Amina Muaddi joined the inner circle of TV and film fashion over the past year, with not one but two big moments on the small screen. First, in the HBO series “Insecure,” when characters Issa and Molly are held at gunpoint by a woman they know. She demands, “Molly, come up off them shoes, please!” pointing to a pair of Muaddi’s clear PVC and crystal Begum slingback pumps (a real-life Cinderella glass slipper collector’s item). When Issa tries to hand over her own shoes, a pair of off-label ballet flats that are clearly not made by the designer, the robber responds, “Oh no, you can keep them.”
Then, in the premiere episode of the second season of “Euphoria,” actress Alexa Demie’s character Maddy sports Muaddi’s Her intelligence, humor, drive and taste are all quickly apparent upon meeting her while in a tense bathroom scene that has since become a favorite meme from the zeitgeisty show. While other designers cited “Euphoria” as inspiration for their fall ’22 collections, it was Muaddi’s aesthetic that itself inspired the show’s portrayal of Gen Z style.
Fashion designers come in levels of notoriety. Some are retail favorites or street style staples, while others rely (increasingly) on celebrity credits to fuel their image. Muaddi checks all of these boxes.
But it’s not until a designer enters the lexicon of TV and film that they are truly immortalized in pop culture, one that exists outside the fashion bubble. The benchmark, of course, is “Sex and the City,” where Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Fendi and the like all achieved household recognition. There were others, too, from Cher Horowitz’s red Alaïa (“A-whatta?”) mini dress in “Clueless” to a certain Prada backpack in “10 Things I Hate About You” that has elicited years-long searches amongst Millennial collectors who know the film line for line.
“We were featured on these amazing series that are representing the youth and culture of today. They are so relevant to today’s world,” said Muaddi, reflecting on these moments during her September cover shoot with FN, in a studio outside Paris. “It became very representative of what women want today. When moments like that are remembered, it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.”
It’s clear that Muaddi knows what women want, and it is likely a big reason why she has become her own pop culture force these days, with a powerhouse social media presence that rivals the celebs who wear her heels. She is, after all, the shoe designer to Rihanna (more on that later) and a creative bon vivant whose digital footprint showcases a carefully curated life, full of glamorous outfits, sexy parties, exotic vacations and beauty looks executed to perfection. Women want to buy her shoes — and they want to be her. The designer has effectively become the best face for her brand, a case study in the art of self-marketing that fashion creatives now know comes with the territory of helming a top position.
“Amina is designing for the modern-day women of the world,” said Jahleel Weaver, the stylist behind Rihanna, who has also become a frequent creative
collaborator of Muaddi’s. (The trio worked together to create Fenty’s short-lived but buzzy shoe line, which won FN’s Collaborator of the Year award in 2020). “Her intelligence, humor, drive and taste are all quickly apparent upon meeting her.”
Will Cooper, Saks Fifth Avenue’s SVP and GMM of women’s shoes, handbags and accessories, said, “Amina’s seasonal drops are some of the most sought-after in footwear, and the most popular styles are often fully preordered before the shipment even arrives. Her highly engaged community on social media is a big driver of this demand.”
The designer is only four years and change into a brand that has been the talk of fashion and footwear since it launched. This year alone, its global sales revenue will total 55 million euros, according to Muaddi. It’s a business that she is careful to protect, approaching it with perhaps even more precision than she does her image. The namesake line is her second go-around at building a footwear brand, and the designer is cautious not to repeat the mistakes of Oscar Tiye, the label she co-founded in 2013. After parting ways with her business partner and the brand in 2017, Muaddi regrouped, decamping from Milan to Paris to build something new, starting from scratch.
“I was so passionate, so I was willing to go through any hardship. There’s a reason why only so many people get to this point, because you get tested a lot. Many times I was close to giving up,” said Muaddi. “I had to part ways with my partner, with producers; I’ve had [orders] canceled. It’s not about what you go through, it’s how you survive the situation and how you thrive after it. It’s a never-ending lesson. Maybe now I don’t have the hardships I had in the beginning, but I have others. It’s a matter of navigating and continuing no matter what.”
The designer, now 36, is still doing things her way. She maintains the drop system she’s used since Mergers & Acquisitions, working with a small but powerful selection of retailers. Production is still intentionally limited, with no restocks. There are still no press previews or assets for copycats to pilfer — though fast fashion has managed to run through her martini heel with astounding proliferation. And while Muaddi recently opened a new showroom in Milan, the brand’s team stands at just 21 employees, not counting distribution — a sliver of the headcount of her luxury footwear competitors. It’s yet another reminder that below the gloss of Muaddi’s image is a scrappy work ethic.
