Tomboy cobbler Emily Cooper takes the sensible out of lace-ups to create hard working shoes, borrowed from the blokes.

Cate Blanchett has a pair. Poppy Delevingne has several. Sienna Miller has them, so does Jess Hart. Alex Chung wears the signature toe-capped “Lulu” oxford and the “Valentina” penny loafer style. We are talking about Meandher, the cult shoe brand by Aussie-in-LA, Emily Cooper.

As with many a good fashion tale, it started by accident. Cooper was training to be a lawyer when she scored a student exchange opportunity in London. On her way home, she detoured via Argentina. “At the end of the holiday, I realised I hadn’t bought any gifts. I saw these traditional gaucho shoes and bought a bunch. When I gave them out to my friends and family, the overwhelming reaction was, ‘Where do I get more?’ So I started this little business making espadrilles. I’d already decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer,” she says, “so I got out of that quick-smart.”

She dabbled in manufacturing small runs of both shoes and bags in China, then Vietman before taking herself to study the age-old art shoemaking at the Ars Sutoria School, in Milan. That was her lightbulb moment. “It felt 100 per cent right. I was making patterns everyday, learning a whole new discipline. Putting a shoe together is almost like a maths equation. They liken it to architecture. Learning the craft became this whole thing for me, I didn’t want to just be like, ‘Oh, yeah these look nice.’ I wanted to understand the technicalities, and where the quality comes in.

“The plan was do design men’s shoes, but women were the ones who responded. My own style is tomboy, androgynous – although I don’t love that word. I’m very drawn to classics and you can see that in the collection. I’m not reinventing the wheel, they are just beautiful, classic shapes that take a men’s construction then feminising it – perfecting the silhouettes so you don’t look down to see a clunky brogue.”

Cooper wears hers with jeans, jackets and shirts. But I also like a lace-up with a flippy skirt and a t-shirt. I got this short high-waisted A-line Prada number in Italy – I am obsessed with it.” How does the preppy look go down at the beach? Cooper, her husband and their baby boy, who was born in February, live in Malibu. “Look, brogues at the beach are not the obvious choice but I would totally go there,” she laughs. For the less committed, Meandher has ventured “into a metallic Turkish slipper, like a slide, for a bit more of a casual vibe.” In London, Selfridges is stocking Chung’s favourite Meandher loafers in shocking pink and there is even talk of sandals.

Poppy Delevingne walked into Cooper’s 30th birthday party in LA a couple of years ago and became an instant BFF – she is onto her third Meandher campaign. Says Cooper, “I was a bit nervous to ask her to model for me AGAIN, but she was like, ‘I’ll do it until I’m old and grey!’ Pops is amazing, she’s a proper mate and she loves my shoes.” Don’t we all.


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