If you are in the know about shoes, then you're probably familiar with cult shoe brand The Palatines Shoes. They remind me of what Audrey Hepburn or maybe Brigitte Bardot would wear. Shoes which are simple, oh so chic and an underlying cool personality to notice them.
We recently spoke with designer Jessica Taft Langdon who I'm also proud to call a sister-in-creative-arms and friend.
We met through a unique creative women's business group "The Collective of Us." We were immediately paired as buddies and it's been exciting to see her business grow ever since.
What you may be surprised to learn is that these shoes are designed and manufactured in Los Angeles, California. No small feat with the lack of shoe manufacturers in the States but Jess has managed to do this.
Read on and follow her on Instagram!
Give us a little background, who you are, how you got into this shoe game.
I grew up in the Philadelphia area – always a creative kid, but not particularly talented in any medium. My family always supported creative endeavors, but no career path seemed to emerge clearly, although I’d always had a bit of an obsession with shoes as a consumer. You’d think someone might have put it together, to suggest I start drawing some shoes, but no. Who thinks about becoming a shoe designer?
In high school, I made a transition from being a kid that just wanted to look like everyone else, to someone who really experimented and pushed boundaries in the way that I got dressed every morning. This was the mid-1990’s, and I had no idea that what I was experimenting with was called “fashion”. I thought fashion was Versace getting killed on the front steps of his Miami mansion and Linda Evangelista not getting out of bed. Pretty far from my punk rock aspirations…. But truly, finding a way to express myself through style was a huge turning point in finding myself.
I literally woke up one morning after I’d graduated from college, sat up in bed and said “Oh, I want to design shoes”. But I had no idea how to do that. So, I started working in retail, and eventually went back to school at FIT in New York, and then at Ars Sutoria in Milan, Italy. It’s always been shoes for me – I love clothing, but there’s really something about the way that shoes are a literal intermediary between our bodies and our world that is endlessly interesting to me. And leather! How cool and weird that we put on a new skin to protect our own. I love leather, even though occasionally I do make shoes from other materials, I always start thinking of shoe and how they can be made. There’s no better material for footwear than leather.
Why do you do it? Run your own design shop and business?
The most straightforward answer is…. Because I couldn’t find someone else’s business to work for that met all my qualifications of how I wanted to work, and the kind of product I wanted to make. Fashion businesses are so specific and so personal, and I was always envious of the designers I worked with who really found brands that they really clicked with. But it just never happened with me.
The more complete answer is that I realized there might be a slightly different way to do things… That maybe I could start making fashionable shoes here in the United States, rather than relying on factories in other parts of the world. Before I realized that that might be possible, I never really seriously considered starting my own brand. But when I started researching it, it seemed just possible enough to be worth the effort to try. And just crazy enough that it might set my ideas apart from what other designers are doing.
What would you do if you weren’t running this business?
In my fantasy, I would be assisting a good friend who does interiors and prop styling for amazing clients. Whenever I get frustrated with my own work, I want to just go and work for her all day! My fantasy plan B, if all this footwear stuff doesn’t work out is to go and work for Obama on whatever he winds up doing, after his presidency.
Do you listen to music while you work?
I do! But only sometimes. If I’m doing the administrative part of my job, I like it silent. I like words & language almost as much as I like visual media, so if I’m trying to type or read or interpret someone’s written message, I need some quiet time. Or, God help me, if I’m trying to deal with numbers, I need to basically lock myself in the closet, so that I don’t get distracted.
When I’m doing more physical things – like working with the samples, moving stuff around, packing or unpacking boxes, running errands, etc, then I’m listening to public radio, so that I remember what’s going on in the outside world.
But when I’m designing, or working out creative things, I’m definitely listening to music. I’ve kind of set myself up with a Pavlovian situation where if I need to click into a creative space in my brain, I put on music and light a smelly candle, and then I can really get down to sketching, or whatever I need to do.
What’s on your playlist now?
Recent favs are:
- Grime’s new album Art Angels
- Chopin piano etudes
- Ministry’s song “Jesus Built my Hotrod” (I just rediscovered this song, and I can’t stop listening to it!)
- Lorde (Yes, still)
- An amazing song called “Polaroid-Roman-Photo” by a band called Ruth
- And OMG, obviously listening/ looking at Beyoncé’s video for “Formation”
- And always, forever, the Smiths
Or what other forms or art inspire you?
I’m really lucky to have friends who work in a lot of creative mediums, so I get to take inspiration from a lot of different places. Living in LA, I definitely have a new appreciation for film and video work that I didn’t really think about much before I moved here. We just made our first little fashion film that will come out later this spring… It actually incorporates my other main squeeze, as creative disciplines go – dance. I studied ballet quiet seriously as a kid, but gave it up in high school. When I moved to LA, I rediscovered my love of dance, and, specifically through a fantastic studio and teacher, but generally through the really exciting things that are happening here in dance. I’m equally fascinated by contemporary dance, in addition to classical ballet. And of course, with the focus on the foot in dance (usually), I think it’s a pretty natural thing that we wound up using a dancer as the inspiration for the little film we just made.
What’s one thing you can’t live without?
There are so many things I can’t live without! Off the top of my head:
- My husband
- My iPhone
- My passport
What do you wish you knew when you started your business, that you know now?
The first thing that jumped into my head was “How hard it is!”. But I’m glad I didn’t know that, because I probably wouldn’t have done it. And, so far, it has been WAY harder than I imagined, but it’s also been 100% worth it. So yeah, I’m glad I didn’t know about that.
I guess the thing that I wish I’d known is not to be scared of the hard decisions, and the things you don’t know. Those things can really fill me with a sense of anxiety, because I am a bit of a control freak, and I like to feel confident. But I’ve really been able to trust my gut and learn a lot about how this business can work and what it can teach me by staring down things that seem impossible, and working through them. This totally includes making mistakes, and also being open to doing something differently than you did the last time. I guess what I’m saying is that I wish I knew that the business changes as it grows, and not to be afraid of that, and not to try to force it to grow the way you want it to. This business is not a reflection of my ego, thank God. It’s endlessly humbling.
What’s been your biggest success to date, in your mind?
Very simply, that I am still moving forward, and that I am supported by my customers and the stores that sell my shoes, which means that I get to keep my doors open for another day, another season… another year. I’ve only been in business for about two years, and I’ve already seen other similar businesses close down, so I feel terribly grateful that people seem to continue to be interested in the shoes that I make.
My biggest success so far is that I get emails and feedback from perfect strangers who get what I’m doing and really like it. There’s nothing better than that.
What is the legacy you hope to leave?
I’d like there to be a real, viable footwear manufacturing business in this country again. That could never be a legacy of just mine. It will take tons of people to get excited and get involved, so it would be major hubris on my part to suggest it as my own legacy. But I’d love to be part of a generation of designers and entrepreneurs that makes that happen.