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It's no mystery Alejandro Ingelmo comes from a long lineage of men who understand the art of the sole. After all, his grandfather founded Ingelmo Calzado, one of Cuba's most elegant and prestigious men's footwear brands, still esteemed on the island, as he learned on his visit there in 2012. But when we learned he attended an all boy's school in Miami, we had to ask how the Soho-based designer got into the business of creating women's shoes.
"My grandmother, she's not around any more, but she had this jet black hair, and pearls, and heels and still always looked elegant," he begins. "I feel growing up that way made me want to create elegant shoes." And that he has. Eight years after founding his eponymous label, the designer touts numerous accolades under his belt, including a CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Top Ten nomination, a Swarovski Award for Accessory Design nomination, and an Artistic Achievement Award from El Museo Gala in New York. Although he's branched out into men's shoes, it's women's shoes that gets Ingelmo going, and it's apparent in every iridescent heel in his latest Spring/Summer 2015 collection.
Over the weekend, the designer visited his old stomping grounds to show off his latest babies to the South Miami community at Capretto Shoes. We caught the designer before the fete to talk what else but shoes, growing up off of Old Cutler Road, his secret love for sci-fi, and whether or not Miami is in his cards for the future. For someone who waves his 305 flag highly, the answer may surprise you.
You went to Columbus, an all boy's school down here in Miami. What inspired you to want to do women's shoes? Be honest. Did you do it to impress the Lourdes girls?
[Laughs]. I went to Parsons in New York for fashion. I had all this history of shoes from my family, so I thought I could create something. What I love about women's shoes is that you can be very creative. With men's, you can be creative, but it always follows a formal structure. It needs to come from a sneaker, or a dress shoe, but you can't really veer away from that. With women's you can really play with the heel, the patterns.
What made you want to initially get into the shoe business?
It started with my great grandfather, who was a shoe cobbler in Spain. Then my grandfather brought that to Cuba and started his company from scratch. It ended up becoming a famous brand. If you ask any older person [from Cuba] about my last name, they will tell you 'oh! I know it!' I even have an old pair of black and white wing tipped shoes that were made in Cuba from the 1940s. They sit right next to my desk to remind me of how important it is to remember where you come from, the values, and to do things in the right way.
Do you feel there's a big difference in the kind of shoe a New York woman might wear and the kind a Miami woman might wear?
So… hmm… how can I say this? It's different. For the warmer weather you tend to make things strappier, a little bit more opened. When it's seasonal, things get a little bit more closed up. When I think of Miami, what I design has more patterns and there are more curves to it. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's a little bit softer. When I think of New York, it's a little bit more architectural. My shoes try to combine those two types of worlds.
You now reside in New York, but what were some of your favorite things to do while growing up here?
I used to row at Miami Rowing Club in Key Biscayne and I used to do a lot of running. My parents used to live off of Old Cutler Road, so I'd run all the way to Matheson Hammock. That's about it. I remember going to all these parties off the key, or Merry Christmas Park. I don't know if they still do that now. We used to know which were the gas stations that would serve you alcohol, so you'd go and buy what you needed. You'd have to go into shady neighborhoods.
What about your men's line? Tell us a little bit about that.
With men's, I really just started because I wanted to make shoes for myself. I made one pair and I showed it to Jeffrey, who owns Jeffrey in New York, and he said I should make a collection. So I did it. Growing up I always loved Tron, and I love all that sci fi stuff, so that's what it's based off of. Not many people know I was doing the black and gold before Giusseppi [Zanotti] did the black and gold.
Would you ever consider going into ready-to-wear?
Shoes! I do a little bit of bags on the men's side, and maybe I'll expand into accessories.
Would you ever consider opening up a shop down here?
We've considered doing a pop up shop during Art Basel and I've thought about it. I've been in New York for ten years, but I'm not sure I'll come back permanently.
Before your party commences, let's get into a little fire round.
If you were a girl, which one of your shoes would you wear on a night out?
Either the Ilaria or the Oddessey.
Tequila or vodka?
What's one thing you can't leave Miami without doing?
Eating Cuban food. I just went to Havana Harrys, and I love Versailles.
Favorite borough in New York?
SoHo. That's where I live.
When you're not wearing your shoes, you're wearing…