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Sexy Brazilian Brand Carmen Steffens Hoofs it to Hollywood

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Photos via Elizabeth Daniels, 07/31/12

Carmen Steffens may not be a household name in the US, but the Brazilian shoe and handbag brand is planning to change that. They've just opened the very first West Coast Carmen Steffens boutique at the Hollywood & Highland Center (it is their first real US flagship, though they do have a small location in Conneticut). The brand, which has a huge following in its native Brazil and around the world, is also beloved in Hollywood by women like Eva Longoria, Maria Menounos, Jordana Brewster, Rebecca Romijn and Nikki Reed. We spoke with Mark Willingham, the pres of Carmen Steffens' US operations, about how Brazilian fashion compares with Los Angeles style, the appeal of Hollywood and what women want out of a pair of shoes.

What made you choose LA?
"We believe that fashion-wise, it has a huge influence around the world. Our brand resonates very well in a place like Los Angeles. Our DNA comes from Brazil, we're a Brazilian brand, and so warm climates are kind of in our blood and our designs are very reflective of that."

Is there an overlap between Brazilian fashion and LA fashion?
"Someone asked me who our customer is. I say it's someone who is very confident and doesn't mind being noticed. And I think that's very reflective of a lot of the nightlife and fashion-forward women in the Los Angeles area. We utilize color but we do it in a very tasteful way. We're very sexy but we're not overtly sexy. We're Brazilian."

Is the mix of merchandise in the Hollywood store unique to LA?
"We're really unique as a brand along those lines. We're a vertical company so we own a leather tannery. It's one of the largest leather tanneries in South America. We design everything in-house and we produce all of our products. We have about 2,500 employees at our headquarters in São Paulo and for every single collection we have about 2,500 SKUs, which is a really large number of products for a fashion brand. And we do that for the exact reason you just mentioned. We actually customize the buys for each store. We will very much tailor the products we bring into the store based upon the fashion sense here."

What's the price point?
"Our price range is between $90 and $1,500. It's really a broad range. Our average price for a pair of shoes is about $330. So it's within reach of most consumers. I would equate it to a Mercedes. You can buy a C series Mercedes or you can buy a $500,000 Mercedes and either way, you know you are getting a Mercedes."

How did you pick the location in LA?
"Los Angeles is so broad, there's so many different places you can go and they all address different parts of the market. We're so big internationally and there are a lot of tourists in this area but there are also a lot of locals. And we know based on the consumers that have been shopping our brand that this is kind of a central location."

Since the brand is so new to the US, what else should shoppers know about Carmen Steffens?
"I mentioned that we buy according to the needs of each market. In doing so, we're able to really limit the number of products that we bring in—we're not producing like 10,000 products at a time of any particular SKU. A store might say, we want this shoe. And they might bring in 12 or 18 of that shoe and that might be the only 12 or 18 of that shoe in the entire United States. And that shoe may only be $330 yet the woman who buys it knows that no one else will have it. Which is nice. It's very exclusive, at a price point that's very reasonable for that type of exclusivity.

We've got a huge celebrity following. Two of the reason's I'm always told [for that] are one, that no one else has them and two, that they're just really comfortable. And I know that it's kind of an oxymoron to talk about high fashion and comfort in the same sentence sometimes. People say that they'll suffer for their shoes and we don't believe you have to. I remember that Eva Longoria told me that when she was in Spain a couple years ago she had a pair of Carmen Steffens with her and it was the only pair of shoes that she was able to wear for two or three weeks straight, walking around the city. She couldn't wear any of the other shoes she brought with her.

I'm really careful when I bring [the comfort factor] up because we're not comfort shoes, but we are comfortable shoes."

Are more North American stores in the works?
"Yes. We have very aggressive outlook and strategy for the US market. We now have over 200 stores and we're in 16 countries. And the US we consider to be a major market for our brand and we are looking very closely at a lot of cities, specifically Los Angeles, New York, the Miami area and Atlanta. So the answer is yes, very much so."
· Carmen Steffens [Official Site]