Designers Dish: To Boot New York Founder Adam Derrick

Courtesy of To Boot New York
Adam Derrick

The men's shoe designer talks creative process and the one high-profile person he'd love to dress.

To Boot New York designer Adam Derrick is all about the Big Apple (his men's shoe label says it all), but lately he says he's "been feeling L.A."

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"I think in the past two seasons, I've introduced a brand new category, which is sneakers […] I thought, 'This is L.A.' My point of view is very New York centric but I feel like I'm being more influenced by L.A. right now so it's good to be here," Derrick told Pret-a-Reporter on Thursday night before enjoying dinner at Bar Marmont. Andy Samberg was most recently seen wearing To Boot New York sneakers while appearing on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

But Derrick's famous fan base doesn't stop there — Matt McGorry (Orange is the New Black and How to Get Away with Murder), Corey Stoll (Ant-Man and House of Cards) and Jake Robinson (American Odyssey) have been spotted in the designer's made-in-Italy dress shoes on the red carpet, too.

FROM LEFT: David Bernon, Matt McGorry, Adam Derrick, Lorenzo Martone and Eric Rutherford.

Before Derrick was joined by his guests — including McGorry, L.A. Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers, Martone Cycling co-founder Lorenzo Martone and L.A.-based interior designer Jeffrey Alan Marks — we chatted with the men's shoe designer about his designs and the one famous person he'd love to see wearing his shoes.

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Tell us about To Boot New York.

Well I opened a cowboy boot store on Columbus Avenue, the upper west side of Manhattan, and that was 1979. And it was sort of a fun moment to do that. We really took off with the cowboy boots because New York had never liked, seen or worn them. There was a kind of a funny fashion moment, and we had a great success with them. But it was sort of trend and fad, and it peaked, so we had to think about what's next, how do we reinvent this concept. Meanwhile we were very well known as To Boot, so I happened to go to Italy and fell in love with the country, the food, scenery and the leather. And I thought shoes, absolutely.

In fact, I saw in my dream this phenomenal men's shoe store with all of these unbelievable choices — it was a dream so it was times 10. So I went to Italy and started apprenticing at factories and learning about men's shoe and construction, and I was really fascinated with all the details and artisanship about it. So I decided to go for that and I just made special things for my store and they sold really well and they started getting attention in the city and then we were picked up by Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom and Saks.

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What was it that you learned while being Italy and then seeing the designs in the U.S. when you came back?

It was almost like the U.S. was like Russia during the Cold War — everything was very generic. It was very basic looking. It surprised me because coming out of the late '70s/early '80s, fashion was the disco era and fashion was really happening for men but the shoes didn't seem to be keeping up at all so at that point in time — and this is what I've always been interested in — is shoes as the perfect accessory to complete the guy's outfit.

I'm interested in fashion but I'm not interested in disposable fashion, I just want to completely perfect the guy's look with footwear. So from there it became more of a lifestyle brand. My customers started asking for something to wear to the office. I always wanted the guy to feel comfortable and secure in his footwear but I always wanted the shoes to be noticed, too. I want people to have compliments. I want people to have great shoes. And that's actually something cool about our name — To Boot means something extra.

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What is your design process like?

It's a really organic process and I'm really fortunate that I live in New York. I live in Chelsea, where the Meatpacking and High Line and everything comes together. I feel like I step out of my lobby in the morning and I'm inspired. Everyday I see how people put themselves together, what they're wearing and I take a lot from New York, I really do.

Everything is made in Italy, the artisanship and craftsmanship are Italian but that's why I added the word New York to To Boot because I feel like New York is the fashion capital of America and I feel like it's the crossroads of fashion in the world. Every nationality, every style and it all comes together and it kind of works, so that's big inspiration for me. I feel it's really important to just stay present, and look everywhere around you. Like this space we're staying at tonight, this wall behind you is this wonderful burnished leather with these brass tacks that I'm almost thinking, that would be a great detail on a boot.

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How often do you travel to Italy?

I'm there five to six times a year.

How would you describe your customer base?

It's super interesting because — this is what I love about it — it kind of makes it challenging, but I was in a really great store that we sell in Greenwich, Connecticut, a few months ago, called Richards, doing a trunk show and this guy came in. He was a 45-year-old lawyer, someone I would definitely consider as my core customer and he had his 13-year-old son with him who going to a Bar Mitzvah but he had never worn a pair of dress shoes. But he was now big in the size so he could wear dress shoes, so he said, "I want you to get a great pair of shoes for my son." So he did. Meanwhile his father was like, "Yeah I love your shoes, let me try those on." So we got him a pair of shoes, and what I didn't realize was his father was also shopping in the store, saw his son and grandson buying shoes and said, "Well, I really like those," so I had the three generations buying shoes at the same time. It was awesome for me because I don't want to be so specific. I also find that, yes I have somebody in mind when I'm designing, like what this guy looks like, but it's always wrong. You can't pigeonhole the customer so I'm totally happy with that.

Your shoes have also been seen on the red carpet lately.

It's always a kick, super fun. I'm just glad when you get a celebrity, a really handsome guy wearing your shoes, like last week, Michael Strahan had my shoes on and we put it on Instagram and commented, "Yeah but what about us regular guys?" And no I didn't mean that. I totally appreciate everyone who wears my shoe.

Which celeb would you love to see wearing your shoes?

I would actually love to see my shoes on the president. I'm just putting it out there.