A Natural Pair:
Joseph Altuzarra's Effortless Spring Shoes

“There’s something so easy about a mule. It’s almost like a flip-flop—you just throw it on,” says Vanessa Traina, executive creative director of The Line. “But at the same time, it’s these beautiful leather or suede stilettos, in supple, natural, gorgeous tones.” She is referring to the shoes—backless low booties in leather that is halfway between cream and buff—that she has been wearing since they walked the runway at the spring 2014 Altuzarra show. “One of the perks of the job of a stylist,” adds Traina, who has worked with designer Joseph Altuzarra since he started his own line in 2008.

The two are friends first, having met in Paris while Traina was interning at French Vogue and Altuzarra was making the transition from a position as Riccardo Tisci’s first assistant at the house of Givenchy to his own label. Working together to shape each season’s Altuzarra collection is an organic process. “It’s less about setting a consulting day every month and more him texting me cell phone snaps of a sketch and attaching a few questions to it, and speaking all of the time and going in and working in his studio over dinner or on a Sunday,” explains Traina. “It’s really natural the way that we work together.”

“The mule felt to me like a very short-lived, ‘90s shoe that we really hadn’t seen in a very long time. And when I started working on the spring show, the shoe direction that we wanted to go with was something that felt very pure in its shape but also a little bit, almost, weird—not a pump, not a slingback. That was something that I was really responding to. And we started playing with that idea.”

Joseph Altuzarra

For spring, their discussions began with the concept of humility as embodied by Japanese Boro textiles, made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from reused indigo-dyed, cotton rags. “It evolved from the idea of these fabrics that were being worked in very time-intensive ways, and it became about taking things that were humble in general and trying to elevate them,” says Altuzarra. Into the mix came striped linens from the south of France and Venetian fabrics that had a “peasant-like” quality.

The resulting collection, which combined intricate ethnic detailing with the ease of layering, softened Altuzarra’s signature sophistication. The choice of mules played up the contrast of feminine delicacy and quietly strong tailoring. “A lot of times the accessories, especially the shoes, are there to counteract what the clothes are doing,” says Altuzarra. “For spring, the clothes were open, light, almost flyaway, and the shoes, even though the mule is quite a graceful shoe, it is also a very monolithic shoe, it has more of a masculine energy to it.”

“The mules fit into Joseph’s spring collection so well because they share a certain restraint. There’s something so easy about a mule. It’s almost like a flip-flop. You just throw it on, almost like an afterthought, but at the same time, it’s these beautiful leather or suede stilettos, in natural, gorgeous tones. So it’s a nice contradiction of this stompy kind of shoe, but with a delicacy and elegance.”

Vanessa Traina

“Working with Vanessa has always been very organic, and I think that we probably, as the company has developed and as our relationship beyond the company, just being friends, has evolved as well, we’ve definitely created more of a process and more checkpoints. But often it will just be conversations we’re having, discussions about the direction of a collection, what we’re feeling, and fabrics and colors. A lot of times I’ll call her with questions or she’ll call me if she has a thought or an idea. And the shoes are very much a part of that process. Vanessa consults on a variety of things, a lot of which are centered around the look and feel of the collection, and so much of that look and feel comes from the shoes. It’s an amazing relationship in that way.”

Joseph Altuzarra

Produced with Italian shoe designer Gianvito Rossi in leather, suede, and satin, the mules have a high vamp that ensures a smooth fit: although they share the slip-on ease of flip-flops, there is no thwacking against the back of the foot. The low bootie style is accompanied by a version with cut-outs and, at the other end of the spectrum, a slingback that strips away the covered vamp and adds a narrow back strap. For Traina, who has road-tested the mules in fall, winter, and now spring, they have become a versatile favorite. “I wear them all the time,” she says. “I’ll throw them on with jeans and a t-shirt, and I’ve been wearing them to black-tie parties all the same.”