As a former professional ballerina and Ars Sutoria alum, Tiffany Tuttle knows a thing or two about feet. Since her days attending FIT and clocking in at Givenchy and Rebecca Taylor, the in-demand shoe designer has collaborated on countless runway shows with designers including Doo-Ri Chung, Peter Pilotto, Helmut Lang and Victoria Bartlett for VPL. In 2006, the Los Angeles native founded her own line, LD Tuttle, with her husband and business partner, Richard Lidinsky.
How did you transition from a professional ballerina to shoe designer? Do you still dance?
It was a long transition…I danced professionally for a couple of years but decided that I wanted different things in my life so I went to college. I studied European history which I loved and wrote my thesis on French films during World War II. Having a liberal arts education has really informed my aesthetic and the way that I approach design. While at college I decided to go into fashion design; I spent a year at FIT studying clothing design and then went to work. I always loved shoes and while working for Rebecca Taylor, I was able to work on the runway shoes. I decided that was it and went to a shoe school in Milan with the goal of starting my own line.
No I don’t dance anymore, unfortunately! Once I started working and traveling so much, it became very hard to keep up any sort of class schedule. However, my life as a dancer remains a huge influence, especially lately. AW14 was inspired in part by the work of Yvonne Rainer and for SS15, I have spent a lot of time looking at Balanchine’s leotard ballets and images of my favorite dancer, Wendy Whelan.
When you started LD Tuttle in 2006 – the retail landscape was very different – how has it changed for you good and bad?
Well we were very small when the recession hit in 2008, so it actually was sort of a good thing for us. I think being a young brand and offering something different made us stand out. Stores could take a chance on us because we weren’t requiring a huge investment from them. Since then, the biggest change we have seen is the growth of online retail. Since we sell to specialty stores that tend to have under the radar brands like ours, they have been able to really benefit from being online where customers would be searching for hard to find brands.
Part of the growth of online retail has meant also that it is much easier for small brands like us to launch our own retail. We just started our online store 5 months ago and it has been very exciting. It gives us a space to really tell our customers more about LD Tuttle as a brand, to reveal more of the world behind the brand, without the investment of a physical store. The flip side of this though is that with the growth of social media and the amount of money that larger brands are spending on their online presence, we have to really push ourselves to find innovative ways to interact with our customers. It sounds stupid but it takes a lot of time and as a designer, is definitely not something that is first thing that I think about every day.
What’s the division of labor between you and your husband?
We actually do not work together that much now. When we started the company, he really helped setting up the business side of the company since he had run his own business before. But we did not like working together! It worked out though because he wanted to pursue some other things and by that point, we had set up a lot of the logistics and the more administrative parts of the company.
Now he is still involved some, but not at all full time. We have two kids too so that keeps us busy enough at home that we aren’t talking about work that much
Prior to launching LD Tuttle you worked at Givenchy and Rebecca Taylor – two designers whose aesthetics couldn’t be more different. How did those experiences impact your business when you started out?
Givenchy was incredible exposure to a large house in Paris. Alexander McQueen was the designer there so just to be around that was a dream. However, working at Rebecca Taylor had a much more concrete impact on my business. It was still a pretty small company when I started, so even though I was on the design team, I was exposed directly to production, sales, etc. When I started my business, I understood the fashion calendar – how it related to design and production. I had seen how to put a collection together and how to build on something when it was working. I also learned from both of those experiences what I thought made a company, a collection, strong. I still believe that there is nothing more important than having a specific identity. A look, a feeling, an aesthetic that I believe in and that I try to carry through every part of my business.
You live in LA – what do you love about the city? How do we see this environment in your shoes?
I love the mystery of LA. In LA, nothing is exactly what it seems and everything requires a little searching and unearthing. I love that there are so many hidden moments of beauty within the city. It is a place that you can really make your own. There is space, privacy and beautiful light. Underneath the slick surface is a feeling of darkness. Numerous writers have played with this idea, from John Fante to Raymond Chandler.
I think that this mood definitely infuses the collection. Our shoes speak to this sense of mystery. The silhouettes are the most important element and are what make the shoes stand apart. Small shifts in proportion and shape give them meaning.
LA is also a great place to work as a designer. When I am in LA, I have much more space and time to think and be creative than I do in other places. I have learned to really cherish the freedom that I find there.
How much time do you spend in Northern Italy where your shoes are produced? What do you enjoy about the culture there?
I go between six and eight times a year so over the past 7 years I have spent a lot of time there. I definitely enjoy the food the most. After a 12 hour day working at the factory, there is nothing better than knowing that you can go back to your hotel and eat at the local osteria and have an amazing meal!
The people are my other favorite part. They are Italian – so very friendly and warm but they are more “work” focused generally than in other parts of Italy. And of course, spending a weekend in Milan is a very nice “work” trip. Milan has a bad reputation but I really like it. It is a normal, well functioning city that still has beautiful museums and buildings. It may not be as picturesque as other Italian cities but it has more energy as well.
Creatures of Comfort was the first store to pick up your shoes – has Jade Lai been a retail mentor of sorts? Are they still supporting the brand?
Yes, I still work with Jade and we have become good friends over the years. She has the most amazing taste. I love to see her look through the collection and pick out what she likes. She is very specific and is not swayed by trends or thoughts of what others are doing.
I have spent a lot of time with her in Paris during the Paris markets so I hear what she likes and doesn’t like and why. Some designers I know try to stay away from that but I like speaking with and learning from my retailers.
Now we collaborate on shoes for her collection, so we get to work together in a different way!
You’ve collaborated with many ready-to-wear designers – what do you enjoy about that process?
I like working on something that is a bit outside of the specific aesthetic of LD Tuttle. Working with every designer requires something a bit different, but I am always designing for their collection so the shoes have to make sense within that context. I love that challenge and I love seeing what comes out of it. Sometimes, it means that the silhouette is like something that I have done before but the colors and materials are completely different. Other times, it means a completely different type of shoe that I like but would not have a natural place within my collection.
What are you favorite LD Tuttle shoes to wear? Do you have an all time favorite?
Well recently I have been wearing the Drifter non-stop. It is a flat lace up ankle boot that we are doing in a stamped python for this fall. It is a style from 3 years ago and I re-did it because I completely wore out my first pair. I generally pick one pair of shoes and wear them straight for a season. It is extremely boring but I guess I get very attached to a shoe. Also, I spend so much time thinking about shoes that I don’t really want to spend more time deciding which ones I am going to wear every day!