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Douglas Bensadoun

After 10 years trading in the UK, the creative director of Canadian footwear retailer Aldo is betting on a link-up with London Fashion Week designers to raise its trend credentials.

Ask any premium buyer which autumn 12 womenswear collections they were most looking forward to seeing on the catwalks, and the names JW Anderson, Preen and Mark Fast are never far from their lips.

So it’s no surprise that Canadian footwear retailer Aldo chose these three names to work with for its inaugural London Fashion Week collaborations collection, Aldo Rise. 

Last month, Aldo joined the likes of Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin as well as key British high street footwear names including Kurt Geiger and Office, by claiming a space in Selfridges’ Shoe Galleries for the launch of Aldo Rise.

Aldo Rise’s spring 12 collection – a collaboration with four designers (New York designer Libertine is the fourth) – is part of Aldo’s initiative to help ready-to-wear designers create footwear for their catwalk shows. The initiative gives these designers access to footwear design expertise and sourcing facilities, notably Aldo’s factories and designers, which are invaluable tools for designers used to producing womenswear.

“We’re not really inventing the wheel in doing collaborations,” Aldo creative director Douglas Bensadoun tells Drapers. “But we are constantly inspired by the fashion industry and this gives us an opportunity to implicate ourselves in a more profound way with the designers who we admire and who we have a great deal of respect for.”

Bensadoun, the son of Aldo’s chief operating officer and founder Aldo Bensadoun, was supposed to be at Selfridges for the launch of Aldo Rise but the theft of his passport while he was at the airport in Spain meant he missed the event. Drapers did manage to catch up with him afterwards, not before enjoying a few classes of champagne with Preen designers Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi and the rest of the Aldo team at the launch.

“It was really unfortunate that I had to miss it,” he says. “The feedback has been great, with everyone saying it was a great event and that they love the collection.” Bensadoun explains that Aldo chose Selfridges to launch the collection as they see it as the “world’s premier shopping destination”.

He adds: “The Shoe Galleries is a mecca of shoes like no other anywhere in the world and it seemed like the natural place for the launch of the Aldo Rise programme.”

He says it was Aldo’s ongoing relationship with the likes of Preen and JW Anderson (Aldo has helped the designers out with shoes before for their catwalk shows) that formed the idea for the Aldo Rise collaboration. “A lot of designers have to borrow shoes or get shoes that are not the season they are designing for,” he says. “We try to work with these designers and fly them to Montreal [the location of Aldo’s head office] where we spend a few days with them and really try to complete the vision of their collection when it comes to footwear.

“It’s a great thing for us as it’s our way of giving back to the fashion industry. It’s also inspiring for us to have the chance to work with these designers. It has got to the stage now where we’ve formed personal friendships with these guys and so by launching Aldo Rise it gives us another opportunity to work with these people and create cool product with them.”

He adds that working with designer names also gives Aldo added kudos as a footwear retailer. “There’s no question about it, it’s not 100% altruistic, it’s definitely an opportunity for us to elevate our game and by virtue of that to elevate our image,” he says. “Add to that the fact that the brilliance of these designers is never accessible to most people because most people can’t afford to pay more than $500 (£316) for a pair of shoes. We are making these shoes available for under £150 [all footwear in the collection retails at £135 or £125 per pair], which goes hand-in-hand with Aldo’s proposition to bring aspirational product to people at an accessible price.”

And why did Aldo, a Canadian-based retailer with a strong presence in the US, choose predominantly British designers for Aldo Rise’s debut collection? “In the last five years or so, the UK has really become the focal point for us as a business,” Bensadoun explains. “We’ve just established a design office in the UK. We had the option of having a design office in either New York or in London and we decided to go for London because London plays such an important role in the direction of the master collections we take worldwide.”

There can be no doubt then that Aldo views the UK as absolutely integral to its business. UK sales represent around 11% of global sales (Aldo operates in 69 countries). “We see the UK as critical both in terms of a market itself and also as a window to the rest of Europe,” says Bensadoun. “This year we celebrate 10 years on the UK high street and those 10 years of experience have gone a long way in teaching us some valuable lessons about the UK market.” Aldo has 33 UK stores and in autumn 2010 began wholesaling its product to etailer Asos.

Bensadoun insists that if a mid-market footwear retailer can make it in the UK, they can make it anywhere in the world. “There’s no question about it that the UK high street is the most competitive mid-market high street for footwear anywhere in the world,” he says. “If you were to ask the number of competitors that Aldo has in the UK, you could come up with a list of maybe five to eight players, whereas if you tried to do the same thing in France you would maybe come up with two or three.

“Being in the UK has forced us to sharpen our skills because you have to be on top of your game here – if you’re not then you’re just going to get eaten up.”

While he considers it a tough market, Bensadoun is full of praise for the UK. “The UK customer is decidedly more fashionable and decidedly more adventurous than the customers we serve in other locations. Also, the level of intelligence, insight and execution in the UK is another level and much smarter and more elevated than elsewhere.

“We are dead set on making it happen here. We’ve been successful so far and we are hoping to become even more successful in the future.” 

CV

2009 General manager and creative director, Aldo

2008 Creative director, Aldo

2008 Creative adviser, Aldo

2006 Joins Aldo, working in the buying department

2003 Account manager and creative consultant at Bureaux, a fashion branding agency based in London

Q&A

Where does the inspiration for your footwear design come from?

It comes from a constellation of different things. It’s like anything really, it comes from popular culture, fashion as low brow or as high brow as it comes, celebrity culture, aesthetic culture, artistic culture and of course listening to our customers very closely.

What are the key footwear trends in your autumn 12 collection?

Next season it’s about tribes –not trends – and evolving, growing up, within each. Our key stories for autumn 12 include Call of the Wild, which takes inspiration from the nomadic lifestyle and the Appalachian people. Another story, Les Faux Bourgeois, is based on the concept of “think poor, look rich” and takes inspiration from author Daphne du Maurier’s personal style, while the final story, Moody Nature, is inspired by the English punk era of rebelliousness and includes faux-fur detailing on some styles.

What, in your opinion, does Aldo do well as a footwear retailer?

In life an individual has different needs for different times of their life, different times of the day, depending on what mood you are in. At Aldo, when designing our collections, we listen to all those impulses. The idea is that we want to be a destination that people can aspire to but that is also entirely accessible at the same time and that can cater to the different moods and the different lifestyles that people indulge in.

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