CEO Summit: New Design Class Takes Stage

Four young designers sound off on breaking into the business.

From left: Ingeimo, Kirkwood, Rousseau and Smith

What happens when you bring together three rising stars and a very determined Hollywood actress-turned-shoe designer? You get a firsthand look into the excitement and challenges that come with being a young talent.

Designers Nicholas Kirkwood, Jerome Rousseau, Alejandro Ingelmo and Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson on “The Simpsons” and founder of Marchez Vous YS) opened up about launching their businesses, building buzz and overcoming obstacles. Here are excerpts from their conversation during the second day at the summit.


On breaking into the business:
Nicholas Kirkwood: “You have to put all your energy and passion into it. I haven’t had a holiday in seven years.”
Jerome Rousseau: “Initially, I handled the design, sales, PR, literally down to shipping and invoicing. It was not the ideal thing, but my resources were limited. It’s not something I saw as being a disadvantage. It helped me understand every area of the business.”
Yeardley Smith: “I love shoes, and I’m ferociously creative. ‘The Simpsons’ will end one day. I’m only 45, so I refuse to be done. I like things that challenge me, and I like to do things that people tell me I can’t do.”


On the power of celebrity:
Alejandro Ingelmo: “I never realized how important it was, but I can see in the department stores how it hikes up the sell-throughs, with just one credit in People or US Weekly.”
NK: “I never really focused on it until the last year, but it can be an incredibly important tool. Look at Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo with ‘Sex & the City.’ That show is really responsible for the three biggest brands in our market.”
JR: “I wasn’t aware to what extent it would help. When I launched, there were some young celebrities who became really important, in particular, Kristen Stewart and January Jones.”


On comfort:
YS: “[It surprises me] that comfort is now a bad word in the shoe industry. People said, ‘It’s all well and good that you want to make a shoe that’s beautiful and comfortable, but we just have to call it something else.’”
JR: “We all design with comfort in mind. It’s a bad assumption to think we don’t. There is a customer who wants a 5-inch heel, and as designers, we build a 5-inch heel that is as comfortable as we can possibly make it.”


On being copied:
NK: “It’s kind of funny. When you go online, you can buy fake shoes of mine. I would never design anything like them, but people don’t know that. They make more money out of it than I do.”
AI: “I was at a department store last week, and another designer had a complete knockoff of what I’ve done. The [store’s buyers] know it’s my shoe, but they’re still buying the other one.”
JR: “I just don’t think there’s an excuse not to have product that’s creative and different.”