Glitter booties, simple sandals and a celeb fan base that includes Gisele. Yup, Matt Bernson is pretty much King when it comes to casual cool footwear. The Tribeca-based designer launched his line of women’s shoes in 2005 after finding inspiration on a trip to India—and since, his eponymous label has been a hit with its focus on utterly wearable, street smart style.
Between launching a collaboration with cool-girl jeweller Dannijo this Fall and working on his latest collection, we chatted with the designer to get the scoop on how he made it big in the shoe world. Along the way we also got his take on this Fall’s must-have investments…and found out a little bit more about what his motto, “Sex and Comfort” really means.
OD: We’ve heard that before you became a shoe designer you worked in construction. What exactly was your job, how long did you wear a hard hat—and how and why did you make the transition to the fashion world?
MATT: I worked for my family’s construction company, which is based in Manhattan. At first I was a labourer on construction sites building high-end residences in NYC. I then worked as a site supervisor; my first assignment was to build Jean Georges offices. It was a great project and something I was proud of. It was a great experience, but I wanted to do my own thing. While I was traveling in India I came across a sandal in a marketplace and wanted to import them. I ended up not liking what I found and started to design and change the sandals I came across, which was the beginning of my career in shoe design.
OD: As a construction worker we can imagine you rocked some pretty heavy-duty footwear—did this need for function and utility have an impact on your label’s designs?
MATT: There are definitely experiences and aesthetic influences from my days in construction. Plus the methodology of building and designing architecture is very influential to my process when designing footwear. I was one of the few people on a construction site wearing Australian work boots vs. traditional boots. I use screw head rivets and always want the ornamental elements to have function.
OD: Do you have any formal training in design or shoe making?
MATT: I consider my time in factories in India as “formal” training as I was learning at the source. Plus, I partnered to own a factory in Brazil, so that too was formal, but unconventional experience. I have never gone to school for design.
OD: Was there a specific moment that made you realise you had made it big in the shoe industry?
I feel I am still waiting for that moment, to be honest. But, if I had to pick a thrilling moment it was shortly after launching, seeing someone randomly at the post office wearing my shoes, it is still the most exciting experience. Seeing your own design walking towards you is wild.