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The Rise and Rise of Loeffler Randall's Pleated Bow Heels

Launched in 2018, the wedding-favorite Camellia shoe is having its best year yet.

Five years ago, Jessie Randall, the founder and creative director behind accessories brand Loeffler Randall, was consumed — obsessed — with pleated fabrics. So much so that in a stroke of genius, she had her team buy a hair crimper from Ricky's, the now-shuttered beauty supply store located downstairs from their office, to experiment and play with its effects. Thus, the idea for the Camellia was born: a pleated hand-knotted half-bow sandal situated on an elegantly rounded heel that made its debut as part of the brand's Summer 2018 collection.

What Randall unwittingly did was conceive a singular style so good, the bride, the bridesmaids and the wedding guests could all theoretically wear it at the same event. It's a shoe that's almost as ubiquitous as weddings themselves during wedding season.

"I don't think I had a sense of how huge it would be, but the first time I saw it, I knew it would be a hit. I just loved it," effuses Randall, who likes to encourage her design team to manipulate materials — knotting it, sewing it or, in this case, crimping it — instead of just sketching. "The Camellia is one of the most popular styles because it's such an amazing wedding and event shoe. We offer all different iterations — without a strap, on a lower heel height, on a platform — and it's become such an iconic part of our brand."

A search of the #LoefflerRandall hashtag yields nearly 35,000 results on Instagram, with the majority of posts dedicated to the Camellia and its derivatives. Randall also credits Pinterest for the Camellia's virality, thanks to the platform's countless inspiration boards dedicated to bridal fashion and wedding content. But the surprising driver of brand awareness is — wait for it — Reddit, with users sharing honest feedback and naming Loeffler Randall on threads about comfortable wedding shoes.

"It's very validating," Randall says. "I just want more people to know about the brand because when they do, they tend to really love it and really connect with it."

The many celebrities who've been spotted in pleated Loeffler Randall heels has also certainly piqued interest, if not outright bolstered sales, like Sophie Turner wearing the metallic gold mules to her Las Vegas wedding, Margot Robbie styling her Camellias with a printed pajama-style set on a night out in London or Lily James pairing her white version with a summery dress to attend Wimbledon.

The best-selling Camellia in Pearl

The best-selling Camellia in Pearl

All of that organic visibility has unsurprisingly been good for business: Pleat sales in Q1 of 2022 increased by 84% compared to the same time period last year. April was the biggest sales month ever for both the Camellia and the entire pleated family combined, and the brand anticipates another spike this August as brides prepare for their fall and winter weddings. Overall, the brand's best-selling styles are the Camellia in Pearl and the Dahlia in Pearl.

Another contributing factor to their success has been the fact that Covid-related postponements created an unprecedented wedding boom this year. "The Camellia was performing so well before the pandemic — the business was poised to be the biggest that it had ever been going into the pandemic — but then weddings and events ended up being postponed," Randall explains. "So, coming out of the pandemic, people are getting married every day of the week, and our business is doing really, really well. It's a convergence of this back-up demand for weddings intersecting with us having this shoe that people love to wear. It's been explosive for the growth of our business."

That was the case for Gabrielle Severiano, 31-year-old New York-based blogger, who wed in June and chose to wear the pearl Camellia for the occasion. She had seen the shoe on influencers ("I could say I was a little influenced," she admits) and loved the style, the color and the texture — and it was accessible. She didn't really explore any other options.

"I thought they were adorable and perfect, and they were comfortable to wear all night long," says Severiano, who purchased her pair at Bloomingdale's. "I had a longer dress for the ceremony, but I changed into a shorter after-party dress, and I got compliments [on the shoes] — people loved the details and thought they were too pretty."

The Camellia and Emilia in Gold

The Camellia and Emilia in Gold

The Camellia has come a long way since the first (woefully imperfect) hair-crimped prototype. Today, the style — an evolution of the popular Coco mule — boasts more than 400 pleats using a "very specific pleat pattern and pleat ratio," which is achieved by two different machines at two different temperatures. It's a rather convoluted process, especially when it can alter the colors of certain temperamental materials, like sheer fabrics. Because of that, every season, a number of "pleat trials" are done to perfect the precise shade the brand wants, with at least three rounds of prototypes. (Future iterations and colorways are in the works, including a lace-up style.)

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It's easy to see the appeal of the Camellia: There's a beautiful dichotomy between the delicate pleats and the strong silhouette. It's whimsical but grounded, bold but subtle, romantic but tough, special but practical. And at $395, it feels more accessible in comparison to many designer bridal shoes that can ring in upwards of $1,000. In Randall's words, "It's a shoe that has so much detail, but in a quiet way — a 'wow' shoe that isn't totally over-the-top. I love it because you feel special when you're wearing it, but you also feel very much like yourself."

Buyers at the major retailers that carry Loeffler Randall (which, pretty much all of them do) agree. "Loeffler Randall's Camellia and various bow styles are definitely the DNA of the brand," says Gia Marchesano, buyer for women's shoes at Bergdorf Goodman. "The styles speak to our customer's need for effortless and feminine silhouettes that they can wear to any occasion — and the block heel is a definite must for summer outdoor weddings."

Revolve initially saw how successful the Penny Bow Mule performed in 2018, so it invested in the Camellia in 2019. "Both shapes with this bow have been such strong performers for our business," says Lauren Yerkes, the e-commerce giant's chief merchandising officer. "This style has such a versatile shape. The bow is a fun novelty detail, but there's also a comfortability aspect as well. It's definitely an iconic style that's worn during all occasions, and we're focused on offering new iterations of the Camellia, as our customer loves the new colors and fabrications that align with each season's trends."

New iterations of the Natalia and Camellia

New iterations of the Natalia and Camellia

The Camellia is also a bestseller for Nordstrom — and it was clear from the moment the buying department saw the style. 

"When we all leave market loving one particular silhouette, we know we have a winner, and that was the case years ago with Camellia," says Beth Kanfer, fashion director for women's footwear and accessories at Nordstrom. "Every footwear brand tries to create that one iconic shoe to become known for. Jessie and the team nailed it. To understand the appeal and why it has been around for so long, just read customer comments — everyone raves about the look and then is instantly won over by the comfort. That combination is the holy grail for footwear brands."

Randall wants to make it clear that she didn't deliberately design the Camellia as a "wedding shoe." She approached it the way she does any Loeffler Randall style: with the goal of creating a versatile design that can be dressed up and down, worn just as easily with a cocktail dress as it can with jeans. But when it became clear that consumers were wearing the Camellia to weddings, the team started leaning into it. They added an ankle strap — a major game-changer that provided extra stability — and then went on to offer more embellishments (like rhinestones), colorways (cream and a pretty pale blue, which fits the "something blue" that many brides require for the big day) and different heel heights.

The new Reed Heel in Pearl

The new Reed Heel in Pearl

Right now, Severiano's wedding Camellias are stored in their box in her closet, but she 100% plans to wear them again, which illustrates Randall's goal: to design shoes that are so beloved, they can be worn over and over.

That objective can be traced back much further than her brand's inception. Randall shares a memory of being taken to a store called Party Shoes as a child and picking out a pair for a special occasion — a ballet flat or a Mary Jane.

"It was my favorite thing, to pick out my party shoes. Shoes have always brought me so much joy," Randall says. "And even though [Loeffler Randall] shoes are versatile and can be worn to the grocery store, it makes me really proud that people choose to wear our brand for a special occasion, like a wedding, which is the biggest occasion there is. I feel so honored to bring that feeling of joy to people's lives." 

In other words, Randall successfully designed the ultimate party shoe. 

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