Like anyone making things these days, Muaddi is also still facing supply chain issues and said that finding all of the components for her footwear, bags and jewelry has become more challenging, especially as she scales up. (the brand’s global revenue in 2022 so far totals While continuing to work with the Sergio Rossi factories, as well as one of Chanel’s manufacturers, the designer said she is now focused on staffing up but will do so slowly. “We are waiting to find the right people,” she said. “The structure has to be extremely solid in order to grow.”
By now, most designers would have happily accepted a major investor, perhaps a president or CEO to take over the business end of things. While Muaddi said she would consider taking on a seasoned executive in the future (“I am a creative director and also a businesswoman, but I know that you can’t do everything at the same time”), she is decidedly still the boss of her brand and protective of its — and her — independence.
“The other companies in this business are much bigger than ours, even though they might be perceived the same way,” she said. “Some have hundreds of employees. We are small, and people don’t see that on the outside. But that’s the point — to be taken as seriously as possible, to create the best product possible. We are just working on bettering what we have done so far.”
To do that, Muaddi said she tests all of her samples herself (despite being smaller than sample size, a 36), though she admits that some do not prioritize comfort. “I design the majority of the collection to be comfortable,” she said. “But some are supposed to be more sculptural.”
In the coming months, the designer will launch her own e-commerce, a move she hopes will help the brand understand its customer better. Though Muaddi said she has no immediate plans for opening for her own standalone brick-and-mortar shop just yet, her Milan showroom — designed as a shop for her buyers — will serve as something of a blueprint.
“Our business with Amina has grown at an astonishing pace and continues to do so every season,” said Helen David, chief merchant of luxury at Kurt Geiger, which operates the shoe departments at Harrods, Selfridges and other top stores. “You can always spot an Amina shoe — it’s a masterclass in subtle, elegant branding. Her shoes have achieved cult status whereby many of the styles never reach the floor, due to our waiting lists and customer demand.” David points to the Begum pump in clear plexi as the top item, a style that typically sells out within 72 hours of delivery.
That retail expansion also comes with a sizing up of brand image and marketing, though lately the point of view is more personal. Last month, the designer released the brand’s 2/22 drop with a series of images paying homage to her Arab heritage (Muaddi is of Jordanian-Romanian descent). Shot on location in Cairo, Egypt, by British-Egyptian photographer Dexter Navy with model Imaan Hammam, the campaign paired the glamour of Muaddi’s shoes, bags and jewels with a quotidien tableaux of life in the Egyptian city.
“It was very important for me to connect with my roots. I try to transmit a bigger message, whether it’s about femininity, power, confidence. In this case, I wanted the message to be about a part of my culture. And I wanted to shoot with a team that was almost entirely Arabic,” said Muaddi. “I love going back to the Middle East. I always feel like a part of me feels home there.”
The campaign was also a reminder that there is a broader image for the brand than Muaddi’s own face and social media status. While the designer said she does not feel pressure to keep up with the online image she has built, she also acknowledged its downsides.
“Social media can be filled with creativity, but also with negativity. I put up boundaries. I don’t really like to talk about myself, but I believe that sharing bits of my life that make me excited or happy or inspired is always nice. It’s important for your own health and sense of self to just take a break,” she said. “The brand is the brand and I am me. They have the same name but I don’t feel pressure. I’m still allowed to be a human being, even if I have a brand with my name.”
The designer found herself having to separate the personal and the brand when a false rumor circulated earlier this year connecting her with ASAP Rocky and Rihanna (both of whom have worked with her on shoe collaborations; he with his Awge label, she with Fenty). The designer responded to the rumors on social media, refuting the claims. “I have to speak up as this is not only directed towards me but it is related to people I have a great amount of respect and affection for,” she wrote.
The funhouse mirror nature of social media can also paint a picture of friendships that belies their true nature. While Muaddi is frequently seen in fabulous places with many of her fashion friends — on Ibiza trips with The Attico’s Giorgia Tordini and Gilda Ambrosio, at Simon Porte Jacquemus’ Provence wedding, or standing on the Spanish Steps with Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino’s Haute Couture show in Rome — the designer said there are often more serious conversations happening below the surface of those photo ops, and a prevailing sense of camaraderie over competition with her peers.
“It’s important to be surrounded by people who go through the same things that you go through. It’s easier to talk about your struggles,” she said. “I just like fashion. How boring would it be if I only liked what I do? I would never get inspired.”
That community also extends to the women in footwear who have paved the way for the designer. “It’s still a male-dominated industry, not just in footwear but also fashion. You still see that at the helm of most houses are men,” Muaddi said. “But we’ve also had some women designers who have inspired me, like Charlotte Olympia or Tamara Mellon. I was happy to see that growing up. Because as a woman, it shows you that there is room for you there. In my case, being a woman, being a minority, I’m happy to be an example for future generations.” ❚