As soon as the temperatures creep above 60 degrees, New Yorkers forget about their sock drawers for three months and dust off their long-forgotten sandals. After an endless winter of heavy boots, it’s liberating to hit the pavement in breezy slides or barely there gladiators—you literally feel lighter. That is, until you realize there’s only a paper-thin strip of leather between your feet and the dirty sidewalk (and dirtier subway floor). A few hours later, your new strappy sandals are giving you your first blister of the season, and after a particularly long walk, your back is starting to ache. For serious sandal lovers, this is all par for the course—particularly if you aren’t the type to wear sneakers with your day dresses and slip skirts. But why suffer?
Longtime stylist Anita Patrickson wasn’t willing to give up her beloved sandals, but she couldn’t find a pair that met her exacting standards: elegant, comfortable, high-quality, and reasonably priced. So she introduced a radically simple solution last summer: Amanu, a showroom-workshop in Los Angeles where trained craftsmen and women make custom sandals by hand on the spot. Patrickson was loosely inspired by the sandal shops she discovered on vacation in Capri, Italy, where you can have a pair made to measure for the price of dinner. Amanu is essentially a slightly more upscale, luxurious version of those seaside shops, with silhouettes and textures informed by Patrickson’s career in fashion: She’s married a handful of timeless styles (like gladiators and double-strap slides) with of-the-moment colors and textures, including some richer materials you might not expect in a sandal, like velvet and calf hair, which are ideal for evening and cooler climates.
As a lifelong sandal obsessive, I’ve been following Amanu since its launch, but have yet to make it to L.A. to try it in person. Lucky for me, Patrickson is taking her workshop on the road and opening a pop-up in Cuyana’s Nolita store tomorrow. During a preview this morning, Patrickson and Cuyana cofounder Shilpa Shah (who discovered Amanu on a recent trip to the West Coast) helped guests design their sandals by wrapping strips of leather around their ankles while a duo of craftsmen got to work hand-fitting them to our feet. The technique is as old-school as it gets: They mark the places where the straps should be joined to the footbed, then make precise micro-adjustments to account for how the leather will move and stretch as you walk. When each detail looks and feels right, the straps get hammered into place with tiny silver nails, and Patrickson gives each pair a final “tug test” to make sure nothing comes loose. Thirty minutes later, you walk out (comfortably!) with one-of-a-kind, perfect-for-you sandals—no breaking in (or Band-Aids) necessary.
Even better, you can feel good about your purchase: Since each pair is custom-made using only the exact amount of leather needed, there’s zero waste. “We have no real inventory, so it’s not like we end up with a ton of shoes we didn’t sell at the end of a season,” Patrickson adds. They’re built to last, too: With a lightly cushioned footbed and delicate, yet non-flimsy straps, my finished sandals—a mix of olive leather and leopard calf hair, not that you asked!—feel a lot more substantial than the cheap, fragile slides I lived in last summer. To get yours in time for Memorial Day weekend, stop by Cuyana at 29 Prince Street; Amanu’s pop-up will be operating in the front of the store for the next three weeks, with prices starting at $245. (If you aren’t in New York City, Cuyana is also selling a few pre-made Amanu sandals on its website.)