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The Margot pumps feature a 2.5-inch triangular heel.

Passion Play

Ayelet Lax Levy, founder of Ayelet by Naot, takes heeled comfort to the next level.

Ayelet Lax Levy, founder of Ayelet by Naot.
Ayelet Lax Levy, founder of Ayelet by Naot.

The idea of couture comfort in heeled styles has been simmering in Ayelet Lax Levy’s mind for decades. In fact, 20 years ago when Lax Levy was attending footwear design school in England, she developed a prototype line. But the idea went on the back burner after she joined Yaleet, U.S. distributors of Naot, then managed by her father, Steve Lax. Success got in the way. She rose through the ranks and, since 2019, has served as Naot’s President of U.S. Operations. Still, that original idea kept percolating. Lax Levy decided to go for it with the Fall/Winter ’24 launch of Ayelet by Naot, a fusing of the Israeli brand’s comfort aspects with high-end Italian craftsmanship and materials.

She believes the timing for her new line is ideal. “Women learned to embrace comfort during the pandemic, but now they’re wanting to dress up more,” she says. “They’re looking for the perfect shoe that combines both style and comfort, and I believe you shouldn’t have to give up one for the other.”

It starts with an old-world sacchetto construction, which offers a fit like fine leather gloves, Lax Levy says. Layered onto that are insoles featuring advanced materials and constructions found in many Naot styles. That includes breathable padding for enhanced heel support and shock absorption, arch support, and extra padding under the ball of the foot. Last but not least: all-weather ABS heels combined with TPU outsoles that are lightweight, flexible, and durable. Then there are the luxe finishing touches. That includes hand-selected materials and matching jeweled embellishments on the heel cups, zippers, and buckles. “It’s all about quiet luxury, which is classic, subtle design,” Lax Levy says. “Each heel, for example, matches in color to the upper. Every detail has been taken into consideration.” Indeed, it’s a blend of the best of both worlds. “We incorporated the knowledge of comfort from our Naot development team with our Italian team’s knowledge of craftsmanship and materials to create an ultimate luxury comfort feel,” she says. “It’s a unique level of comfort, and truly the perfect shoes.”

Just ask the women working for Naot, which Lax Levy describes as a tough crowd to please. “These women wear Naot all day, so their feet are pampered,” she says. “To get the look of a luxury fashion heel that also passed the comfort test was not an easy task. But our team made it happen.” Lax Levy includes herself in that test group. “My feet have been pampered by Naot comfort for as long as I can remember,” she says. “Putting on any other shoes has been subpar, especially dress heels. Not anymore.”

Ayelet by Naot received a similar positive response from consumers during a try-on preview at select stores. “Despite knowing the delivery would take a few months, lots of the consumers, mostly women in the 40s, pre-purchased shoes on the spot,” she reports, adding, “There’s this ‘wow’ moment when women realize they can get the look they want with the comfort they didn’t know was possible.”

Lax Levy describes the debut collection as very classic. “We created a core line that we’ll build around—styles that can take you from day to evening,” she says. “For example, I recently wore our Margot pointed-toe pump with a 2.5-inch triangular heel in black classic suede with a pair of jeans during the day and then paired it with a black-tie dress for a wedding that same night.” Going forward, Lax Levy says the Spring/Summer ’25 line will expand to a wider assortment of styles, including some more “pizazz and sparkle,” along with some new heel heights.

The Margot pumps feature a 2.5-inch triangular heel.
The Margot pumps feature a 2.5-inch triangular heel.

For something that took 20 or so years to come to fruition, Lax Levy is content to be patient. She is aiming for sustainable growth, which is how Naot became a cornerstone comfort brand in the U.S. “We want to crawl, walk, run,” she says. “Start small and build gradually. I believe this brand will foster a passionate and loyal fan base.”

What might a woman’s design perspective bring to Ayelet by Naot? Well, most of the designers of heel styles are men. In fact, I had a friend attend the MICAM show with me recently and she asked why is it that so many middle-age men make the decisions on women’s shoes? Having grown up in the industry, I’d never questioned it before. It’s just how it was. But her simple observation stuck with me. So having a team made up of multiple women allows us to bring a perspective not only from the design and manufacturing sides, but also from the consumer side. We know what we want, need, and love.

On that note, do you have a favorite style in the collection? While all our shoes are beautiful, I’ve been wearing the Margot pumps and Robin ankle booties often. I’ve been stopped on the street several times and asked where they can get these shoes. I can’t tell you how good that feels.

Who is the Ayelet by Naot woman? Someone who’s not willing to compromise. Her age spans from 35 to 70. She may have meetings at work, or is attending social events, and wants to wear an elegant, but comfortable, heel style. She’s also looking for shoes that will last, and when she finds something she loves, she’ll buy multiple pairs. Younger women, in particular, are prioritizing comfort and are willing to make that investment—if the shoe is right.

How has the response been from retailers so far—any particular styles trending strongly? Our Mary Jane and kitten heel styles have proven to be stronger than initially expected. Additionally, styles featuring metallic or burgundy elements have performed exceptionally well.

Where do you envision Ayelet by Naot in three years? I believe our shoes will end up on red carpets and we’ll have a devoted following. Great product sells itself. But some great marketing helps, too. We’re working on that now.

Ayelet by Naot styles feature high-end Italian leathers and craftsmanship.
Ayelet by Naot styles feature high-end Italian leathers and craftsmanship.

You already have full-time job managing Naot and you’re a full-time mom. Why take on more? I’ve always liked a good challenge, and I love to create. Also, having children inspires me to work and push harder. They were excited to see it come to life and are very proud of the line.

What are you most proud of about Ayelet by Naot? It’s about how we’re told repeatedly about things that we can’t have isn’t always true. I love that our line challenges that notion. You can wear a heel that makes you feel beautiful and sleek, and not have to kick them off the moment you step into the car. I can’t tell you how many times my friends have said they can’t wait to get home to take their shoes off. So I love offering solutions, and Ayelet by Naot hits personally.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? Crawl, walk, run, fly. Don’t try to make something huge from the beginning. Make sure it works and has longevity. Build a healthy business that functions properly. Every time a company grows 20 percent, it’s basically a new company. You must grow in a healthy fashion.

Any designers you admire especially? I’ve been watching The New Look series on Apple TV+. Although it’s historical fiction, I really admire Christian Dior. His vision and how he kept true to his creativity—and to his values in the hardest of times—is truly inspiring.

What shoe must every woman have in her closet? A simple black heel. You can dress it up or down. It goes with everything, and it never goes out of style.

What is your first shoe-related memory? I was born on a Kibbutz in central Israel. We didn’t get new clothes and shoes often. But I remember going to visit my aunt and uncle on Kibbutz Naot Mordechai and getting new sandals there. It was so exciting to go to the factory. It’s crazy that only a few years later my father was importing Naot into the U.S.!

What do you love most about designing shoes? I love that we can create shoes in so many different directions. We’re only limited by our imagination.

What do you love most about this industry? I adore the people. Even in the craziest times, we truly care about each other. For example, the amount of support and love that our company has received since the attack on Oct. 7 in Israel has kept me going on many hard days. Our Naot factories border the evacuation areas in the north, and most of our employees are still evacuated from their homes. The people who work in these factories are from different races, religions, and sects, and they have all come together in this difficult time. They all come into work and support each other daily. I’m still receiving calls and emails from people throughout our industry just wanting to know if everyone is ok. It means a lot.

The April/May 2024 Issue

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