BEVERLY HILLS — Long before Blahnik and Choo co-opted red carpets and became part of the cultural lexicon, Andrea Pfister was putting dames (Elizabeth Taylor) and divas (Diana Ross) in fabulous footwear.
Although his name might not immediately spring to mind among young, shoe-obsessed Angelenos — famous and not — that could change.
An international expansion of the brand and company is under way, thanks to last year’s purchase by the Italian fashion group Fin.part, whose stable includes Cerruti, Frette and Marina Yachting, for an estimated $3.4 million (converted from lire at current exchange rates).
Last week, the designer of whimsical slippers sat back in his new Rodeo Drive boutique — his first ever in the U.S. — and watched as pretty young things came in and shopped.
A stylish, young actress by the name of Corey Schubert popped by to buy yet another pair of shoes.
“She’s addicted,” laughed Duane Carter, the brand’s director of sales. “We’re seeing a lot of the same people coming in here day after day after day.”
Which is in itself an interesting phenomenon, given that Andrea Pfister shoes start at $200, with top-of-the-line items made exclusively for the 1,700-square-foot Beverly Hills boutique running up to $11,000. Projected sales for the first 12 months at this door are $2 million.
Clad in a high-necked black jacket and his signature red Gucci loafers, Pfister is ready to polish his new profile here, be it among Beverly Hills women or Hollywood starlets.
“I’ve always dreamed of a store on Rodeo Drive,” he said. “I’ve always loved L.A., and have always had a wonderful customer following in California.”
Pfister began designing for his longtime friend Taylor early in his 40-year career. He’s also touched the famous feet of Barbra Streisand, Julia Roberts, Madonna and Nancy Reagan.
Yet he regards the current obsession for dressing celebrities with a certain nonchalance: They come to see him at his home in Positano, Italy. He dines with them in New York. He makes shoes for them — no big deal.
Friends who either called to wish him well on his new venture or who stopped by the pedicures-and-cocktails party he hosted last Tuesday evening included Jacqueline Bisset, Kelly Lynch, Kelly Preston, Brenda Vaccaro, Tova Borgnine and Rita Moreno.
“People are saying, `Oh my God, he’s back,”‘ said Carter. “He’s definitely having a renaissance.”
Not that Pfister ever really went anywhere. With about 25 American accounts, including upscale retailers such as Fred Segal, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, plus 45 accounts worldwide, Pfister’s wholesale business has always been brisk. It has grown 30 percent in the last year, according to a company spokesman.
The newest signature store is his third, following doors in Milan and Capri. Stand-alone stores are being considered for New York and Paris.
“We are also developing our wholesale business through the freestanding store,” he said. His handbags, as well as a new line of belts and small leather accessories, are on display here.
“In a way, this is not just a store,” he continued. “It is a showcase.”
Pfister was involved in every phase of the design and architecture process, working with his partner, Jean-Pierre Dupre, and architect Alberto Rivera of L.A.-based Dax Studio. “We worked together hand in hand on everything, from researching the fabrics to buying the carpets and chandeliers,” Pfister said.
He wanted to create a “simple, clean and warm” store, and one that betrayed all conventions of modern minimalism. So crystal chandeliers sparkle overhead gilt-covered Oriental-influenced tables and plush, low seats in help-section areas.
The shoes, themselves a riot of color and embellishment, are housed in sections cut into the walls.
“It’s like a customer can see the shoes as if they were in an art gallery, and can look at them as objects. In fact, they are more than objects,” he enthused. “They are like my children. I worked on them one by one, with much love and passion.”
With a vast personal archive at his disposal, Pfister never runs out of ideas. For the current collection, he went back to his first 10 shoes, modernizing them but keeping the fundamental aesthete intact. In Pfister’s highly stylized and color-infused world, that means no heavy, chunky shoes. Instead, his stiletto-slippers, mules, thongs and sandals are sleek, spare, sexy.
“To me, black and white become color,” he said of a rhinestone-encrusted white sandal. “And I love primary colors. Red is lucky for me. And I also love decorated shoes. So while the shoe looks as if it was cut on the person’s foot, there should always be decoration.”
For Pfister, who studied art in Florence and shoe making in Milan before working for Lanvin and Patou in Paris in 1963, the design process is often an arduous one. “I’m very critical of myself. No matter what I do, I always think I could have done better.”
His well-heeled clients would probably disagree. Carter said that reorders are up at most of the brand’s retail accounts. That could continue, even grow with the prestige that comes with having a Rodeo Drive store. And come awards season, Carter said Pfister will inevitably join the celeb-dressing fray.
In recent years, as designers such as Christian Loboutin and Jimmy Choo have opened stores and chic boutiques like Diavolina have built worldwide reputations, Los Angeles has been dubbed a designer-shoe fetishist’s paradise.
Consider the items Pfister is making just for Beverly Hills: an $11,000 boot made from the belly skin of a crocodile, or the $2,800 version in sheared mink.
“I think this is a wonderful world to be in,” said Pfister, of the Hollywood-cum-fashion circles in which he moves. “To me, fashion is like making a movie, or doing a play. These personal appearances are like being on a stage. I love what I do, and could never give it up.””