Mitch and Lauren Trickey, the creators and co-designers of shoe label &Attorney named their footwear line after one of the crossroads they used to live at in New York. They are now settled in a bungalow on the Victorian coast at Barwon Heads which overlooks a field full of cows. Although this may seem like an incongruous setting for the burgeoning footwear label stocked at boutiques such as Collector Store on Crown Street, there is an Australian ethic at the heart of this enterprise, which makes the fact of Lauren designing women’s shoes to the chorus of cattle somehow fitting.
These shoes are not only Australian because of where they are made but also because they tell the story of the dying art of producing footwear in this country and of the people who are trying to maintain the industry’s heritage.
Spying the collection of handmade men’s and women’s footwear that adorns the bookshelves of the couple’s office and bungalow, it is hard to believe that shoes at this price point have been designed, developed and manufactured in Australia. Despite there being a strong heritage of footwear being made in this country, dating back to the 19th century that continued to grow well into the 20th, the 1980s and '90s saw a marked decline in Australian produced footwear.
Initially, manufacturing in Australia wasn’t a primary concern for the pair, but after discovering their master last-maker Bruce Miller, (a last is the mould of the shoe) the octogenarian’s passionate campaign to have shoes made locally rubbed off on them. Once they did their research, having their shoes made in Australia made complete sense from a quality point of view – they had heard horror stories of others going offshore where the manufacturers wouldn’t use the specific lasts provided, meaning standardisation in sizing was ruined.
Bruce’s knowledge, gained from years of craftsmanship in making lasts, introduced the couple to the subtle differences in contour and bone size between men’s and women’s feet, a reason why &Attorney doesn’t do unisex shoes (much to the dismay of female customers hankering for a handsome pair of &Attorney’s brogues). It is also the reason why so many of Lauren and Mitch’s customers are astonished at just how comfortable their shoes are. “When everyone was making shoes properly, there was never a need for orthotics because the bottom contours of the last were designed to mimic your foot,” says Lauren.
The know-how the couple has amassed within the three short years of coming back to these shores after their jaunt in America is evident when talking to them. Despite Lauren helping to design shoes while assisting Rachel Comey (the established New York-based shoes, clothing and accessories designer, whom she cites as a mentor), it was in Australia that both learned the “ins and outs” of shoe making, not only from Bruce, but also from the Armenian family of three brothers who manufacture the shoes in Sydney’s St Peters. It is in their ramshackle factory that the shoes are turned out – among the accumulated machinery the brothers have inherited from shoe factories in Sydney that have closed down over the years.
“We put ourselves into our shoes,” says Mitch, a statement backed up by the names that the couple give to each style – their favourite places in Victoria and New York (Lonsdale, Smith, Bushwick), of characters out of novels (Moriati) and of the songs on their playlists; Mitch danced in a pair of Lovecats at the couple’s wedding.
Shoes are definitely a labour of love for these two. And, like Bruce in Thomastown and the Armenian brothers in St Peters, we’re glad that they have chosen shoes.