Alan Johnson of Delman Shoes Talks About the Brand’s Heritage

Alan Johnson of Delman Shoes Talks About the Brand’s Heritage

Thursday, January 29 2015

What was old is new again, particularly in the world of heritage fashion brands like Delman Shoes. Delman’s designers have access to fully stocked archives, which provide them the inspiration they need to add a modern twist to a classic design.

The brand was founded by Herman Delman in 1919. He was one of the first designers to use celebrities in his promotional efforts. In the 1980’s, Nina noticed its value and acquired Delman Shoes. Maintaining its status as an iconic American brand, Delman is approaching 100 years in business.

Here, President of Delman Shoes, Alan Johnson, shares the history of this great footwear brand.

A Love Affair Between Celebrities and Shoes

Johnson can hardly contain his enthusiasm as he explains the evolution of Delman; one of the nation’s oldest salon footwear brands. He says:

After its inception, Delman quickly became well known amongst the Hollywood set. We have some of the finest collections of vintage footwear in the world, including shoes worn by Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich. They were huge fans of Delman, as were Eva Gardner and Jackie Onassis. We even have a handwritten note from Audrey Hepburn to Mr. Delman offering suggestions for a bow on a certain shoe. We look back to our rich history to evolve today’s brand, but we remain rooted in glamour and elegance. Our shoes are still made in Italy and Spain, using the finest leathers and materials.

Today, Delman has celebrity fans such as Blake Lively, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Alba.

As a New York based brand, Delman is thrilled that they still have a close affiliation with the glamour of Hollywood. Another pioneering move for Delman was offering designer collaborations such as Delman for Dior.

Roger Vivier also collaborated with Delman in the 1930’s, 1950’s and 1990’s. Vivier’s influences of the past are resurrected and regain popularity. Johnson explains, “In the fall of 2014, Delman had tremendous success with the iconic Vivier designed, over-the-knee boot with beautiful comma heel. This boot is one example of how we look back at designs and then find ways to modernize for today’s woman.”

Johnson enjoys the retrospectives in New York that pay homage to shoes. Delman was exclusively featured at FIT’s exhibit, “Scandal Sandals and Lady Slippers: A History of Delman Shoes.” The Brooklyn Museum is hosting the “Killer Heels: Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” exhibit, which also features Delman.

Life Gets More Casual

As fashion has evolved from elegant daytime dress shoes to more casual designs, Johnson says:

About 10 yrs ago, the casual trend started. Because of our connection with Audrey Hepburn and the capri pant, Delman was one of the most popular and early adopters of the ballet flat. We redeveloped the ballet with a modern twist. Espadrilles have also worked their way back into our collection. Delman still makes genuine handmade espadrilles from Spain with a very different construction and finish than the kind that are mass-produced.

Even with the popularity of more casual shoes, Delman is seeing a resurgence in their dress footwear. They have been redeveloping dress shoe designs at the request of retailers.

Fall 2014 was a breakout season for Delman, as they reestablished business with Neiman Marcus and other pinnacle retailers where their dress boot program had terrific sell-through. Johnson says, “The fashion business evolves with the tastes of consumers, but Delman also relies on our sense of history; the quality and elegance that the brand has never lost.”

Technology in Footwear

Johnson says:

True shoemakers deal in beauty. The holy grail in women's footwear is beauty and comfort.  Utilizing technological advances in production can help with certain elements. But in the end, if it is not made correctly with the best materials, the right sole connection and true artisanship, it won’t be the best shoe.

Delman designers are not obsessed with adding hi-tech methodology to their shoes. The artisanship is how they maintain the finest fit and quality. Delman has brought in some technologies to help materials feel softer and offer more flexibility and durability without changing the fundamental nature of their construction. Johnsons says, “Women want a pair of shoes because they are beautiful must-haves. Our task is to reward the shoe’s beauty with great comfort.”

Staying Relevant

Johnson says:

Staying relevant in fashion doesn't mean inventing something that is brand new. What it means is being authentic and bringing something of value to the customer. We try to bring something new into the marketplace, where we see trends moving and where we have product relevance. We want to be relevant to our customer and her fashion choices.

Johnson points to Chanel as an example of timeless classic design. Delman can pull something from their archives circa 1930 and make it feel relevant today. He says:

You cannot adopt one for one from the 1930’s. Instead, you have to twist it somewhat. Look back in history and bring it forward by adding a level of modernity through construction, while keeping the look, feel and fundamentals in tact.

Exhibiting at FN PLATFORM at MAGIC

The Delman team thoroughly enjoys FN PLATFORM’s energy and passion for the fashion business. They especially appreciate the opportunity to connect with smaller boutique retailers at the show. Delman likes the customer service aspect that smaller, independent retailers offer. Johnson says, “Ours is a great story for indie retailers to bring to new consumers who may not have interacted with Delman before.”    

Vision for the Future

The Delman design team loves that what they create is truly special. Johnson remains in awe of the team and their creative license in a family-run business. He says, “It’s not a homogenized or commodity type product that is sold to every retailer. We are able to stay true to the brand by bringing value through our unique blend of history, design, quality materials and artisan production.”

Building on the success of their 2014 boot program, Delman is debuting their Fall 2015 boot collection at FN PLATFORM in February. Be sure to stop by to see them!