What makes a piece timeless? Some say it's an ability to hold value, or to be worn and reworn. This concept favors sustainability (and is often used to justify the splurge that is a Chanel Boy bag.) However, it's also one that has been name-dropped so frequently in fashion, it almost lost its meaning.
With the changes and uncertainty that this year has wrought, designers have felt encouraged to really think about how to make their products last. Some have been more successful than others. (Are those silk sweatpants really forever?) But for Paule Tenaillon and Marine Braquet, the founders of the Parisian shoe brand Nomasei, this question of timelessness has been top of mind long before a global pandemic forced the industry to face its flawed system.
The pair met at Chloé, where Tenaillon served as head footwear designer and Braquet as a member of the product development team. Both have expansive knowledge and understanding of the luxury footwear space, having held similar positions at Dior, Jil Sander, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Givenchy. They formed a fast friendship while at Chloé, and it didn't take much time for them to realize that they wanted to break free of the big fashion houses that churn out product for the sake of having something to send down the runway multiple times a year.
"It was fast. Always fast, fast, fast. Too many collections," says Tenaillon over the phone, adding that the rapid pace made it more difficult to be creative and to make a quality product. "We were presenting collections that were not exactly finished, and it was very frustrating." Contributing to her frustrations were the decaying relationships the luxury brand had with its suppliers: "We were always pushing them and putting a lot of pressure on them, because we had pressure on us. We were kind of losing the love of our job."
From this dark place of interrogating their passions and purpose, Braquet and Tenaillon decided to strike out on own. With Tenaillon taking the creative lead and Braquet handling the business side, Nomasei was born.
In line with their sustainable ethos, Nomasei is seasonless. The shoes are thoughtfully designed to become lifetime members of someone's wardrobe. "We don't want to respond to trends," says Braquet.
The brand's evergreen offering starts at $160 for the Hotel de la Plage mule and goes up to $720 for a pair square-toe tall boots. "We work on archetypes — we don't work on collections," Tenaillon says. "There is a different inspiration for each style."
Nomasei's new Chelsea boot, for example, pays homage to the men of old Hollywood (think Humphrey Bogart); priced at $530, it features a rounded almond toe with a smooth overflowing welt and a contrasting color stripe, and is made from a 100% biodegradable leather, 100% biodegradable recycled wood in the heel and a decomposable natural rubber sole. A key silhouette introduced this fall is Nomasei's take on the tall boot, which was inspired by the feel-good music of the '60s that helped lift Braquet and Tenaillon's spirits during their pajama-clad days in quarantine.
Braquet and Tenaillon work closely with the factories that make Nomasei's shoes to enhance the overall production process and to maintain a high level of transparency with customers. (The calfskin loafers the brand recently introduced, for instance, are manufactured at a family-owned facility in the village of Montopoli, Tuscany.)
"Usually luxury is all about opacity," Tenaillon says, pointing out that several high-end labels want to preserve the magic of a product by not telling you what exactly goes on behind the scenes or what determines the hefty price tag. Nomasei set out to change this by offering a complete breakdown of how much it costs to make each pair of shoes.
4 Shoe Brands Trying To Do Vegan Footwear in a 'Sustainable' — and Stylish — Way
By Reinvesting in Artisans, This Brand Is Challenging the Way Apparel Treats Its Skilled Workers
Inside the Fight to End Labor Exploitation L.A. Garment Factories
Additionally, the brand is constantly evolving in a more eco-friendly direction by updating its materials based on ongoing environmental research. Right now, it's focused on finding a truly sustainable leather-alternative to use in production.
"We want to be as precise as possible in everything that we do. Sometimes we don't manage to achieve our objectives on time because we are a bit too ambitious," says Braquet. "For example, we wanted to be carbon-neutral very quickly, and then we realized that it was too complicated, and it had a lot of implications."
It takes time, Tenaillon says, and she and Braquet are willing to be patient to find the best solutions.
"We always try to stay honest and we accept that we always can be better," she says. "We won't say we are perfect, because we are not where we should be, but we are trying to be the best version of what we are."