Maryam and Marjan Malakpour bring soles and soul to L.A.'s fashion scene
By Melissa Magsaysay
Nov 03, 2017 | 11:00 AM
A look at women fashion designers in Los Angeles.
Sisters Maryam and Marjan Malakpour are accessories designers and power stylists (Maryam, 49, has styled members of the Rolling Stones and Heidi Klum, while Marjan, 51, has worked with Shakira and Demi Lovato.) The duo launched footwear and accessories brand Newbark in 2009 with an alternative to the ballet flat, a Middle Eastern babouche-inspired soft slipper that could be stowed easily in a work bag and move seamlessly from the office to travel or leisure. (Newbark selections range from $295 to $695.) Several styles of Newbark bags came next as did a spot as a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist in 2016 as well as a collaboration with fashion brand Theory earlier this year.
Why They Matter
When Newbark launched eight years ago, sky-high stilettos with a platform footbed from brands such as Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo led footwear trends. The Malakpours bet on flat shoes with an androgynous aesthetic, placing them on clients and themselves with fishnets and socks or worn with just about anything everyone had previously been pairing with platform heels. (Keith Richards has worn several of the sisters’ slip-on styles, and Newbark launched a men’s collection for fall.)
Several years later, flat and practical shoes such as Adidas Stan Smith, Nike Cortez, Birkenstock clogs, Gucci loafers and mules of all types have brought fashion down to earth, and the styles are being worn with maxi dresses, wide-leg jeans and gowns. Newbark continues to produce all of its shoes in Los Angeles, working with manufacturers who make most of the styles by hand.
Newbark’s Melanie loafers and Yasmin shearling slides stand out as unique among a sea of Gucci mules and loafers popular for the past several seasons.
In 2009, sisters Maryam and Marjan Malakpour started their luxury footwear and accessories brand Newbark with a Middle Eastern babouche-inspired soft slipper that could go from the office to travel or leisure. Since then, Newbark, a 2016 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, has added other women's shoe styles as well as wallets and pouches and men's footwear selections and had a collaboration with fashion brand Theory.
In The Studio
“L.A. was mostly denim and T-shirts when we started. So to have a luxury brand like Newbark come out of L.A. and be produced here kind of opened up a lot of eyes,” says Maryam about the majority of brands coming out of Los Angeles at the time.
From the look of their Hollywood studio, strewn with black-and-white Newbark shoe boxes ready to be shipped and mood boards peppered with images of Mick Jagger, ’70s supermodels and classic jazz shoe silhouettes, it’s clear that there is a rock ’n’ roll element that informs everything the Malakpour sisters touch.
They have added a classic rock vibe to L.A.’s denim-and-T-shirt culture where now it’s cropped jeans worn with a vintage T-shirt and cognac eel-skin Newbark loafers favored by celebrities and fashion insiders.
Althought flat shoes are having their moment now, it was Natalie Massenet, Net-a-Porter founder and co-chairman of Farfetch, who championed Newbark early on.
“I was in Paris for fashion week and literally had the shoes in a little duffel bag. I didn’t realize who she was at the time, but Natalie came up to me and said, “Hi, how are you? We used to work together in L.A.,’” Maryam says. “The next thing you know, we’re all sitting together at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, and a friend of mine urged me to show Natalie the shoes. I explained to her what we were doing. She loved the whole thing. So the next day I went and met the whole team, which were all women. She launched us with the first order of 500 pairs. Our little artisan shoemaker and a few people helping him in downtown L.A. did the entire first order by hand.”