Sole Mates: Sam and Libby Edelman
by rachel felder
Inside New York’s chicest closets are precision rows of shoes, from ballet flats to sky-high pumps, bearing the moniker of designers such as Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin. Alongside them but often less discussed: pairs by Sam Edelman, the shoe and accessories brand of Sam Edelman and his wife/business partner of 32 years, Libby. But with the opening of their New York boutique the brand is set to be the talk of the town.
In their 25 years in the shoe business—at Esprit, then Sam and Libby, and now with the Sam Edelman brand, which is owned by Brown Shoe—the Edelmans created 18 shoe styles that have sold more than a million pairs, with many more styles so popular that they have been seen on the most fashionable women, from Gwyneth Paltrow to Leighton Meester.
Now, Libby and Sam Edelman are in the midst of a new professional adventure: operating their own stores. Last fall they opened a flagship boutique on Spring Street in the heart of Soho. The shop, designed by architect David Mann, is a bright environment that seems custom-made for fashion fans strolling through the bustling neighborhood on a sunny day.
“This is one of the most important things that we’ve ever done,” says Sam, a no-nonsense businessman who has been partial to all things sartorial since childhood (when his parents entertained people like Andy Warhol and Rudi Gernreich in their fashion-fueled West Village home). “We’ll have a retail expansion—I can’t say when, where, or how many stores, but we will. We’d like to believe that Soho is paving the way; it’s the first step in terms of our future.”
Libby Edelman, a former Harper’s Bazaar editor who also worked in the publicity department of Calvin Klein, is, in a sense, the brand’s muse and target customer: a woman who adores fashion and trends and just can’t resist trying on a hot new pair of shoes, sometimes freshly delivered from the factory. (Conveniently, at a size 8.5 or 9, she’s sample size.) Sam is more of a classic entrepreneur, always thinking about the next great shoe style that will deeply resonate with women who rely on the brand for everything from comfortable flat sandals to sexy stilettos. “We actually have a lot of thoughts that are the same,” says Libby. “I’ll come into a meeting and say something, and Sam will say, ‘I was just about to say that.’”
“Libby is my eyes and ears, and she can make a creative decision,” says Sam. “She knows what I like, and we like the same things.”
That unified vision comes up with shoes that are on trend but designed to wear every day and for multiple seasons, like the Arela, their current must-have. And with most styles priced between $100 and $200, their designs are far less expensive than high-end designer pairs. “We don’t do business solely for the sake of doing business,” insists Sam, who headquarters his eponymous brand here in New York. “Shoes are very emotional, very chemical for women. There’s a reason women love certain shoes. To find that one shoe, to design it, that’s a lifelong pursuit.”
For inspiration, the Edelmans are always observing women, often at New York’s hottest cafés and restaurants or while they’re traveling (which they love to do). Each has an observant eye—for Sam, its part of a quest to understand every nuance of their customers’ lifestyles; for Libby, a love of photography is fuel—and both notice precise details on people they come in contact with, whether that is admiring the colorful shade of a bag someone is carrying or noticing the type of glitter on a pair of brogues. (Their brand, incidentally, includes handbags and outerwear as well as the shoes it’s best known for.)
“They are an amazing team,” says Brooke Jaffe, fashion accessories director at Bloomingdale’s. “They complement each other: Sam is much more bold and forthright, but Libby is chic and sophisticated and cool. You can just see that there is such a mutual admiration and affection that has withstood so many years. They always have a conviction that is truly theirs.” Sam Edelman, 109 Spring St., 212-226-7800
photography BY MICHAEL FILONOW (PORTRAIT, shoes); REBECCA SAHN (TRENCH, bag)
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.