amélie pichard on how she spins kitsch and clichés into killer mules
In her beautiful backyard studio, filled with cacti and neon boob-shaped lights, the French accessories designer dreams up fluffy handbags and crocodile-print platforms for David Lynch heroines and Formula One pit girls.
In February, Pamela Anderson was photographed in Los Angeles in a white dress, falling coyly off her shoulder like a rumpled bedsheet, as she stepped out of an SUV and into a restaurant. It was her first public outing since her divorce, but what stood out were her shoes: a pair of metallic pointed-toe mules that shone like liquid mercury.
By the next day the photos were everywhere and, across the Atlantic, petite flame-haired accessories designer Amélie Pichard was celebrating in her Paris studio. "It was a dream come true!" she squeals during our phone interview. Amélie had designed and produced the shoes for her spring 15 collection and, months before their moment of paparazzi glory, had already dubbed them "the Pamela." "I am a really big fan of Pamela's," Amélie explains. "It's just a crazy story. She was on a shoot in California and the stylist had pulled the shoes. Pamela loved them and my press team gave them to her without telling me. It was a total surprise."
Pamela is Amélie's ultimate pinup. But the designer has a tomboy side, too. Growing up, she lived in Dr. Martens - "just the simple black ones and I always wore them with leggings." She lived with her mom in Chartres, about 50 miles southwest of Paris, and played with Barbies until she was 14. But when she was with her dad in the countryside she was usually covered in mud. (Even now, during the day, she sticks to a strict regimen of Dr. Martens in winter and Birkenstocks in summer.)
"I was always drawing women when I was little," Amélie says, "So my mother encouraged me to study fashion. But a lot of people told me that wanting to be a fashion designer was like wanting to be a princess. Nobody in my family was in fashion, so it was exotic for them." Nevertheless, she went to Paris and studied styling and pattern making at Mod'Art, where she worked closely with a jewelry designer who taught her about materials, especially leather and metal.
Two years later, while she was working at a fashion label in Paris, she met a shoemaker named Madame Germaine at her studio in Belleville - an experience she recounts like something from a fairy tale (Disney is definitely more on-brand for Amélie than the Brothers Grimm). "I walked into her workshop and the smell of the leather and the dust - I just fell in love, everything was perfect, and I knew this was what I wanted to do." Madame Germaine helped Amélie make her first collection of shoes in 2008, and in 2011 she launched her own line with "American Girl" - an ode to 50s kitsch in Hawaiian print sandals and vinyl and patent leather booties.
"The first thing I do when I design is think about the story," Amélie says. "I love the story." Over nine collections, her characters have ranged from disco queens to screen sirens and Helmut Newton-esque glamazons (fall 15 was a Formula One pit girl), but they usually live in a world filled with soft lighting, velvet, fishnet tights and voluminous cats. She describes her brand's dream girl as a David Lynch heroine crossed with Pamela Anderson and Chloë Sevigny.
What defines Amélie's shoes is their confident (usually pretty sexy) walk down the line between camp and cool. Her recurring styles include low 40s-esque pumps and Saturday Night Fever-style platforms, but they come with less literal details and in reliably unexpected materials. One season she made a whole collection in cork, for another she became obsessed with super glossy faux tortoiseshell, and for spring 15, she covered her favorite shapes in shagpile. That was the Pamela collection.
On a recent trip to the States, Amélie finally got the chance to meet her favorite ex-Baywatch bombshell. Pamela invited Amélie to spend the day with her at her home in Los Angeles. After a tour of the house ("it's all white, she loves white"), they sat down for a vegan lunch prepared by Pamela's personal chef and later that night they went out to the Rainbow Bar on Sunset Boulevard. "In the evening, she was dressed-up, she was Pamela, but in the day she was so natural" Amélie mused. "That's what I love about her - she can be completely herself or a character."
It's not the only thing Amélie loves about Pamela. Come September, Amélie will be launching a second line, and the shoes will be completely vegan.
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography courtesy Amélie Pichard