As the daughter of traveling preachers who often relied on church donations to provide for their family, Katy Perry didn’t always have the most fashionable clothes in her closet growing up. But she always had style.
Her religious parents considered designer labels to be worldly — not to mention overpriced for the family’s modest lifestyle — so Perry would comb through racks of clothing and shoes at the local thrift store to put together her own looks. Even as she eventually moved to L.A. to pursue a music career, her eclectic, self-spun sense of style stayed intact. Her most prized possession: a pair of Dalmatian-print shoes with flaps at the side for ears and a “wagging” tongue hanging over the spotted, pointy toe.
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“I would wear these shoes everywhere around L.A., and the amount of people who would stop me was by the hundreds,” Perry told Footwear News in a recent cover story. “That is what solidified the dream of having my own shoe company.”
The singer, songwriter and now-footwear designer repeated the story earlier this month at the PROJECT Las Vegas event put on by Informa Markets Fashion. The semi-annual event for fashion insiders and press welcomed Perry as the keynote speaker for the summer edition, with a talk focused on entrepreneurship and inspiration (or “how to womanifest,” as the singer put it). Perry was perfectly positioned to lead the conversation.
The singer quietly founded her own shoe line in 2017, turning her whimsical sense of style into an equally-whimsical line of sneakers, sandals, flats and high-heels. Originally launched as a direct-to-consumer brand, the Katy Perry Collection has now grown into a multi-channel enterprise, stocked at major retailers like Nordstrom and Macy’s, and online on sites like Amazon and Zappos.
Last year, Perry officially became the sole owner of her company, after buying back her brand from the holding company Global Brands Group, who filled for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. After nearly six years of working with Global Brands, the star purchased the Katy Perry Collection brand outright.
“I realized I had to invest in my business like I did with my music,” Perry tells Rolling Stone, during a sit-down chat after her keynote address at PROJECT. “I had to ask myself, ‘Did I want this to be a successful business, or did I want to be just another pop star with a shoe brand?’”
The answer was clear: “It’s not just my face up on stuff,” Perry declares: “She’s a business bitch.”
As many artists will tell you, fashion and music go hand in hand. In Katy Perry’s world, they go hand to feet. “Presentation has always been important to me,” she says, “and I think it makes the whole package complete, when you can have a visual storyline that really brings the song to life, and then you present who you are as the character. I mean, we’re all characters on this planet after all,” she muses, before adding, “but only boring people wear boring shoes.”
Long known for her wildly inventive music videos and her painter’s palette of looks, Perry’s visit to PROJECT Las Vegas was a chance for her to show off her latest collection, which runs the gamut from daisy-topped flats and ombre sneakers, to candy necklace-inspired straps and even a collaboration with the marshmallow brand Peeps (think jelly-style sandals in Easter-appropriate pinks and pastels).
Of course, PROJECT has long been a launching pad for celebrity brands — Nelly debuted his Apple Bottom Jeans at the tradeshow way back in 2003 and Beyonce showed her House of Dereon line a few years later — but Perry is determined to be more than a co-sign when it comes to her namesake collection.
“For the longest time, there were people that would come to me with licensing deals or like, ‘We’ll give you this number for your name,’” she says, “but then we were seeing artists that had their name on something, but they had no control of it. It was like, all of a sudden, they would have their face on a toothbrush, which is like, good for them if that’s what they wanted, but a lot of times, that was a surprise. And I don’t like surprises.”
What she does like to do is “build businesses,” and it’s something Perry asserts throughout the interview, stressing that the shoe line isn’t a vanity project, and more than just a passion project. “I think about the long term; I’m in it for the long game,” she says. “And I hope that in ten years, I’m a household name like Steve Madden or Jeffrey Campbell.”
Perry is being modest of course (she’s also witty and playful during the interview, but never self-deprecating); with almost 50 million albums sold worldwide and countless magazine covers and appearances, the singer is one of the biggest celebrities in the world. And yet, Perry feels a sense of duty to not let her “celebrity” persona give her a free pass when it comes to entrepreneurship.
To wit: the singer has had to quickly learn the ins and outs of building a brand, from conception to conversion. “I’m learning about margins, I’m learning about what it costs to make something versus what it costs to sell something, retail, wholesale, you know, all the different business things,” she says, before adding confidently: “I know exactly what’s going on in my finances and in everything I do: in music, in this [footwear brand], in all the other different things that I’m doing too.”
