Sandals by Maryam Nassir Zadeh (left), and Mansur Gavriel (right).

Who owns the open-toed mule?

This story first appeared in the September 16, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That seems to be a question swirling among footwear designers as a result of a dustup between Mansur Gavriel and fellow New York-based designer and retailer Maryam Nassir Zadeh.

Mansur Gavriel presented its first collection of shoes during New York Fashion Week on Monday — with pared-down designs and an all-pink boutique mock-up that took Instagram by storm. But Nassir Zadeh was not as elated, claiming that Mansur Gavriel’s shoes are “way too close [to my own designs] to be an accident.”

Nassir Zadeh — who owns the Lower East Side retailer-showroom establishment of the same name that in 2012 spawned its own private label of shoes and ready-to-wear — alleged that Mansur Gavriel’s four shoe designs “not only replicate my signature block heel, but use it in combination with an open-toe mule and slide shapes, like my own.” She said many of the colors presented in Mansur Gavriel’s new shoe line are similar to her styles.

Nassir Zadeh said more than 20 people have reached out to her in the last 24 hours acknowledging some form of visual overlap between the two lines, both by text and on social media. WWD has learned that model Mari Giudicelli, who appears in the majority of MNZ’s e-commerce and campaign images — and who was cast for Mansur Gavriel’s presentation Monday and its look book and campaign shoot, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon — canceled on the brand’s campaign Monday evening, following its presentation. Giudicelli told WWD: “I am really grateful for everything Maryam has done for me and it was not fair to keep working with Mansur Gavriel after the whole presentation thing. The shoes are very similar, and unfortunately there was this whole conflict.”

Both Mansur Gavriel and Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s sandals are simple — as are most mules — often with no more than two straps, a high-throat and block heel. Nassir Zadeh said what has contributed to her shoes’ success is how “color is the most personal and signature asset of my designs.”

She, like the Mansur Gavriel shoes shown Monday, produces an edited selection of styles in a variety of colored suede and leather. Nassir Zadeh claimed that of the 16 colorways that Mansur Gavriel presented Monday, more than half are longtime staples of her own collection. “It surprised me to see another brand with the same color and shades that I have used for years,” Nassir Zadeh said.

While Nassir Zadeh admits that navy and black are not unique shades to the shoe world, she said her versions of lemon and cobalt “are not that common,” and that her take on a watermelon suede “is a color I have not seen anywhere else [until Monday].”

Nassir Zadeh said she is “investigating” legal recourse, but would not comment further. She said she and Mansur Gavriel have 13 retail accounts in common internationally, but given that Mansur Gavriel’s shoes have yet to arrive in stores, it is unclear how that number will take shape next season.

At Monday’s presentation, WWD asked Mansur Gavriel founders Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel if they found any design similarities between their own shoe designs and those of Nassir Zadeh’s, to which Gavriel replied: “No, I think not at all. I think it’s a large range in terms of the form and the heel. We see it as one visual world.”

The designers could not be reached for further comment Tuesday.

Nassir Zadeh said she knows that Mansur and Gavriel are aware of her shoe designs because “there are pictures of [Floriana] wearing my designs on Instagram.”

Nassir Zadeh’s business has attracted a loyal following of indie-inclined influencers including Lena Dunham, Solange Knowles and Sienna Miller. Nassir Zadeh holds 40 wholesale accounts, including Opening Ceremony and Bird, and estimated that she sells between 2,000 and 3,000 pairs of shoes a season.

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