Mirror, Mirror: From shoe store owner to shoe designer
Elena Brennan is beaming behind a row of colorful oxfords. After eight years at the helm of Bus Stop Boutique, one of the city's swankiest specialty shoe stores, Brennan debuted her own collection of flats in metallic, suede, and spectator styles Thursday, with the Bus Stop logo boldly stamped into the insole. It's not every day that an independent shoe store owner designs her own private label.
Elena Brennan is beaming behind a row of colorful oxfords.
After eight years at the helm of Bus Stop Boutique, one of the city's swankiest specialty shoe stores, Brennan debuted her own collection of flats in metallic, suede, and spectator styles Thursday, with the Bus Stop logo boldly stamped into the insole. It's not every day that an independent shoe store owner designs her own private label.
"This is the Audrey," Brennan said, picking up the first shoe in the glamorous old-Hollywood lineup. The Audrey - yes, as in Hepburn - is a milky white slip-on with a black toe cap and sole.
Next was the Mae (West) in all silver, followed by the Zsa Zsa (Gabor), a rosy-mauve-ish shoe with a metallic patch on the back.
"The laceless oxford is such a classic shoe," said Brennan as she readied her 1,100-square-foot store for a cocktail party and unveiling of the collection, called Bus Stop X All Black. About 150 fashion insiders attended, from blogger Ian Michael Crumm to America's Next Top Model alum Cory Wade Hindorff.
"This shoe - like the classic beauties - is elegant, strong, and bold," Brennan said, "and sultry and sensual at the same time."
That day, Brennan sold 31 pairs of the oxfords, including one to me - the Zsa Zsa. How could I could resist something that can go with everything? My little black dress(es) can't wait.
There are 12 pairs in the collection, including an all-white shoe with a natural blond sole (meet Grace) named after Philadelphia's own. On the flip side, there is a mostly black shoe. But the Marilyn pops with a pink patent leather back. Like its namesake, Ms. Monroe, the shoe has a bit of an unexpected twist.
Brennan opted to create a menswear-inspired flat because, frankly, it's more comfortable. It's also right in line with this season's trends, so the style can be worn as easily with spring jumpsuits and pleated maxis as it can with boyfriend jeans or dressy joggers.
A fashionista can pair her Bus Stop X All Black's with contrasting tights, Brennan said, or slip her feet in sans socks. The shoes, which retail for $195, are 100 percent leather inside and come in sizes 36 (size 6) to 41 (size 101/2).
Brennan had been thinking about designing a Bus Stop shoe for a few years, but she needed help with design. And, she said, without connections, finding a place to manufacture shoes stateside is difficult.
Since opening her Queen Village store in 2007, Brennan had carried All Black, a Taiwan-based comfortable - not comfort - line run by Colin Lin.
With its variety of heel heights (kitten to wedge) and mixed-media combinations (suede and patent, patent and matte, or suede and matte), the shoes did well at Bus Stop. Brennan said she had particular success with the pony-hair slip-on oxfords.
"I completely sold out of them," Brennan said.
Last year, Brennan asked All Black's U.S. distributor, Marty Rose, whether the company would be interested in working with Brennan on a collaboration.
"We decided to do a little test," Rose said. "She has excellent taste, and she's very creative, so we took our shoe and put a whole new color mix on it making it a Bus Stop version. It's something our company has never done before."
In July, Brennan started receiving sketches of the shoes, and samples began arriving in October. It took a full year and $20,000 of Brennan's savings to get the Bus Stop X All Black collaboration in her store.
Originally, there were 13 shoes in the collection. But the solid-black Ginger (Rogers) was just boring.
"The others had more pizzazz," Brennan said in her precise English accent. "So I dropped Ginger."
Contractually, Brennan can't say how many pairs of shoes were manufactured, but she emphasizes that it's a limited-edition capsule collection. That means that when the shoes are gone, they are gone. She's confident that she will turn a profit. And, hopefully, that she'll produce more collections.
"I thought it was time," Brennan said, "for me to put my mark on the kind of shoe that I could say was a Bus Stop shoe."
Why oxfords? Bus Stop owner Elena Brenna talks about her new shoe line. www.philly.com/elizabethwellington