Q & A With Shoe Designer Jessica Taft Langdon

An East Coast native, now living and working in LA, Jessica Taft Langdon, is apart of the Beklina team. She directed her own brand for 6 years, The Palatines, and is a shoe expert. Jessica, along side Angelina, Beklina founder, work together to create a number of shoe and bag designs currently in the shop. Curious to to know more about Jessica, see below...

Alexis: What do you collect?

Jessica: Mostly shoes! I keep an archive in my studio of reference shoes from a variety of eras and styles, mostly shoes that I find iconic, or inspiring. Though sometimes I add something that has an unusual technique or something that’s (usually old) and unusual. I love looking at the way that shoe making has evolved over time, or depending on where in the world the shoes are made. I love being reminded of a very specific trend from years ago, or of a tiny label that I discovered as I was just starting my career, that was a specific inspiration for my commitment to the craft.

Where are you from and does it have any impact on your design work today?

I grew up in & around the Philadelphia area. I’m not sure that my hometown really influenced too much of my aesthetic or professional approach. I grew up with parents who were involved in and passionate about art and design, generally speaking, so a commitment to quality and aesthetics as a choice are something that I’ve always had in my mind. I’ve tended to live in cities throughout my life, and the utility that is necessary from a pair of shoes that are worn as one’s primary means of transportation is something that I think about a whole lot. I’m inspired by big cities. I love that in them we have access to seeing so many diverse realities of life, but also can maintain a real anonymity within a crowd. 

Are there other influences in your life that you feel affect your current work?

I studied ballet quite seriously from the ages of 5-16. Looking back on that experience, I realize that it helped shape the way I approach art, aesthetic, and self expression, all of which were taught to me through a really specific set of technical requirements. 

As a designer, this is really how I usually approach making a product. Shoes are great, because they have so many requirements to consider - the fit, the function, and specific way each pair need to be made. I can’t untangle the process of design and the process of making shoes. Whenever I’m sketching, I’m thinking about how what I’m drawing will be made. It’s because of these rules and guidelines that I know whether my work is successful or not.

Bags have been a bit more of a puzzle for me as a designer. I don’t have nearly as much experience working on them as I do shoes. For years, they seemed too open, too amorphous, and there weren’t as many hard & fast requirements and rules to designing a bag. I’ve come to recently realize that as a designer, I can set the requirements of function, and create the rules! I’m really enjoying working on bags again, after a long hiatus. I think it’s because it’s really flipped my approach, from what I’m used to, working on shoes. It’s a way of breaking the training that I was so committed to as a kid, and also as a younger designer!

How did your design journey get started, did you always think that you were going to do this? Or did something shift for you along the way to send you in this direction?

I was always obsessed with shoes, since I was a little kid. It never occurred to me that designing them was something that you could do as a job, until after I finished my undergraduate degree. Up to that point, I thought I’d be a dancer, seriously considered photography, and then had a serious case of post-undergrad malaise, when I realized that the right career had not made itself known to me quite yet.

Not too long afterward, though, I literally sat up in bed one morning with the clear idea that I would design shoes. I had no idea how to go about making that happen, though! It took me quite a few years of working in footwear retail, getting another degree, and some training in Italy, before I actually started working as a designer. But really, since that morning, I really have known what I wanted, and found the right path to train for it.

What are you currently obsessed with right now, it can be a song, a movie, a food item, a style, anything?

Bollywood & Indian (subcontinental) music! I’m definitely a neophyte, but I just rediscovered the soundtrack and then re-watched the movie Monsoon Wedding. The level of emotion and energy in storytelling, visual aesthetic and music are really hitting a good nerve for me right now.

I’m writing this in week 8 of quarantine, and I’m finding that the things I’m drawn to, and that get me excited right now are things that are quite intense. I want spicy and really flavorful food, any music that I listen to should be loud, and any love stories should be the most romantic. Obviously Bollywood ticks all of those boxes!

A friend from Pakistan recently sent me her Bollywood play list, as well as a couple of other albums and films recommendations, so I’m really enjoying immersing myself in them.

Are you keeping a routine during quarantine?

I am for now. In the first couple of days, I realized pretty quickly I’d need one to avoid losing all perspective. I’m a pretty schedule-oriented person to begin with, so it helped a lot to settle into a routine.

But starting around week 4 or 5, I realized that my routine was starting to feel like a burden. So, I still stick to my Monday - Friday one pretty happily, but I’m really trying to shake up the weekends as much as I can, to feel a sense of release! I’m having to get creative about it, but so far it’s working pretty well.

How long have you been working for Beklina? And what's it like to work with Angelina?

It’s been just about ten months! We started working on the new Beklina shoes and bags styles that have been, and will continue to be, released on the site for spring/summer. Angelina did such good things with the clogs that she’d made before I joined, that we decided to focus on some different types of shoes that hadn’t been done for the brand yet. It’s been really fun and rewarding to work with Angelina to learn more about the background and inspiration of Beklina, and also learn more about what the products mean to the women that wear them.

Working with Angelina is honestly really great; we have a similar approach to the idea that the product we make should be really personal, really expressive, and provide an emotional connection. And in almost every other way, we tend to look at things differently! I’m very scheduled, a little anxious about deadlines, and a little bit of a control freak. Angelina has a calmness and thoughtfulness about the way that she approaches making things that is really nice for me. I’ll definitely do my best to make sure everything runs efficiently and smoothly, but it’s nice have a constant reminder that we can take our time a little bit, to make sure that what we’re doing feels right.

How do you differ and how do you compliment each other?

In addition to the above, I love that we have completely different experiences with getting into making products. Angelina started Beklina with a background in art, an interest in textiles, and some tech knowledge that allowed her to be successful early in the online boutique space. I come totally from a fashion background, having worked for large and small brands in NYC before moving to California. We both really appreciate the benefits of the other’s experience. I know the way that things are “normally done”, but it’s really nice to work in an environment where we can question that, and make good decisions, without just following the way others have done things in the past.

Honestly, in all of the above , I’m the nerd, and Angelina is the cool, calm and chill one. I’ve literally never seen her stressed. The reverse cannot be said!

What's something from the spring collection that you can't get enough of…

I honestly feel so good about all of the styles that we’ve done, and there are more to come!

If you’re making me choose though, I can’t pick one. 

I’m particularly enamored of the Fringe Bag. It was the very first bag I’ve done in a while, and it’s just so cute, and not like anything I’ve seen.

The Travel Sandal is a straightforward style that Angelina and I talked a ton about, and considered from every possible angle, as we worked on it. We wanted a basic, reliable, super comfy footbed sandal that didn’t feel too boring, too simple, or like a lot of the other styles that exist. I’m really really proud of how it turned out, and also of the fact that we were able to produce this style in Los Angeles!

And last but not least, the Pieced Flats. They're just cool. It’s super comfortable, and has a ton of padding under the foot. Not that I’ve traveled anywhere since I’ve owned the above two styles, but both of them will be packed for my next trip! Which I’m very much looking forward to, when it’s safe!

Jessica's Bollywood playlist can be found here.

And all the Beklina shoes here.