The fall season has started off strong for Ron White Shoes with the launch of the brand’s made-in-Italy Handbag collection. Luxurious materials and unique hardware meet structured and unstructured silhouettes for this AW2021 collection that compliment Ron’s women’s shoes and boots for the season. Read our interview with the Canadian designer below. —Noa Nichol
Ron, tell us a bit about yourself.
I am originally from Winnipeg and came to Toronto for school at Sheridan College in Oakville, where I studied business retail management mixed with fashion. I always dreamed of working in fashion retail in New York, but a co-op placement in footwear sparked a lifelong love and career in shoes. I opened my first store on Yonge Street in Toronto in 1993 with a Visa cash advance and a few small family loans. We now operate four of our own corporate stores in the GTA as well as our global website. I also wholesale my collection to partner retailers across North America and we are now carried at over 80 stores, ranging from leading boutiques in Canada and the U.S., to TV networks like TSC, department stores like Nordstrom and our latest partnership with luxury powerhouse Neiman Marcus. As CEO and creative director of Ron White Shoes, I created the world’s first All Day Heels, employing a unique technology that make them incredibly comfortable. That technology is in every pair of my shoes now, whether they are dressy or casual, mens or women’s. It has helped me dress heads of state and royal family members, as well as develop a loyal celebrity following that includes my muse Vanessa Williams, Céline Dion, Rob Lowe and Matt Damon. I count among my career “highs” having been named Independent Retailer of the Year by Footwear News in 2011 (a Canadian first) and having been inducted into the Sheridan College of Business Hall of Fame in 2007. Despite the incredibly challenging last 18 months, I am optimistic about the future and have my team focused on continuing to grow our wholesale business and partners. I’ve got my eyes on the UK and hope to launch there in late 2022.
You just launched your first Made-in-Italy Handbag collection; was the transition from shoe design to handbag design easy/seamless, or did you encounter any challenges? If this isn’t your first foray into bags, was your approach this time different in any way?
After many requests from my clients, in 2019 I started designing and producing handbags, first with capsule collections, which helped me test the waters, get client feedback and learn what my ladies wanted in a handbags. As a consumer, one might think of handbags and footwear as related as products, the manufacturing is completely separate so it really is another business altogether to run and operate along side footwear. The leathers are different than footwear, constructions different and factories are different. I started with making unique designs that I loved and felt passionate about that I thought my ladies would love—that’s what your job is as a designer !
What are the offerings in the new handbag range? What makes them unique? What current trends do they reflect?
For AW21, for the first time ever, I introduced matching materials in my handbag and footwear collection alongside new and elevated materials. This started with evening clutches that matched cocktail shoes … but evolved to combat boots, biker boots and elegant heels that had handbags designed to compliment them. Worn together, they bring a new level of sophistication to an ensemble. New special leathers like tumbled calf, croco calf, ostrich calf and cashmere suedes are used throughout the collection. The colour pallet is very fresh and new this season, featuring aubergine, dune, porcini and French navy.
How do the bags compliment your shoe collection for the season? Can you make some strong pairing suggestions for us?
This season more than any in the last decade I believe, handbags can help make and elevate an outfit. In my view, “high-low dressing”—when you mix basics in clothing with luxury handbags and shoes—is now at the next level and consumers are looking for exciting new shoes and bags to freshen up their wardrobes. I designed “pairings” for the first time in the AW21 collection, some examples include:
- Estraya Ostrich biker boot & Plumadore
- Luna ankle boot & Montaque Croco
- Teagan combat boot & Bayou
- Kathleen Pump & Boratan
From your perspective, what are the biggest trends in footwear and handbags for FW21 and into 2022? What one handbag should we all be adding to our personal stash?
“Luxe casual” is what today’s lifestyle is all about. It is more dressed up than the loungewear craze we saw over the last 18 months, but not a dressy tailored vibe. Some of the most important trends out there include sneakers, but now very “luxed” (see my Ornella & Rayla) sneakers, the penny loafer is at an all-time high in popularity (see Kaysen), chunky lug soles and combat boots (see Charley), square toes and heels (see Lavanah) are also very fresh and add newness to footwear today. To me, a fabulous new pair of shoes with a matching luxury handbag are the season’s must haves!