After falling in love in 1979 at a shoe fair, Sam and Libby Edelman joined forces to make footwear history. In 1987, they launched their iconic bow flat, which, 25 years later, remains a wardrobe staple for young women everywhere. In 2013, the duo thrilled their fans with exciting new fabrics, jewels and colors for an exclusive Sam & Libby line at Target.
We caught up with the sole mates on this important milestone to hear how the rise and reign of the Sam & Libby flat has changed their lives, what they’ve learned from the experience and what it’s like to create an iconic fashion item.
Over the years, Sam & Libby has released hundreds of iterations of the bow flat. What was the original inspiration for the shoe?
Sam: The Sam & Libby bow ballet flat is one of the great iconic shoes in the world, like the Christian Louboutin open toe pump and the Gucci loafer. It was inspired by street fashion and by a photo of Brigitte Bardot, one of the greatest movie stars of all time, in St. Tropez.
The ballet flat itself emerged in France from Repetto–the great dancing shoes. When we embellished the Sam & Libby version with a bow it resonated with the American woman. All shoes, all fashion comes from the runways of Milan and Paris and London and New York.
What did the bow flat do for fashion 25 years ago? And what statement did it make? What is it doing for fashion now? What statement is it going to make?
Sam: The bow ballet only changed fashion in one way. Americans never really understood the ballet shoe, and by putting the bow on it we made it so that the American woman could fall in love with it. The shoe was already very important in Europe with just a string tie but by putting the bow on it, we introduced it to the American public. Did it make a statement? Sure, it made a statement. Everyone wants to feel like Bridget Bardot running on the rocks in St. Tropez. There’s a femininity about this shoe, even though it’s flat. What’s it doing for fashion now? The bow ballet is timeless. It works with fashion from season to season. It always makes a statement about femininity. It makes a statement about Audrey Hepburn, Bridget Bardot and it makes a statement about runways, runway shows. The ballet will never go away. It makes a statement about life.
How do you feel knowing that the longtime brand of Sam & Libby continues to build and live on at Target, reaching new generations and guests?
Libby: The Sam & Libby brand is a very emotional thing for a lot of people. They remember growing up, bringing their moms to buy it for them, they remember special moments when they wore it. We’ve had a lot of emotional responses. And I think it’s exciting for the new generation to discover it on their own.
Twenty-five years since the Sam & Libby launch, what are you most grateful for of the experience?
Sam: The bow ballet changed our lives. It took the Sam & Libby name and made it a national and worldwide brand. It allowed us to achieve great success and the foundation to build companies that have given young people wonderful opportunities to grow and learn.
What makes the bow flat timeless? Why has it lasted for 25 years?
Sam: This is the great metaphysical question that relates to footwear. What is it about footwear that makes someone love it? There is some quality that you almost can’t explain. Women love certain things. What is it about a peasant shirt, a pleated skirt, a trench coat and a great fitting pair of jeans? The bow ballet fits into that genre as something that has that je ne sais quoiquality that women love.
Libby: And sometimes you can’t describe what it is, it’s an emotional reaction. And actually I think that it’s a shoe that sort of speaks to you when you see it on display because of the flirtiness of the bow and the colors, and I think that you feel different when you wear it—and maybe that’s what shoes do in general.
Where have you found new inspiration for the bow flat updates over the years?
Sam: We get inspiration for all of our footwear every day and all of our accessories and ready to wear and everything we do from fashion trends. If we believe in polka dots, we’re going to do polka dots. If we believe in animal we’re going to do it in an animal. So we are trend experts, we are designers and we look to the world for insights and direction and if it’s the 4th of July we’re going to make the ballet in red, white and blue.
Libby: If jewels are important we’re going to put jewels on it. We always put the fashion trends in the shoes.
Flats and low heels have been having a fashion moment. Why do you think they've come back into style?
Libby: You should always have a ballet flat in your life. It’s something that you can wear with anything in your wardrobe, and also something you can put in your bag and switch out at a moment’s notice if you realize you have to do a lot of walking. And it’s still feminine and looks good with whatever you have on. So, you almost can’t leave home without wearing it or putting it in your bag for later.
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