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Brand to Know: A Minimalist Shoe Line, Inspired by Orchids

By Natalie Rigg

 
 

This August, the designer Alan Buanne is travelling to Peru with an unlikely mission: to see some of the country’s most rarefied orchids. The flower serves as one of the principal inspirations behind Neous, the shoe label he founded in London in 2015 with his longtime friend, the fashion stylist Vanissa Antonious. “There’s a fascinating simplicity to orchids that I find so beautiful,” says Buanne, whose father and grandfather both competitively bred the bloom. “Now, of course, they are a shared passion,” Antonious adds.

The duo, who first met in their native Sydney over a decade ago while working in retail, articulate this influence in a discreet and sparing manner. “You would never guess from looking,” Antonious continues, “but the evidence is there, from a specific combination of colours to the curvature of a toecap.” Fittingly, each pair of shoes carries a covert moniker — from “Phaius” to “Pleoine” — in homage to the variety of orchid it was named after.

 

But despite this inspiration, there isn’t a flower anywhere in sight. Buanne describes the label’s aesthetic as “minimal in the truest sense of the word, making something appear utterly simple despite that not being the case at all.” Adds Antonious: “To me, it’s that feeling you get when you see something — be it a piece of art or a piece of fine jewellery — that is completely perfect, nothing needs to be added or removed. We want to recreate that same feeling with our shoes.”

The founders say they were acutely aware of what they wanted to achieve from the outset. “We noticed there was a distinct lack of simple, modern shoes that were exceptionally crafted at a contemporary price point,” Antonious says. (The shoes range in price from US$350 to US$700). After working as the market editor for Harper’s Bazaar in both Australia and London, she acquired an expansive knowledge of the luxury market, with a particular focus on accessories.

 

That skill set provided the ideal complement to Buanne’s background: He studied footwear design at Polimoda University in Florence and trained as a traditional shoe artisan, crafting bespoke brogues. After graduating, he relocated to London to work at the British footwear label Nicholas Kirkwood for five years, before consulting for brands such as Peter Pilotto and Sophia Webster.

“Even before we started Neous, we were always discussing concepts and ideas, so that’s the way we’ve continued to collaborate,” Buanne says. Though they work separately most of the time, they describe their design process as fluid and organic. “I think it’s rare for two people to be both designing and putting pen to paper,” Antonious explains, “but we do just that, there is a constant dialogue. That’s even reflected in the name of our brand, which melds both of our surnames.”

 

The pair also applies the oft-quoted principals of Bauhaus to the label’s designs, which is apparent in their signature use of square heels and spartan adornments. For prefall 2017, however, they explored the notion of duality. “We liked the idea of finding opposition between different elements, from tone and texture, to nature and the diversity between orchids,” Buanne says.

What followed is a delightfully unconventional lineup of simple, standout pieces, all crafted in Italy. A white leather ankle boot is elevated by a red cuboid heel; suede and leather monochrome mules appear elegant but sturdy, with a 60-millimetre triangular heel. Supple backless suede loafers come adorned with a prominent gold circle — a recurring motif that first appeared in Neous’s debut spring/summer 2017 collection. “That ring alone took six months to construct, because it’s actually curved when it sits on the foot and is therefore an oval,” Antonious says.

The same amount of attention was poured into a pin-thin white heel cap which, the two assert, adds “a graphic lightness.” In just two seasons, the shoes have been picked up by a neat roster of luxury stockists including Browns Fashion, Need Supply and Net-A-Porter. But for now, they’re keen to just enjoy the moment. “We’re focused on really getting to know our woman,” Buanne says. “When we’re not out scouring the world for orchids, of course.”