Creative directors may come and go, but the brand names carried on the designer shoe floor of an iconic luxury store like Neiman Marcus tend to remain largely the same. Rarely does a new designer infiltrate the retail ranks of legacy labels like Manolo Blahnik, Valentino, Bottega Veneta and the like. And yet, Amina Muaddi did just that — seemingly overnight.
It was all part of her strategy.
"As I started off, my goal was exclusivity," the Paris-based designer tells me on that very shoe floor at Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills. "We started only with 10 retailers on purpose. We wanted to do something very small, exclusive and just with the best stores in the world. And when we started, Neiman Marcus was one of the first to pick up the brand."
Its customers got on board with Muaddi's now-viral PVC and bow-adorned, pyramid-shaped heels just as quickly.
"After Amina launched her namesake collection in 2018, we quickly identified her talent and launched her line in Fall 2019 with great response from our customers," Lana Todorovich, chief merchandising officer at Neiman Marcus, writes, over email. "Since then, her footprint at Neiman Marcus has more than tripled, and her sales trajectory continues to climb."
Indeed, her rise has been seemingly meteoric; soon after launching, her distinctive footwear brand was being stocked, and restocked, by the best retailers and worn by the biggest celebrities (Rihanna, most famously), creating a level of momentum and buzz most designers only dream of. How did she do it?
For Muaddi, success took longer than it may have appeared. Before launching her namesake brand, she had another shoe line, called Oscar Tiye, for six years.
"I started and just had small steps, small steps, small steps. It was very difficult," she recalls. "So with this brand, when I launched, I instantly received this wave of appreciation. The collection sold out in a day, and then many retailers came running to buy the collection and have it in their stores. And I would've never expected something like that. So it came as a surprise and a huge satisfaction to the work that I have been put in for so many years."
Though Oscar Tiye didn't take off in the same way, Muaddi did have customers who followed her to the new brand, and learned a lot from that experience that she then applied to her next venture. To Todorovich, that shows.
"She has proven the importance of innovation and authenticity combined with an impressive business acumen," she says. "She has also learned from her past experiences and used those learnings to successfully launch the Amina Muaddi brand with a strong vision and thoughtful business plan."
Earlier this year, the retailer honored Muaddi with its inaugural Neiman Marcus Award for Innovation in the Field of Fashion. To celebrate, she created an exclusive accessories collection, which Neiman Marcus launched last week with her first-ever in-store appearance in Beverly Hills.
Muaddi's is one of three awards making up a platform intended to recognize and support Neiman Marcus' most exceptional brand partners. While the ones for innovation and "creative impact" (the latter bestowed upon Jonathan Anderson) are new, the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion (which this year went to Brunello Cucinelli) dates back 85 years, and counts Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent among its past recipients. This is not lost on Muaddi: "The fact that I would be in the class of fashion icons that I grew up admiring, it's an incredible privilege."
"In daring to forge her own path with her distinctive style, she has dazzled the fashion industry all in a matter of five years," explains Todorovich of the decision to highlight Muaddi.
This makes her an excellent source of wisdom for anyone hoping to forge a path in the luxury shoe business. Her career advice for aspiring shoe designers?
"Make up your mind if you want to be a shoe designer or an entrepreneur, because the challenge is very different when you create your own business," she says. "And get ready to be disappointed many times and to just do what you believe in and try to not take no for an answer."
Beyond that, Muaddi considers two things to be her "secrets" to success: product and people.
"No matter who you are, with social media, you don't need the platform like you needed before, when maybe you needed to invest in a big PR company or in different marketing to promote your brand. But nowadays, you create a good product, and it can become viral just like that, even as a small designer," she explains. "The second thing is for people to love you. Because when people love you as a human, and when people appreciate you as a human, they will try to support you more and more. I think that's my second secret, that I have an authentic, beautiful relationship with my supporters, with my clients, with my friends, with the stylists that I work with."
Todorovich agrees: "When I first met Amina, the first impression I had was that she was extremely personable and had a vibrancy about her that was contagious. I think this translates into her designs, which has been key to the rapid success of such a young brand."
The distinctiveness of Muaddi's designs has also been key. "The unique flair of her signature pyramid heel is recognizable and unmistakably Amina Muaddi," she says.
At the same time, with rapid success there's often a sense of pressure to keep up the momentum. Muaddi tries not to let that get to her.
"Of course you have pressure, but the important thing is to not give into it too much, because you want to work because you love what you do and you don't want to work to compete with the market," she says. "You want to just do products that you believe in, that you love, that you feel are modern."
Her goal now is to challenge herself to continue to innovate and produce things that feel fresh and new. "You don't want to get stuck into the aesthetic or the work that you started with or to get comfortable," she notes.
Expansion is also top of mind. Muaddi recently launched evening bags, and will debut day handbags this fall. Also hopefully on the horizon: "New product, new categories... Of course, opening stores — all of that."
Please note: Occasionally, we use affiliate links on our site. This in no way affects our editorial decision-making.