Canadian footwear designer working in London
Born: Edmonton, Canada, 19 March 1963. Education: Studied at Cordwainers College, Hackney, London, 1983-85. Career: Established firm in London and designed collections for Bodymap, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, and others, from 1987; London shop opened, 1991; hired CEO from Hermés, 1995; ran controversial suicide-themed ad for footwear, 1999; introduced first signature fragrance, 2000. Awards: Accessory Designer of the Year, British Fashion awards, 1994 and 1995; British Marie Claire Accessory Designer of the Year, 1996; Fashion Medal of Honor by the Footwear Association of New York, 1996. Address: 30 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9NJ, England.
McDowell, Colin, Shoes: Fashion and Fantasy, New York, 1989.
Trasko, Mary, Heavenly Soles: Extraordinary Twentieth Century Shoes, New York, 1989.
Bloch, Phillip, Elements of Style, New York, 1998.
Callan, Georgina O'Hara, Dictionary of Fashion and Fashion Designers New York, 1998.
Doe, Tamasin, Patrick Cox: Wit, Irony and Footwear, New York,1998.
"Shoe Shines," in Elle (London), March 1987.
Rumbold, Judy, "The Last Shall Be First," in The Guardian (London), 21 September 1987.
Thackara, John, "Put Your Foot in It," in The Observer Magazine (London), 22 November 1987.
Lender, Heidi, "Foot Fetish: Patrick Cox's Wild and Woolly Shoes Have Come to Paris," in W, August 1989.
"Best Foot Forward" in The Guardian (London), 10 June 1991.
"Patrick Cox," in DR: The Fashion Business (London), 2 November 1991.
"Shoe Shine Boy," in Toronto Life Fashion, December/January 1991-92.
"Shoe King," in For Him (London), April 1992.
"Taming of the Shoe," in the Evening Standard (London), 30 June 1992.
"ASA Blasts Patrick Cox for Tasteless 'Suicide' Shoe Ad," Marketing Week, 11 March 1999.
"Fall Fashion-Just One Word: Plastics," in the Wall Street Journal, 20 September 1999.
Johnson, Jo, "Getting A Sure Footing in Foreign Markets," in Management Today, November 1999.
"Getting High," in European Cosmetic Markets, September 2000.
"My early shoes stick in people's minds," Patrick Cox has said, "but things are getting more refined." Those who may remember him as the devoted nightclubber of the early 1980s might have been surprised to find him, a decade later, presiding over the salon atmosphere of his shoeshop-cum-antiques emporium in London. Patrick Cox grew up, but also went beyond the image of the shoemaker with "street credibility," designing for Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, et al. He survived the designer decade of the 1980s and emerged in the early 1990s with his ability to wittily reinterpret traditional styling, still constantly in tune with contemporary fashion.
Cox's fascination with the British fashion scene brought him to London, rather than the obvious footwear design centers of Italy. He enrolled at Cordwainers College, Hackney, London to study, but soon found college life was less rewarding than meeting and making contacts within the London club world. His involvement with the music and fashion scene brought him the chance to design for Vivienne Westwood's first solo collection, whilst he was still at college. "I used to shop at Westwood's quite a lot and my flatmate David was her assistant," he recalled. "Six weeks before the show someone realized nothing had been done about shoes and David suggested that I could probably help…. My gold platform shoes with large knots went down a treat. Everyone noticed them—you couldn't miss them really—and my other commissions have followed from there."
Indeed they did: in no time at all he was designing shoes to accompany the collections of the young English designers who were then flavor of the month on the international fashion circuit. Cox shod the feet to fit the willful perversities of Bodymap, the calculated eccentricity of John Galliano, and the ladies-who-lunch chic of Alistair Blair.
Cox went on to design his own label collections with such delightfully named styles as Chain Reaction, Rasta, and Crucifix Court. These were typical, hard-edged classic women's silhouettes given the Cox treatment—chain mesh, silk fringes and crucifixes suspended from the heels. Witty and amusing as these styles were, they had limited appeal and Cox would not have attained his current prominence had he not sought a larger audience.
The launch of his own London shop in 1991 gave Cox the opportunity to show his collections as a whole, displaying the brash alongside the sophisticated. His audience soon came from both the devotees of the off-the-wall fashion experimentation of King's Road and the classic chic of the Sloane Square debutante. Cleverly, his shop was geographically situated between the two.
Selling shoes alongside antiques was a novelty that appealed to the press and boosted Cox's profile. There was something delightful in the presentation of shoes balanced on the arms of Louis XVI gilt chairs or popping out of the drawers of beautiful old dressers. The shoes gained an aura of respectability; a sense of belonging to some tradition, which perfectly complemented Cox's reinterpretation of classic themes. No longer was there a typical Cox customer; they were the young and not so young. Cox took great delight when elderly ladies appreciated his more subtle styling; his women's shoes even rivaled those of Manolo Blahnik in their sophistication—a calculated move.
In contrast, the development his men's footwear was less obvious. Cox has always loved traditional English styling, and commented: "I believe that British men's shoes are the best in the world, so mine are just an evolution from those classic ideas." This evolution kept him close to the spirit of British footwear, if not to the colorways. He reproduced the weight and proportions of the styles whilst exaggerating the soles and fastenings.
Cox is the shoe designer who admits there is little you can do with shoes. The very nature of footwear imposes constraints upon the designer, where there are fewer problems for the clothing designer. Cox sees shoes as more architectural than clothes; a free standing form with an inside and out. Yet these restrictions do not stop him producing fresh contemporary styles which still work within the perceived framework of what a classic silhouette should be.
During the second half of the 1990s, Cox was at a crossroads. He had lost some of the cachet associated with his Wannabe brand, but did not, as a self-financed company, have the resources to step to the next level and compete with other luxury goods brands. His margins were low compared to other companies and he spent a high nine percent of sales on advertising. He continued to enhance his footwear line; in spring/summer 1997, for example, he added a jelly boot to his colorful jelly wedges and sandals. Meanwhile, he entered the apparel market, introducing a small clothing line for men and women in 1995. By fall 1999 his London runway show featured items such as $363 neoprene pants and a $295 black cotton-and-rubber-ribbed sweater. His entry into apparel has been credited with moving men's clothing away from the staid elegance associated with French designers to a funkier tailored look. The women's apparel is brightly colored with a fun, comfortable sensibility.
The designer also extended distribution in the mid-to late 1990s by opening stores and boutiques throughout Europe, North America, and Asia, including an 800-square-foot section at the Tokyo department store Isetan that carried his whole line of footwear, apparel, and accessories. He also opened a Tokyo office to work more closely with his Japanese licensees, as well as a New York showroom. The latter closed; many observers believe he moved into the U.S. market too quickly.
As of 1999 the designer's wholly owned business, Patrick Cox International, had annual turnover of £19 million ($30 million), earned not only from his flagship footwear line but from apparel, jewelry, bags, and ties. (The Wannabe loafer is not the trendsetter it was, but still accounted for about half of Cox's shoe sales in the late 1990s.) That same year, Cox was widely criticized for a two-page spread in the glossy men's magazine FHM, showing the feet of a man who appeared to have hung himself. Critics called the suicide-themed depiction "tasteless."
Cox announced his first fragrance line for men and women, "High," in partnership with Paris-based IFF in 2000. It debuted at the upscale British department store Harvey Nichols before being introduced into Asian markets. The scent typifies the Cox image: fun, addictive, and "of the moment."
updated by KarenRaugust