With Alumnae, Kari Sigerson is Building a Wardrobe of (Very Chic) Flats

Having survived one of the industry's most harrowing cautionary tales, two former Sigerson Morrison designers start fresh.
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Having survived one of the industry's most harrowing cautionary tales, two former Sigerson Morrison designers start fresh.
Alumnae resort 2016. Photo: Alumnae

Alumnae resort 2016. Photo: Alumnae

Four years after parting ways with Sigerson Morrison, the Marc Fisher-backed shoe line she co-founded in 1991, Kari Sigerson is back with Alumnae, where, with her partner Eliza Axelson-Chidsey (formerly of Sigerson Morrison, Shinola and Steve Madden), she's taking a slower, more considered approach to building a brand.

The cleverly named label launched quietly with a small resort 2016 collection but won't be available to shop until spring at select boutiques including The Line and The Apartment by The Line in New York and Los Angeles, which makes a lot of sense. The luxurious — but not outrageously priced — Italian-made shoes are the perfect understated, chic accompaniment to the store's sleek apparel offering. Prices range from $400-$695.

Alumnae's spring 2016 collection (get a peek in the Instagram below) is bigger than resort, but still doesn't stray from a core assortment of simple, classic styles. Everything is more or less a flat — from a sandal with a knotted leather, netting-like upper and wraparound ankle strap and a simple closed-toe slide that comes in black leather and pony hair, to a boot-like shoe with the laces woven up the side and a minimalist loafer. "If it's something I can't see wearing myself, then we don't do it," explains Sigerson, adding that the styles won't vary wildly from season to season. "The idea with this collection was to keep things pure and simple and have things that end up becoming the classics." She also plans to stick with flats. "We're never going to do high heels. I think a lot of people do good high heels, but I don't know that there are so many [brands] that do a really great wardrobe of flats." They may eventually graduate to a mid-heel, she admits.

Sigerson and Axelson-Chidsey's tight approach stems somewhat from lessons learned at Sigerson Morrison, which Sigerson and her co-founder Miranda Morrison lost control of after selling the company — and its intellectual property rights — to Marc Fisher in 2006 for $2.6 million. They stayed on as co-designers, but according to the New York Times, later sued Marc Fisher for a number of things, including copying their designs for his company's lower-priced lines; tarnishing the brand by moving production from Italy to China; and sexual harassment. They were subsequently fired and sued themselves, ultimately winning $2 million for being fired without cause. Sigerson Morrison is still produced and sold by a few retailers, including Shopbop. "I wouldn't change most of that for anything in the world. We had such a good time," says Sigerson. "I looked back and thought, 'Man, we might have been overreaching a bit.' We had such a huge breadth of things we offered." 

Axelson-Chidsey agrees, "It was from the casual end of your wardrobe to super-dressy runway. Then to have Belle [by Sigerson Morrison, a diffusion line] as well, it was a big undertaking every season." It was a valuable learning experience no doubt. "These [shoes] are in the $400-$600 range, but the same quality you would get in any top luxury footwear brand," says Axelson-Chidsey. "That is partly due to many years on the ground in Italy in the backwaters, meeting people who don't speak the same language we do."

They're also taking a measured approach to retail, starting with select boutiques (like The Line) whose clientele feels right for Alumnae. "We're not trying to sell every shoe to everyone, we're just trying to sell the right shoes to the right people," says Sigerson. They plan to launch e-commerce for spring "in a very small way," and a brick-and-mortar store will hopefully follow. "I would like having a store, I always enjoyed that." (A store on Mott Street in New York City, frequented by supermodels and celebrities in the '90s, jump-started Sigerson Morrison's success.)

With one of the best learning experiences a designer can get behind her, the future looks bright for Sigerson. "It’s not every day you get to do a round two, so I feel lucky."