You’d think after tumbling 18 feet from a ladder last year and being laid up with a ruptured spleen, Richard Tyler’s mind space would have been, say, somewhere closer to the ground. Not by the looks of his colourful wooden, stacked-heel platforms. They have all the craftsmanship of his red carpet collections, but the L.A.-based designer’s aim was versatility. “They’re young and sexy,” he says. “It depends on how you wear them.”
Tyler seems shy. He seems sweet. He seems modest. And, after enduring a couple of back-to-back hours of media interviews — with just Diet Coke on hand to fuel him — that’s hard to do. It’s the spring edition of L’Oreal Fashion Week in Toronto and the 60-year-old designer was at the Bloor Street location of Town Shoes one morning promoting his footwear line.
“We can bring in a shoe that’s like a couture shoe from Italy,” he enthuses. “The quality is amazing, the cut, the lasts, the heel, with the leather upper and soles. I think that’s what’s exciting for me — the style of course, but the price point. That’s so nice for me, finally, to do a product that’s affordable.”
This is a relatively new direction for a man whose former Beverly Hills boutique could have been on the itinerary of a Hollywood star-spotting tour, it was once such an after-hours celebrity hangout. But it’s part of an ongoing trend for him. Last year he unveiled a new uniform collection for Delta Airlines and, at the time of the interview, was completing uniforms for a Miami hotel.
For his footwear collection, his muse remains stars and socialites like Lindsay Lohan, he says, “Or I really like Lionel Ritchie’s daughter, Nicole. She looks so cool. Everyone says skinny. Yeah, maybe she is, but she just has this way she puts clothing on. I think she looks great. I also like Kirsten Dunst. I think she looks fabulous.” Despite the healthy bank accounts attached to these names, his shoes only run in the $120 range. The price difference between his ready-to-wear and footwear is comparable to, say, the difference between a Honda Civic and a Jaguar.
Not so odd, one supposes. The difference mirrors the highs and lows of his own life and career. He grew up in a tough, industrial suburb of Sunshine, Australia. After he dropped out of school, he worked in a series of garment factories. By the ’70s, with a lot of help from his friends, was designing stage clothes for rock bands, but he still didn’t have much money.
Tyler really made his name in the late ’80s and ’90s making couture-quality clothes. A retailer famously remarked that his suits and gowns were so well-crafted, they could be worn inside out. He was noticed. In the 1990s, he won three consecutive CFDA awards, the Oscars of the U.S. fashion industry.
He pulls a patent pump off the shelf in front of him. “Everyway you look at it, it’s just a gorgeous shoe. There’s detail that’s on my jackets — the fine stitching here,” he says, pointing to the interior. “Everything’s so fine. Nothing’s clunky. It’s such a clean, clean shoe. Inside it’s very pretty. It’s classic. It will never date.”
Sounds kind of like Tyler himself.
($120, at Town Shoes across Canada)