A recent meeting for Katy Perry Collections was a particularly high-yield — and high-heeled — affair, with Perry and her design team going back and forth over how to create and market an entirely new shape for their line. “In the shoe business, every heel is a challenge,” Perry sighs. “To create a heel, you have to open the mold, and that costs a lot of money to pour in. Like if you want a mushroom on a heel, you’ve got to open a mold. We have to basically create shapes and molds and things that don’t exist,” she explains, “so that costs a lot of money.” (Perry was spotted at PROJECT rocking a pair of red shoes with a mushroom heel, so suffice to say the meeting went well)
The girl with the floppy-eared Dalmatian shoes says she created the Katy Perry Collection for people just like her. “The three things that are most important to me are the personality, the price point, and the quality,” she says. “What can I get as the highest quality for my price point, offering that personality for my young fans and for girls that are a little bit quirky? There are obviously classics in our line, because I like to do classics,” she says, “but I love personality pieces. We say that these are shoes that stop traffic and start conversations because that’s literally what happened when I was younger and creating my own style as a teenager.”
When it comes to designing for her collection today, Perry doesn’t sketch, but she has no shortage of ideas and opinions to share with her team. One of her goals has been to inject some playfulness into footwear, citing brands like Charlotte Olympia and Sophia Webster as inspirations. But while those brands run upwards of $900 for a pair of embellished heels, the most expensive thing on the Katy Perry Collection website right now is just $109 (for a metallic gold strappy wedge sandal).
“It’s about relating to the public,” Perry says, about her intentional price points. “I feel like I know the public, and I feel like they trust me in some ways. So I want to keep giving them stuff that I am passionate about, and hopefully that trust continues.”
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Part of attending an event like PROJECT is to talk to buyers and retailers, to see what shoes are selling and what customers are requesting. At one point during our interview, Perry spots a familiar buyer perusing the racks of samples on display. “Tamra!” Perry shouts. “Are you ordering?” A sales rep dutifully hustles over to make sure “Tamra” is taken care of — and gets her order in.
But PROJECT is also a place where trends are set for the next season, with designers unveiling their newfangled creations, and hoping to land an audience. It’s not unlike music, where an artist puts out a song and hopes it gets some traction on streaming services or on the radio. Only in fashion, there’s a physical, tactile product being pushed — and eager salespeople hoping to get their wares in your closet (or as it may be, on your feet).
“Trends are about reading people and having intuition on what people want before they know they want it, and I have this trend antenna that has always been really in tune [with what people want],” Perry says. But for a brand to succeed, she adds, “You’ve also got to be a great salesperson, and network and make relationships and get deals.”
In recent years, Perry has parlayed her business acumen into avenues beyond the Katy Perry Collection. She shares that she’s made investments in other brands that are close to her heart, and she sits on the boards of companies that bring her on for her “out of the box opinions.”
“I don’t mince my words, so I’m pretty bold and people like that,” Perry explains, “because in some corporate worlds, there’s a lot of fear in speaking up or getting fired. I have nothing to lose,” she continues, “so I’m going to tell you that the product is not great, or that you can improve here, or that you need to change this. I think I’ve learned so much in the music business that I can use in other businesses now too.”
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Perry has had a busy 2022, with a well-received residency in Vegas, two genre-bending duets (with Alesso and Thomas Rhett, respectively), and a new non-alcoholic aperitivo line called “De Soi.” Her appearance at PROJECT also marked her return to the U.S. after spending a few months in Australia, where her partner Orlando Bloom was shooting a movie (“In Australia, they don’t wear shoes… they must be very grounded,” Perry quips).
Perry and Bloom have a daughter, Daisy, who’s about to turn two, and the singer says she hopes to take her on the road soon, as she begins to plan her next album cycle. “For me, it’s about being a mother now, and maintaining that work-life balance, and then also thinking about music in the future and world tours,” Perry says. “I’d like to go back on tour around the world, because not everyone can get to Vegas,” she continues. “And it’s nice to see how the world evolves every few years and how the people and the culture does too.”
And then there’s the fashion thing. The shoes. Perry will tell you she’s always had a “fashion thing;” she just needed time to figure out how to share her ideas — and her style — with the world.
“Fashion is just a visual branch of who I am,” she explains. “You know, music is the tree, and there are lots of creative branches that I’ve always spawned. I think time will tell, but this isn’t the only thing I’m gonna do,” she offers. “There are so many branches, there are going to be so many different levels, and I’m not going to ever just do one thing.”
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