The lone shoe designer nominated for this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, Cuban-born, Miami-bred Alejandro Ingelmo, is swiftly racking up a celeb following (Madonna and Mary-Kate Olsen have worn his stilettos). Sky-high heels and intricate straps are the trademarks of Ingelmo’s women’s collection, though he also recently launched a men’s line, complete with metallic gold sneakers.

WWD: You’re a fourth-generation cobbler. Did you feel pressure to enter the family business?

This story first appeared in the August 25, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Alejandro Ingelmo: No, just the opposite. My family disowned me for about a year when I moved to New York because they felt that I was a traitor to the family [for leaving] Miami. I ended up borrowing money from my father, and he said to me, “I’m going to help you out because you did everything I told you not to do, and you succeeded.” But it’s hard. I don’t sleep now at night because of this whole CFDA thing. It’s very hard to put myself out there and apply for these things. Who wants to be judged?

WWD: What was your first break?

A.I.: I quit Parsons and started making samples, and then I cold-called Bergdorf Goodman, a design merchandiser there. I was like, “Oh, I have an appointment with Barneys and Saks, you know, can you make some time for me?” I didn’t have any appointments. She said, “I don’t really have much time.” And I told her I really wanted to show her my shoes, and she said, “OK, well, I can squeeze you in.” And I got my Northface duffel bag, threw all the shoes in there and jumped on the subway. They bought the line. They were the first.

WWD: Many of your shoes have an S&M quality to them, with lots of straps. How did that come about?

A.I.: A lot of it has to do with the covering of the foot — from a technical aspect, the foot has to have a lot of support, but I also feel like there’s something that’s so sexy about a woman who’s not showing everything. It’s the same with the feet — it’s always that play of having something that holds the foot but you’re still showing skin. The front is covered, so even if you have ugly feet, you can wear it.

WWD: And now a lot of celebrities are wearing your shoes.

A.I.: Let me tell you something: I go to Starbucks every day, and I wear my shoes. And there’s a Starbucks guy who saw my sneakers and he was like, “Oh my God, those shoes are hot!” He asked where he can get them, and I said like, well, I make them, so if you want I’ll let you know the next time there’s a sample sale. A month went by, I went back, and he said to me, “What’s up, I bought your shoes!” And I told him he shouldn’t have, that I would have told him when there was a sample sale. And he said that he wanted them so bad, he just got them. That means more than the famous people.

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