Fashion-forward, high-concept, luxury, vegan, and virtuous are not always compatible when it comes to stylish footwear. But that’s just what Los Angeles–based shoe line Taylor+Thomas, founded by Elizabeth Thomas James and Jessica Taylor Mead, has set out to rectify. Their Fall 2019 collection, dubbed Louis in London, imagines King Louis XIV as a time traveler transported to the Carnaby Street of the 1960s at the height of mod fashion or the punk scene on the Kings Road in the ’70s.
“It’s a little bit Versailles, a little bit mod, a little bit punk rock,” says James of the thinking behind the prominent zippers, square toes, opulent gold wax seal hardware, and court-shoe tongues.
The color palette, meanwhile, was informed by a Mario Sorrenti photograph of Kate Moss as Eve in the Garden of Eden. “The Red Delicious apple set against a yellow python is a nod to the origins of femininity, women’s power, and bold, daring choices,” Mead explains. “We approach our design process as storytellers and get inspiration from strong women: musicians, style icons, trailblazers.” The shoes are all named for them too, take the Marianne (Faithfull) court shoe, the Debbie (Harry) ankle boot and the Jane (Birkin) loafer.
The label’s founders—one a former music exec, the other a seasoned womenswear designer for Joie, Current/Elliott, and Equipment—first met in a footwear design class at Otis College of Art and Design and left with the idea to create a luxury fashion brand that was also 100 percent sustainable, cruelty-free, and vegan. And since launching last year with a curated capsule collection of ’60s- and ’70s-inspired classic designs, the shoes have been seen on the likes of Jessica Chastain, Juno Temple, and Amber Valletta.
“We are trying to push the boundaries and redefine the status quo that luxury means leather,” says James, who is vegan. “In fact, leather is the most polluting material used in the fashion industry when you take into account water and air pollution, waste, greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and land usage. Plastics, formaldehydes, lacquers, and butanes are also used in the tanning of leather, and these can leach into your skin.”
For Mead and James, that meant spending over a year sourcing materials from around the globe, and the result may just be the most principled pump in the world. The vegan leather uppers are made from a chemical- and solvent-free water-based polyurethane sourced from a solar-powered factory in Italy. “It looks and feels like a lambskin, doesn’t need to be broken in, and ages really well, developing the same patina and sheen as aged leather,” says Mead. “But it’s breathable, waterproof, and wipes clean.”
The memory foam insoles are made from castor beans and recycled rubber produced in a women-owned, closed-loop factory in Japan; the suede detail is made from recycled plastic bottles; the solid wood heels are made from FSC-certified, sustainably harvested beech wood; and all the packaging is made from recycled, upcycled, and recyclable materials. The company also offsets their carbon emissions with Native Energy and donates one percent of sales to 1% for the Planet.
As for biodegradable? “Well this is an all-vegan textile factory, and the upper and lining are very new materials, so we haven’t had time to study that yet,” James says. “But we are confident they will break down over time.” Not too soon, we hope, as these are pieces you’ll want to keep in your closet for seasons to come.
Courtesy of Taylor + Thomas