Jenni Avins

The Best New Shoe Designers to Know, for the Wall Street Journal

Get to know three up-and-coming shoe brands—Rupert Sanderson, Aquazzura and Paul Andrew—poised to become very familiar soles

CHOO. MANOLO. LOUBOUTIN. You can thank Carrie Bradshaw and her fictional shoe-obsessed sisterhood for making those brands household names more than a decade ago. Though “Sex and the City” may have devolved from cutting-edge television show to fluffy film franchise, women’s love affair with heels remains very much intact. There’s a reason why department store shoe floors are bigger than ever.

Elegant and bank-account-busting designs, however, aren’t limited to the above-mentioned holy heel trinity. In the past few years, brands like Gianvito Rossi, Tabitha Simmons, Charlotte Olympia and Nicholas Kirkwood have emerged to diversify those outsize shoe departments.

Fashion editor Giovanna Battaglia in Aquazzura sandals Getty Images

Now there are three more to add to that list: Paul Andrew, Rupert Sanderson and Aquazzura. Chances are you’ve already admired their work—whether Mr. Sanderson’s not-too-pointy Elba pumps or Aquazzura’s whip-laced gladiator Amazon sandals—on a stylish girl. You just didn’t know who made the shoe.

Paul Andrew, a 34-year-old British-born designer, cut his cobbling teeth working for Calvin Klein and Alexander McQueen. He also spent nearly a decade at Donna Karan, an experience that indoctrinated him in the gospel of wearability.

“When I decided to launch my own business about a year and a half ago, the market was so flooded with these chunky platform shoes,” Mr. Andrew said. He set out to create a collection of refined single-sole heels but quickly realized that the lift of platforms provided comfort, and decided the slim stiletto could use some scientific improvement. “I’ve added all these hidden tricks into my shoes in order to make them comfortable,” said Mr. Andrew, citing a specially designed padded insert. “It has memory, so it sort of cups the ball of your foot.”

Mr. Andrew, who is based in New York, visits the Italian factories that produce his shoes at least once a month. There, he hand-crafts the foot-shaped forms, known as lasts, used in the construction of his shoes.

Working with Italian tanneries, he’s developed materials like triple-dyed suede, which allows for ultra-saturated shades of deep teal and electric violet—and also enhances the leather’s durability. “I think one of his fortes is the materials he uses,” said Barneys fashion director Tomoko Ogura. “He often speaks about the richness of the fabrics or skins that he’s using and that translates really well into his collection.”

This fall, Barneys began carrying Mr. Sanderson’s shoes as well. “They are true shoe designers,” said Ms. Ogura of the two. “They’re not megabrands making shoes. They really are committed to the craft of shoemaking.”

Mr. Sanderson, 47, owns his factories in Italy. “I was used to that when I worked with Sergio Rossi,” he explained. “The factory was just there and you went and worked with artisans and technicians to get the shoes made.”

Mr. Sanderson established his line in 2001, and though he’s always had a fan base in the U.S., selling his wares at Barneys is giving him more stateside visibility. He’s also been working with a business partner in Hong Kong, where he owns two stores.

At Barneys, you’ll find jaunty flat tassel-topped loafers and his very popular Estelle sandal, a skinny heel with Rococo cutouts. Like Mr. Andrew, Mr. Sanderson relishes the opportunity to obsess over details the old-fashioned way. “It comes from the simple business of making beautiful lasts and heels and proportions, and getting those sorts of things right first,” he said. “I always feel more enchanted by the simple line.”

That simple line is best seen in Mr. Sanderson’s Elba (pictured), a graceful pump that has won many fans since he introduced it last year; he’s already made the sleek and serious style in various colors and leathers. The designer isn’t, however, immune to a bit of cheekiness. Another signature shoe, the Frisia sandal, is topped with plush, poppy-colored suede lips. “Everyone loves a lip,” he said.

A great design that resonates with women can take a new brand far. That’s the case with Florence-based Aquazzura, which launched in 2011. The Colombian-born founder, Edgardo Osorio, 28, struck gold with a few styles like his aptly named Amazon and his very flattering suede lace-up Belgravia pump (pictured) that zips up the back.

“[The Amazons] created a nice frenzy,” said Hayley Bloomingdale, social media manager of the retail website Moda Operandi, which has sold versions of the shoe in red and yellow snakeskin. “They’re very fierce.” The style is currently available on the site in black leather.

“That shoe went with me to every city during fashion weeks,” said Holli Rogers, fashion director of fashion e-tailer Net-a-porter, of her own black calfskin Amazons, adding that the open-toed silhouette offered her much-needed relief from pointy-toed shoes after weeks of travel.

Ms. Rogers also noticed the Belgravia gracing the feet of many fashion editors during the last round of shows.

Like Mr. Andrew, Mr. Osorio is intent on making his shoes as comfortable as four-inch stilettos can be. “He has been so thoughtful in his approach; fit is really important to him,” said Ms. Rogers. “A lot of his friends are female and he tests [the shoes] out on everybody before they go into production to make sure [the customers] were happy.”

Just as they’re gentle on the soles, Aquazzura shoes have slightly gentler prices that tend not to top the $1,000 mark. “The price has been the other key factor in his success,” added Ms. Rogers. “But all the factors came together: great fit, price and design. And that’s the perfect product.”