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«Kindness is the new trend. Nodaleto is not just a brand, but a form of energy» says Olivier Leone, Nodaleto's artistic director, to present the project he curates together with the brand’s designer and CEO Julia Toledano. The creative duo tells us from their brightly-lit Paris studio the origins and future of a project that has always lived in a corner of its founder's mind, but that has only become a reality in 2019, when Toledano decided to embark on the brand's adventure. At 24, after studying law and pursuing a career in fashion journalism, Toledano was tired of writing other people's stories and decided to instead start living her own. After graduating from the London College of Fashion to study design, Toledano hired Leone and together they began to structure Nodaleto, building an aesthetic that is now easily recognizable by its niche, yet desirable by those who approach the brand from the outside. Retro-futurist features, the chunky heel that has become a hallmark and the brand's impactful images on social media distinguish Nodaleto's design communications. From their earliest beginnings, Toledano and Leone sought to challenge industry boundaries by introducing something more than just a symbolic character on the market. In 2019, luxury had just discovered the irresistible appeal of sneakers to create brand collaborations that brought the community closer to the glossy dream of luxury, and while most brands were trying to take the wake of success by offering dozens of sneakers that later turned out to be failures, Leone and Toledano’s choice of proposing classically structured shoes represented a strong stance: «When we launched, the footwear world was sleeping under the hegemony of sneakers. There was not the same focus on aestheticism, nor about the minimalism of geometric shapes and the silhouette of the shoes.» 

«Creating more classic models was not the priority.» says Toledano, explaining the results of the competitors analysis that took place during Nodaleto's first year of life. Like Amina Muaddi, whom both quotes during the conversation, Nodaleto was able to identify a gap in an industry that needed a new aesthetic approach. While other competitors' footwear campaigns were still focused on a semi-fetishistic aesthetic that communicated a sexualizing obsession with women's legs and feet, Nodaleto differentiated itself by proposing an initial campaign of 12 shots, half of which did not present the product but faces of models. This ironic aesthetic made up of omissions and strategic placements is nourished by references ranging from pop-culture to quotes from the past: «Being children of the 90s, we both suffer from anemoia, an adjective used to define a sense of nostalgia for a time we will never know, a feeling shared by Millennials and Gen-Z. We love ‘90s advertisements and fashion, but also retro photography, and we want to communicate both» Toledano says about Nodaleto's fun and retro-futuristic reference imagery. As proof of their shared vision, Gen-Z recognizes itself in this collective energy and has elected Bulla Babies as a viral product, rewarding the entrepreneurs' courageous willingness to break rules. What makes the shoe irresistible to new generations are their thick, rounded heels, comfortable yet high and unique, the squared-off toe that follows trends and evolves the roundness of classic ballet flats, while the glossy colors make the Bulla Babies fun as collectable candy. The laces placed on the neck of the foot, on the other hand, recall the polished heritage of Mary-Janes, creating a link to the past that evolves into a scenario of tacit rebellion. «The great thing is that our clientele is so wide. Nodaleto reaches so many different women. They all recognize the feminine hand behind a design that represents both the eternal child that lives in each of us but also the woman who wants to assert her sensuality» says Toledano, who intentionally designs timeless footwear to walk along the evolution of a multifaceted personality. The heel introduced in the Fall/Winter 2023 collection, with the evocative name Angel Line, is proof of the continued growth of the Nodaleto aesthetic: the heel transforms from ugly-chic style to an even more sensual silhouette, gaining a few centimeters of platform and an even more erotic and unfiltered line. The coexistence of innocence and eroticism in femininity is at the heart of Nodaleto's vision, which places designs created by a woman for women in a context where footwear designers have always been predominantly male, if you think about the big luxury names in the industry’s history.

The presence of the female gaze in Nodaleto is the real reason that makes their designs a statement: «The first reaction of a man, myself included, when seeing Nodaleto designs is on average, 'Wow, these are ugly shoes.' At first I didn't understand how a chunky heel could emancipate women, but I learned fast. Making feet, which have always been hyper-sexualized, "ugly" created a twist to the phenomenon in which women dressed or were dressed to please men. Miuccia Prada paved the ground for this in the 1990s, and that's why she is a great inspiration to us, but we are not trying to copy her» said Leone. Although feet are at the center of recent Nodaleto campaigns, there is always a game of said-and-unsaid in the images that elevate the product desirability beyond the sexualization and objectification of the female body. The response of the Nodaleto community is always positive to the coded messages behind each campaign: «What we want to say, you either get it or you don't. Even though the bar of expectations is always being raised, we always manage to meet the expectations of our community because we have built a relationship with them from day zero» says Leone smiling as he thinks back to the brand’s beginnings of 5 years ago, when Nodaleto had just started to establish itself on Instagram and Leone was carefully responding to every DM they received. Underlying the strong connection between the brand and its audience is its success on Instagram, which makes its products coveted around the world, interpreted in a thousand different ways by users who interact with the platform. In the same way as Jacquemus, whose Chiquito Bag lands in the hands of fashion-enthusiasts all over the world, Nodaleto manages to reach an increasingly diverse and international audience. If the present sees Nodaleto in Paris, where the images accompanying this interview were taken, Leone's Roman origins and the immediate hustle and bustle of Tokyo fascinate the creative duo, who are not ruling out the two capitals as plausible Nodaleto headquarters. What is certain is that Nodaleto will continue to explore the facets of its energy in a changing world, always without taking itself too seriously.



Photographer: Enzo Tonati

Photographer Assistant: Valentine Lacour

Interview: Irene Coltrinari