One of the best parts about working at Condé Nast are the incredible people I met there who have gone on to have impressive careers. Anita Patrickson, whom I met over a decade ago when we worked at Allure and Teen Vogue respectively, is a prime example of just that. As a celebrity stylist, she dresses the likes of Anna Paquin, Emma Watson, and Chanel Iman for everything from the Oscars to festival season. And last week, she opened up a brilliant custom sandal store in Los Angeles, Amanu, named in part for her family's motto, Latin for "by hand and by mind" and the Italian phrase for "by hand" or a mano.
The name perfectly fits the process: At the start of your appointment, you choose a sandal from one of ten core styles, available in either a black or nude sole, then select the leather color for the straps. From there, the in-store cobblers work with you to fit the shoe exactly to your foot, so that you're able to walk out in it within thirty minutes. Inspired in part from her trip to Capri, her childhood in South Africa, and the constant struggle to find cute and comfortable sandals, Amanu feels not only like an inventive, universally appealing brand, but also a no-brainer. As soon as I walked into her Melrose store, which she calls a "little piece of Africa," with rugs from Niger and coffee table books displaying Moroccan textiles, I could immediately feel what made her store different. She's turned shopping for shoes into a beautiful experience, and a collaboration between the makers and the clients. Below I rounded up some of my favorite questions from my conversation with Anita over Instagram Live last Friday:
Emily: This idea to get custom sandals fitted to your feet is everything. What inspired the idea?
Anita: I went to Capri about four years ago for a wedding, and the day after, I found this little sandal shop where they had photos of Jackie Kennedy on the walls. It was so cool and old-school, and all I wanted was a really simple, easy shoe, so they made me a braided slip-on that I wore till they dropped about three years later. When I came back to the States, I had a fitting with a celebrity client for Coachella, who said, "I just can't wear sandals—nothing ever looks good, and the straps always hit wrong." So I just started thinking about it more and more until I thought, why not bring this here?
E: With sandals, they so often don't fit quite right, and you want something to throw on and go. A few years ago, I wanted to find a simple sandal for Paris I could wear for miles—and I was willing to splurge for the occasion—but even then couldn't find anything.
A: It's the weirdest thing. In starting Amanu, I really wanted to do something that would solve a problem, instead of just having another brand. In some cases, even with an unlimited budget, I had trouble finding a truly comfortable, beautiful sandal for clients—and even then, you're being charged $600 for four strips of leather. And, I grew up in Africa wearing sandals since I was little so it feels true to me. I never wear heels so even though that would have been fun, it wouldn’t have felt true to launch with—though we're doing block heels in the summer!
E: Sandals also feel so quintessentially L.A. It's a casual city, so even if you're in a nice blazer or jumpsuit, it still feels appropriate to throw on a sandal. But let's get back to heels! I'm truly missing a good block heel in my closet. All I want to wear are flat sandals and small heels. Those five-inch stilettos I used to teeter around in...
A: Oh, back in our Condé Nast days!
E: Exactly! Just wobbling around and down the halls—it's just not what I'm looking for today.
A: And flats and chunky heels are just as fashionable these days, if not more. But I was just reading this article that said sandals were the first form of footwear, ever. Apparently, King Tut used to put his sandals on his throne when he would leave as a symbol of power—and from him to the peasants, most people were wearing sandals so it's really this kind of universal footwear. And there's something really cool about that.
E: So tell us a little more about the process—I already know you start by picking out one of ten styles.
A: Yes, so there are ten different styles, inspired by styles I put my clients in. I have a tendency to go all in, and then go 'Ahh!' So it was a little bit of everyone telling me to slow down, even to the point I was asking myself, 'Should I launch with five styles?' But what if you want to go from a beach day to cocktails? Or just need to get from Point A to Point B and need to run from the farmers market to meetings? What if you’re in Paris for the weekend? I have all these stories for each style.
E: Which just goes to show: You have these essential styles which appeal to different people, even within our team. We all share similar sensibilities with styles, but we're all going different routes. Have you seen more people leaning towards nude or black soles?
