When is comes to style, some people just have IT—capital I, capital T. The Malakpour sisters are among this elite group. Iran-born, Los Angeles-based Marjan and Maryam Malakpour both got their entrée into the fashion world working as stylists, putting their signature globally-influenced, rock-and-roll-tinged spin on looks for everyone from The Rolling Stones to Courtney Cox. So it’s little wonder that when they channeled their creative energy into launching Newbark—their collection of stunning comfort-focused footwear—it was an instant success among both the entertainment industry notables and everyday stylish women alike, garnering the brand a place among the 10 finalists in this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
The chic duo recently welcomed us into Maryam’s Laurel Canyon home—though it may be more apt to use Marjan’s phrase of ‘compound,’ since the whole Malakpour family occupies neighboring homes—to show off both their personal aesthetics and the latest styles from the Newbark collection. Scroll on to take a look at how these stylish women live, then head to Barneys to check out how gorgeous comfortable shoes can be.
The Window: How would you describe the overall aesthetic of Newbark?
Maryam: The Newbark woman is chic but effortless. She’s a jetsetter with a touch of a rock and roll twist. She’s following her own path, and she’s a laissez-faire type of woman with great taste.
Marjan: She definitely has a cool edge. Our woman is multifaceted and wears many hats throughout the day. From first thing in the morning when she’s dropping her kids off at school, she’ll wear that same outfit and the same shoes to meetings or lunch, to her studio or whatever her profession. She’s on the go all the way to dinner at Chateau Marmont, but always with her cool, individual personal style, which is maybe a little sophisticated.
The core of the collection really started with your flats—what makes them so special?
Marjan: People do ask what sets us apart from all the other loafers on the market, and really it’s the fact that every piece is created from a stylist’s point of view. We think of the woman wearing the shoes: what does she do during the day, what kind of lifestyle does she have? It’s based on real women that we know, whether they’re our clients, relatives, or friends. We draw from every walk of life.
Maryam: Since we’re both stylists, we’re much more consumer-driven than a lot of people. We’re out there shopping for clients or for projects or doing market for editorial shoots, so we have access to a lot of product and know what’s missing from the market.
Well being stylists, you have to channel a lot of different people’s personal styles. Does that come into play when designing the collection?
Maryam: Absolutely. We’re always listening to what clients are looking for. One of my clients was saying that with a certain look, the loafer I’d pulled was too masculine and she was looking for something more delicate, so we created the Liza loafer, a style whose heritage is based on a Belgian loafer. It’s very refined and much more modern and cleaner than more masculine styles. We can easily identify that missing gap and then say ‘let’s make that!’
Marjan: It even extends to color ways. I had a client who said she’d love to have a boot in python, so we just made it. It’s nice that we’re so directly in touch with our clients, because we get to hear those voices and hopefully accommodate what they’re asking for.
It’s interesting to here you reference a Belgian loafer, since you’ve also said that the very first style you guys created was a mash-up of a Moroccan babouche slipper, an English gentleman’s slipper, and something you’d find at a Japanese spa. Where does this incredibly wide worldview come from?
Maryam: It comes from our background. Both Marjan and I were born in Iran and came to America at the beginning of the revolution there in the late ‘70s. But we brought with us very big memories of our childhood in Iran: very colorful, beautiful, elegant, chic memories. And what we left behind also came with us.
Marjan: In Iran, there’s a traditional shoe called a giveh, and that became part of the influence. You’d walk into the bazaar and see guys literally sitting there making these shoes by hand. It’s funny because, when we first launched, we weren’t even consciously referencing that. It just came about naturally—it’s just a part of who we are.
Maryam: But that global influence and taking all these different traditions and incorporating them, it’s a result of really being nomads and global travelers.
Marjan: And as you said, there’s that English gentleman thrown into the mix that lends a sophistication, but there’s also a certain vibe of English rock and roll.
As the brand has grown beyond loafers and flats into boots and wedges, how has it both evolved and stayed consistent?
Maryam: The core of our brand is shoes that are the most comfortable you’ve ever worn—shoes that are there for you when your dogs are barking (laughs). That’s where the name Newbark comes from—from that American Southern slang for your feet hurting.
Marjan: We’re definitely about comfort. We do a lot of research and work technically with the factory to ensure that you never have to worry about getting blisters from our loafers, even the first time you wear them, and you don’t have to break to them in. The design elements and the chic aesthetic are there, but the comfort comes first.
Maryam: There was a turning point that led to introducing boots, though, and it really was a response to fashion, a styling need. With so many great slouchy trousers out there, you sometimes need that height, so it became about how to create that in our own way and retain our brand DNA. So we introduced the wedge, but it took about three seasons to get it right. We weren’t even selling them—we wore them ourselves to test them. We had to make adjustments to get them right, but now the pitch of the shoe is perfect so that even though you’re on a wedge, they still feel like a flat.
Marjan: Another key is that our styles really are not trendy at all. We don’t think about what the trends will be for next season. We try to embrace a kind of timelessness with styles that are classic but with a cool edge. Nothing ‘fashion’ or trendy.
Also at the core of the collection is the fact that all your pieces are made here in Los Angeles. Why’s that so important to you?
Marjan: We live here, so it’s part of our lifestyle. It’s a new era of manufacturing here in Los Angeles. For the longest time, people only thought of denim and t-shirts coming out of L.A., so for us to be a part of this wave of luxury goods and this kind of global movement makes us proud.
Maryam: There are a lot of eyes on the manufacturing scene in Los Angeles right now, and more and more people are joining the pack of making things here. We wanted there to be that community here and to be supportive to where we live.
Marjan: And it’s much easier than going back and forth to Italy! We can just get in the car and go to our factory.
Maryam: And the factory itself is very, very impressive. The owner used to have a factory in Florence and he basically moved the whole factory here. The workmanship is just incredible.
Marjan: We hope that more and more people start manufacturing this way and make it a bigger thing. That’s what’s important: creating a local community, local work. There used to be a point where people wouldn’t touch the shoes if they weren’t made in Italy, but now people see that the same quality can be made here in L.A. It’s cool to see people get exposed to that.