Designing Josephine: Behind the Process

The latest American Duchess design has been released in the form of the Josephine 18th Century Pumps! The Josephine Collection pre-order is in full-swing, and we’re having so much fun seeing your reactions to our latest style. Transitional fashion lovers rejoice! To celebrate the launch of our cheeky new shoe, we thought we would give you a glimpse into how Josephine came to be.

We had our sights set on the 1790s. It had been a long time since we had made a transitional period shoe, and we were itching for a new one. Our initial idea was to create a shoe that was period accurate (of course), very late 18th-century in aesthetics, and could pair with day and evening wear. Of course, our development process had to start with looking at extant examples.

Striped leather shoes c. 1795, British, from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum.

Another British pair from c. 1795, this time in a splendid printed leather! Also from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum.

A striped pair with trim c. 1790s. We’re sensing a color story here…

Once we had a better idea of specifically what kind of shoe we wanted to make, and we had our inspirations in order, we had the last and heel to develop. Shoes from the late 18th and early 19th century had a few distinctive features, including pointed toes and low Italian heels. During this time period, heels were shrinking a bit from earlier iterations of Italian heels and French heels, like the ones found on Dunmore and Pompadour, for example. Some transitional heels were narrow and some broad. As the century turned, heels got lower to the ground, until they eventually became flat. We wanted to develop an Italian heel that hit that transitional sweet spot. Ergo, we developed a new Italian heel that is shorter and broader than the Italian heel used on Dunmore. Josephine’s Italian heel is a sensible 1.5″/3.81 cm tall, and hits the mark with regards to transitional aesthetic. Perfection!

A small Italian heel c. 1780s-1790s, from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum.
Our brand-new Italian heel is distinctively late-18th century, sturdy, and super cute!

For Josephine, we knew we needed that iconic tapered toe shape, and so we made a point (see what we did there) of getting the toe just right; not too long, not too short, not to tight, not too loose. Our final toe shape features the distinctive point we wanted, without squeezing the toes uncomfortably. Win-win!

Behold, the tapered toe.

We also wanted to use patterned textile for the upper. There are so many lovely extant examples of shoes from the transitional period made from patterned materials, especially striped ones. When we found the striped cotton fabric that we ended up using for Josephine, it was a match made in shoe heaven. Not just because the texture and pattern fit the shoe well, but also because, the colors! We ended up choosing five colorways: Charcoal/White, Yolk Yellow/White, Taupe/White, Red/White, and Blue/White. The collection has options for more neutral colorways, and for pops of color. They all look just darling peeking out from the hem of a gown!

Josephine in Taupe/White, so summery!

The side seams were another critical part of making Josephine look super-1790s. We didn’t want to just add in the side seam. We specifically designed the striped fabric to be offset around the upper, which really accentuates the historical look of the shoe!

That side seam though…

Finally, the trim. The trim on Josephine is super special, because it is made from 100% silk ribbon. We really wanted to provide this touch of luxury to bring Josephine to the next level, and we have to say that it came out wonderfully. The silk ribbon pleated trim is reminiscent of our favorite 1790s shoes, and the rosette ties it all together perfectly. The silk ribbon trim on every pair of Josephines is custom dyed to match the striped textile. While we have released shoes with rosettes before, this is the first time we’ve released a shoe with pleated trim, or with silk ribbon trim! It is so very exciting.

Three cheers for silk ribbon!

We are so happy with how the Josephine Pumps turned out, and we’re so excited to see all the incredible ensembles you create with your own Josephines. If you’re in need of inspiration for a costume, stay tuned; we’re publishing another blog post later this week all about the goodness that is 1790s fashion!

The Josephine Collection is live for pre-order now! These gorgeous shoes are on sale for 15% off each pair from June 21-30 in our US and UK/EU stores.

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