Former Titan design director Eric Rutberg reveals a bold, eponymous collection.
After more than two decades of designing shoes for everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Gwen Stefani to Betsey Johnson, when Eric Rutberg decided to launch his own line, the collection’s moniker was, well, transparent. “When I decided to open a label under my own name, I wanted all of it to be transparent, as a person and a company,” explains Rutberg, who created shoes for Bebe, LAMB and Badgley Mischka, before launching his Spring ’12 women’s collection, Eric Rutberg Transparent. “It is refreshing to just be me,” he says. “I get to nurture my personal vision with an intense focus and the utmost creativity.”
Fittingly, Rutberg describes his target customer as similarly self-aware. “She may not know exactly what she’s going to wear with the shoes, but she knows at the end of the day that her aesthetic is really fine-tuned and it works.” Rutberg calls his collection “aggressively feminine shoes,” noting, “even when they’re tailored, they’re strong.” Inspired by the designer’s lifelong obsession with all things mid-century American, the collection’s stacked platform wedges and heels, rich embellishment, graphic colorblocking and saturated color palette aren’t for the demure. “The women I respond to and that respond to my work are strong and opinionated,” he notes. “No one buys it because it’s a safe, little black pump.”
Rutberg was immersed in the shoe industry at an early age: His grandfather owned Prague’s, a shoe store in central Connecticut that was later replicated throughout the Northeast when his mother and uncle opened branches in their hometowns. Rutberg, however, was lured out west by the mid-century design movement sweeping California. The move led to an assistant buying job at iconic high-fashion chain I. Magnin & Co., and eventually to design director at Titan Industries, where Rutberg enjoyed crafting shoes that were an exact reflection of what his celebrity clients were seeking. “I always want to do other people’s shoes, because I like getting into other people’s heads,” he muses.
For his own collection, with retail price points ranging from $190 for flats to $290 for dress shoes, Rutberg was inspired by the casual coolness of designer Lilly Pulitzer in her heyday, as well as George Nelson and George Nakashima’s stark modernist furniture, which Rutberg collects. The line, he reports, was well-received at the summer trade shows, and picked up by both Neiman Marcus and Fred Segal. “People would say, ‘We never saw anything like this,’ and I thought that was exactly what we wanted people to say,” Rutberg says. “And the orders proved that we were correct.” —Audrey Goodson