiguous role they play as the element that is both extra and yet essential to a polished, complete look.”

Another design element that Mischa Lampert plays with is scale, as she freshens classic styles with exaggerated dimensions. Thinking along the same lines, the Spanish company Knitting Noodles offers merino wool products for the home and has taken this idea of “chunky knits” even further. I love that you can either select one of their finished handcrafted items or opt for a ball of super-sized yarn and some extra large needles to create a luscious wintery creation of your own! It seems that when working in these over-sized proportions any inconsistency in the knit just looks all the more charming so there’s no reason not to give it a try!

On a completely different planet of cool knitwear comes this Maison Martin Margiela Fall ’14 runway piece that I will forever covet. I am enamored with the modern clash between the brand’s signature pagoda shoulders juxtaposed with a classic nordic graphic pattern. The rest of the collection represents a feminine take on an exceptionally tailored British male wardrobe, but it seems to be of unanimous opinion that this fair isle sweater was a standout of the show. Maybe someday it will stand out in my closet!

Last year the artist Frank Kozik came to Converse to give a lecture on his life and work. He told us of his fascinating career designing concert posters, running his own record label, and transitioning into the collectible toy movement (including the inception of his famous Labbit – see box art above). I found Kozik to be unassumingly brilliant with a matter-of-fact attitude that you can get a sense for from this advice he has for young artists: “You have to forget about the concept of you’re working or you’re not working. Like, you are always working, but it’s cool because you’re not working – if that makes any sense.” Amidst all of the irreverent iconoclastic art this man seems to effortlessly create, a tidbit that stuck with me during his presentation was that he is also an avid collector of Richard Scarry original artwork – some of the most wholesome imagery one could imagine. What does this have to do with winter, you ask? As a Richard Scarry fan myself, ever since Kozik gave me the idea of owning an original Scarry illustration, I’ve been monitoring the market on eBay and this arctic scene from “Albert’s Zoo” has been one of the few pieces to turn up (now sold for $625). Whether Kozik, like me, admires Scarry’s art for his technique, the whimsical characters, or a representation of the sweet simple life that children get to enjoy, its nice to know these treasures are in good hands.

Last but not least, I almost fell off my chair when I saw the grand finale of the Moncler Grenoble Fall 15 collection this week – a bride and groom in full bridal snow gear. I could not help but immediately make the connection to my own wedding and honeymoon where Adam and I dressed in a similar white and black ski ensemble. Moncler themed their show around Valentine’s Day, showcasing 25 couples – dressed to the nines in the ultimate of luxurious outerwear – each ready for a different sport. Everyone kissed at the end of the show in what’s being called “the greatest group makeup session in fashion week history.” Sounds to me like the perfect way to heat up this record breaking winter!

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