A: It's funny because when I was ordering and planning, I thought everyone would go for the nude color, but it's been about 50/50. If you want something for day to night, you're going to want black—but once you add feathers or metallics, it dresses up the nude and that works, too!
E: What's the first thing you ask someone who walks in the store and is completely undecided?
A: I usually say, 'What have you got in your closet?' I'm asking to hone in and see if you need something that's a novelty, like a fancy little thing with feathers, or if you're looking for a core basic like a solid brown or really good black. From there, I ask, 'What do you like about your feet and what do you not like about your feet?' If they say something like, 'I have long toes I don't love,' I'd steer them away from a toe-y style like a cross. We want to make something you love and feels brilliant.
E: What's funny is I was already finding myself leaning towards the super classic route, until you asked me if I already had that in my closet and I was like, 'Yup—times thirty.' My mom has a pair of Clergerie sandals that are from twenty years ago and so sexy on the foot, but I can't find one that actually works for me.
A: What you have to remember is: Feet are sisters, not twins. Every body part is different! And that's been really interesting, to see the marks on the soles—you'll see your feet are actually really different. I mean, who knew I had a really long right toe?
E: Apparently that means you're a genius!
A: Yes! Let's go with that.
E: So what's your strategy with choosing the color of leather? There are so many options, from a bright yellow, to neutrals, and metallics.
A: The next step is figuring out your style from a little switchboard of options. You can go with a neutral brown or nude, or faux python—which is fun because it's interesting but acts like a neutral. Or, you could go yellow for summer. Dark green is also very French right now. But you can also go with whatever speaks to you! I actually had a jewelry designer in the other day who always wears gold and silver together, so she did a double strap with a mixed metal, with one band in gold and the other in silver, so she can pair it with everything she wears.
[Ed note: This is truly the best part about purchasing sandals with Anita—she is a stylist, after all!]
E: You've worked for years as a stylist, but what was starting a brand like? How long did it take from the idea to opening the store?
A: Well, it took a long time. Four years ago is when I first had the idea for a sandal and my boyfriend and friends were like, 'This is a good idea—you need to do this.' I'd always wanted to do something, but every time I thought of, say, a tee shirt brand, I stopped because I'm not a Stella McCartney who can put out four basic collections a year. And I've always like the experiential part of it, and making my clients feel special, which also adds value to the product.
E: The main thing I've heard time and time again is that there's never an obvious time to start something—you're always going to be reluctant.
A: Yes! I had a career and was so busy, so I thought, 'Why would I do this? This isn't the right time.' But there's aways going to be something—it's the same thing with having a baby. There's always going to be a reason not to at that moment, but you just have to dive in. At this point, I'm really excited. The scary thing is that it's a brick and mortar concept so it feels like a lot all at once, but there's also something really wonderful about diving right in.
E: So, let's talk about pricing. How much are the sandals?
A: That's the wonderful thing about this concept. Because we're straight-to-consumer, we've been able to spend on padded soles and still start at $160. You can of course go much fancier—as you add guinea fowl they can go up to $275.
E: Speaking of straight-to-consumer, I love that the cobblers are in the store, working personally with you to create the perfect sandal.
A: Yes! We flew a master cobbler we met in Italy out for two months, so everyone here learned their craft from him, practicing with hundreds and hundreds of shoes. Plus, the fact that they're doing it by hand means that we're cutting down on energy emissions and packaging. I feel very strongly about not adding to the problem, but helping to solve it—that's at the forefront of our methods.
E: Any parting words of advice when it comes to buying shoes?
Once you have something solid and comfortable, find a fun pair you can dress up, whether it has feathers or metallics! As long as you feel like you can pull it off, you can pull it off. If you saw me walking down the street in a feathered sandal, as an onlooker you would say, "Now that woman can pull off a feather sandal!" Be that woman, and don't be afraid to go bold.
Thank you Anita! Amanu is offering Cupcakes and Cashmere readers $20 towards their first order. Just enter the code cupcakes20 when you book your experience online, for their L.A. store! You'll need to reserve using the code by Saturday, May 13th, but you can make your appointment for any day all summer long!
Looking for more Anita? Read her tips for layering like a pro, her favorite things, common fashion mistakes, and what really goes on behind the scenes at award shoes.