Penelope is a gentle, classy lover of vintage. She wears her lips red and prefers old Hollywood glamour over new-age glitz. Coco is bold and complicated. Her taste, much like her personality, is a unique blend of sex, mystique, and confidence. Penelope and Coco, together, represent two vastly different style alter-egos that inspired designer Marisa Spinella and brand director Arielle Vavasseur to create a company that would make shoes for any personality. Flaunt sat down with the founders of Penelope and Coco for an exclusive look into their brand evolution and the shoe-making game.
How did Penelope and Coco evolve into a brand and company? Did you know that was going to be the name from the very beginning?
The name Penelope and Coco evolved based on the initial design concept and inspiration for the brand. We wanted to create names for these two characters that essentially developed the designs and brand direction from the very start. The name Penelope has such a chic and simplistic feel to it, which correlated with one half of the brand’s design direction; and then there is just something so badass and free about the name Coco, that just fit perfectly with the other side of the brands visual direction. Together, we used these character ‘alter egos’ to create the brand and begin manufacturing footwear right here in Los Angeles!
Tell us about Penelope and Coco. Who are they and what do they mean to you?
Penelope and Coco are style characters or as we usually refer to them; our style alter egos. We believe that everyone has at least two style alter egos, and the best days are when we are able to organically incorporate both of them into one look. On a design level, we try to mix Penelope’s style, which is clean and simple, with Coco’s free spirited eccentric aesthetic, to develop a pair of shoes that translates to our customer’s individual personalities.
Contemporary shoe design is a highly competitive industry. Why did you decide to do shoes? How do you feel the public has received you?
We decided to jump into the footwear industry because we wanted to:
1. Fill what we felt was a void in the contemporary arena for footwear that combined luxurious details and craftsmanship with street wear inspired designs. And 2. We wanted to bring jobs and shoe manufacturing back to the U.S.! We understood it was going to be a hard and long journey, but we wouldn’t settle for people telling us that it was impossible to do!
I think generally people receive us well. When they see us, they know that we are very much our own customer. We aren’t making shoes for elusive characters that we cannot relate to or understand. The brand is very organic and we genuinely make what we like. The public appreciates the handmade in USA element of our brand as well. People are also usually shocked at our age- they expect us to be older!
Talk to us about the brand image and message. What is unique and different about your shoes?
We strive to maintain the highest quality footwear and craftsmanship right here in our Los Angeles factory, while remaining young, fashion driven, and a bit unconventional. Our shoes are special and investment worthy. Each pair is completely unique and holds it’s own personal detailing. We use forward classic shapes with contemporary and unexpected elements to offer a little bit of something for everyone!
What does each of you bring to the table? What do you bring to the realm of shoe design and merchandising together as a team?
Together we are such a force to be reckoned with; while I (Marisa) head the brand’s creative direction, design and daily operations, Arielle acts as the brand director and head of marketing working on everything from sales strategy, events and all types of outreach.
We have a hand in every aspect of our brand! Together as a team, we are both perfectionists so we are constantly pushing each other to put our best foot forward (pun intended). In the realm of shoe design we bring a fresh perspective and endless possibilities.
Can you lead us through the creative process? What work goes into making a shoe? How do you pick out unique textiles, detailing and even the names of your shoes?
I (Marisa) usually design based on how I’m feeling and what’s inspiring me at that time; I try and keep trends in mind, but I don’t like to create shoes that will be forgotten next season. I search online and work with our local vendors here in LA to source what I have envisioned in my head. We generally like to carry over classic shapes each season and add new details, textures, and colors to make it fresh and relevant.
Naming the shoes is always fun! Sometimes the names have special meaning to us like family members or friends. We also name shoes based on inspirational people and style icons such as Edie Sedgwick. One season, we named the shoes after all of our favorite streets. In the same way that Marisa envisions shapes and materials, I (Arielle) take a look at everything together and the collection name and story pops in my head as well.
Within just three short years Penelope and Coco has taken huge strides in the fashion industry. How do you feel about your own progress and success as a brand and individuals?
Thank you for the compliment! We are perfectionists and we are never satisfied, so we’re always thinking about the next thing. When something great happens our thoughts are literally “Yay! That’s so great!……what’s next?!” It’s great to look at our past campaigns and see how our brand has grown, but we are always working on the next thing.
Marisa, what has been your best moment with the Penelope and Coco?
Aside from this really bitchin feature in Flaunt? I’d have to say, one of the best moments that I ever had with Penelope and Coco was opening up the first magazine we were ever featured in! Something about that moment made everything seem real and our journey was just beginning.
Arielle, what has been yours?
Marisa already took the great Flaunt response but I’ll say ditto on that! But I’d have to say my best moment was the first time I saw someone wearing our shoes. We were in downtown L.A. and a girl got on the elevator wearing our Capone boot. All I could think to say was “I like your boots, do you?”. It was great like oh people really buy and wear our shoes and they like them. Haha