You once said that the huge success of the Wannabe loafer in the 1990s was as much about “the zeitgeist, the time, the place, [and] Britpop” as the shoe itself. What happened?
When I arrived in England from Canada in the 80s, no one was running around in sneakers – it was a Doc Martens moment, or maybe people were wearing brogues if they were posh. But then dance culture exploded – everyone wanted to go out dancing – and Wannabes worked. They also came to represent a certain way of living, the beginnings of an aspirational lifestyle. Until then, people hadn’t had their noses pressed up against the glass of rich people’s lives as they do today. But that was changing. Wannabe felt like an honest name; to say: “I wish I had £250 for a pair of shoes, but actually I have £80.” Also Madonna called her fans “wannabes” and I was a huge fan at the time.
When was the peak of Wannabe’s success?
It was around 1995-1999. When we launched, we set a target of selling 10,000 pairs in the first year – but we sold 25,000. In the next 18 months, we sold 250,000. By the third year, we were selling over a million pairs in a year. There was a bouncer at the stores, 200-strong queues of people at the door, German MTV filming the line. The fashion intelligentsia – the Jil Sander and Comme des Garçons crowd – wore them, but the appeal was much broader than that. The football terraces were packed with people wearing Wannabes; every pop star you can think of wore them – that’s how I met some of my great friends, like Kylie and Liz Hurley, when they came into the store. People said it was brilliant marketing, but actually there was no marketing department – we were just doing it. It was the perfect storm.
Who were your celebrity clients?
The first were men, Paul Weller and Jazzie B, and Oasis loved them, too. Michael Jackson’s people faxed me an outline of his foot; we did the shoes for the Scream video – in fact it was Janet Jackson that first called me “Party Pat”. She said: “I like your style – wherever you go there’s a party.” I remember hanging out with Madonna in the store on a Sunday, just before Evita. The access was amazing. And back then, celebrities paid for things – I never gave a pair of Wannabes to anyone.
Why did you design loafers in the first place?
It started when I was doing the shoes for Richard James’s show and the stylist,Marcus von Ackermann showed me some thin-soled Gucci loafers. I famously said: “But what can you do with a loafer?” – I didn’t like the round toe or the thin sole, so I took to problem solving with it. I’ve always been obsessed with square toes, I got rid of the toggle and designed a wide keeper across the front.
Loafers are hugely fashionable at the moment, thanks to the resurgence of Gucci. What do you think about the current trend?
I am very enthusiastic about it! It’s part of why I returned – after a decade of being ignored it feels like a loafer moment, even in womenswear. Women don’t don’t need to teeter in high heels to feel sexy right now. What [Alessandro Michele] is doing at Gucci is what we live for in fashion – he had five days to work on that collection and managed to create a fashion moment. His clothes tell a story – you could say that the loafers are slightly ridiculous, too, given that you can polish the floor as you wear them, but practicality is not always necessary in fashion!
Will you be bringing back the Wannabe?
Yes – just wait for the winter collection. Lathbridge is in its third season and until now I’ve been screamed at by buyers for not bringing Wannabe-style loafers back – it’s like Kylie not being a showgirl! So there’s a iconic, squared-off leather sole in the winter collection, although it’s called the Bulldog.
What do you think about the other big footwear story of the moment – Kanye’s West’s award-winning Yeezy Boost trainers?
I’m kind of a no-comment here – I’m not really worshipping at that particular altar. It seems like a lot of marketing and Instagram exposure. It’s a cool shoe, but does it deserve everything it’s getting?
Where do you stand on the naked mankle?
I’m for it, although personally, past September 15 with the weather in Britain, I opt for socks. I was with the Dsquared2 boys recently, and they were wearing black tie without socks, which prompted about 20 outraged comments when the pictures went on the Daily Mail website. Truly, I think [people get offended by lack of socks because they think there will be] an odour issue. You do need to wear something ventilated, and foot powder, or little sockettes, as long as they don’t show, or have some sort of regimen. It’s different if you’re someone like me, who has hundreds of pairs of shoes – the top floor of my house is just taken up by clothes and shoes stacked four or five deep, and I have shoes under the sofa and in the kitchen cupboards – but if you only have four or five pairs that you are rewearing daily it’s trickier.
Would you trust a man in socks and sandals?
Trust him, perhaps. Shag him? Probably not. That said, chunky, tweedy socks could look great with sandals on the right person. We’re living in the age of what Manolo called ‘foot furniture’ – when you look down and wonder: “Is it a shoe, or is it an iron?” All the old rules are irrelevant nowadays – everything has turned on its head. I think you can tell more about someone’s personality from how well-maintained their shoes are than anything. If they are immaculate, they might be rich or fastidious. Or when someone like David Beckham wears scuffed army boots you know he worked that look out and it’s supposed to look beaten up. These are the subtleties you notice as a designer.
What are the worst shoes a man could wear?
Cowboy boots – I fricking hate them. I’m from western Canada people, and the people who chased me down the street calling me a fag were wearing cowboy boots. For me they represent a Republican, gun-toting asshole.