The Italian shoe designer counts Amal Clooney and Bella Hadid as fans
Lorenzo, Vittorio, Rolando – these are the Italian artisans who helped make Jennifer Chamandi’s dreams come true. The men are part of the family-run atelier in Milan that manufactures Chamandi’s stunning footwear and, to celebrate these key figures, the designer has named her stiletto heels, pumps and flats after them, offering the styles in a kaleidoscope of pretty pastels, electric blue and animal print. Lorenzo’s a calzolaio – a cobbler – while his dad, Vittorio, is 74 and still making shoes by hand, and Rolando is a pattern designer. Andrea, Lorenzo’s son, and Roberto, Chamandi’s husband, will join the roll call of names next year. She wants “to honour the men who played a big role in my journey”. Plus, her research suggested that most women’s shoes were named after women, and she “likes being different”.
Names are important to Chamandi. So too are numbers and materials, prints and patents – in both senses of the word. She cares about every aspect of her brand and, unusually, is as good at the financials as she is at the creative side. Immaculately presented on a scorching hot day in London, a Tinkerbell figurine in pale pink from head to ankle (toes clad in leopard-print Vittorio), she looks nothing like the numbers “nerd” she proves to be.
Chamandi was an academic child with a dilemma – “I loved mathematics but had a creative side too,” she explains. When she was revising, she’d tell her mother that she needed to wear heels to feel more confident, “and I’d then recite history or whatever we were studying”. Her mother, who fanned the flames of Chamandi’s fascination with shoes, gave her a pair of high heels at 16. “She would buy shoes before anything else,” the designer says.
Her financial education began at the London School of Economics, which led to a seven-year career at Merrill Lynch. “I immersed myself in numbers. I put all my heart into banking because I always put my heart into whatever I do. I learned so much and met such incredible people,” she says. But at the same time, Chamandi knew what she really wanted to do and was making it happen. She took courses at Central Saint Martin’s art school and summer school at speicalist college Cordwainers while still working in banking. Oh, and she learned Italian – her fourth language, after French, Arabic and English – so she could present to the manufacturer herself. “We bonded, and Lorenzo saw the potential [in my idea]”.
Chamandi’s light bulb moment came from talon aiguille, which is French for stiletto and translated literally as ‘needle heel’. “I thought: anyone can do a strap around the heel. It has to be more technical. I can do a hole in the heel,” she says.
This ‘Eye of the Needle’ design, which features a gold-plated eye through which Chamandi threads a slim, removable strap, is her brand’s USP, and it’s not a stretch to call it an invention. It required specialist craftsmanship skills to redesign the internal nail of a stiletto heel to bypass the canal while maintaining the shoe’s structural strength. Prototyping took almost a year.
The day we meet Chamandi has just received the UK patent for her design. It means her shoes have a technical, well-proportioned construction. “Shoes are the mathematics of fashion”, she declares. “They’re so complex! You’ve got the sizes, half sizes, the comfort, the stability. And that’s apart from the aesthetic side.” Her meticulous, mathematical mind “drove Lorenzo crazy – I needed this line to be parallel to that strap”.
The result is unusual, in the world of high heels. Her shoes are genuinely comfortable. Try them for yourself at Chamandi’s pop-up on Old Bond Street this September. “One customer has 16 pairs. I had to tell her – stop! ‘But they’re the most comfortable’, she said. Not pretty – comfortable,” the designer smiles. She doesn’t need to be told her shoes are pretty. She knows it’s the comfort factor that brings customers back; many of her customers own multiple pairs. She can claim Amal Clooney and Bella Hadid as fans, appealing to both trendsetting career-women and millennial supermodels. Not bad for a brand that is the same age as her two-year-old twin daughters.
Chamandi’s dream customer is the Duchess of Sussex. “She’s a breath of fresh air – the kind of woman I want my girls to look up to,” she says. If she’s visualising it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Duchess stepping out in a Jennifer Chamandi-clad at a future royal engagement. Your feet will thank you, Meghan, several hours in.
14 September – 14 October, 45A Old Bond Street, jenniferchamandi.com