A Southern California-based accessories designer with a cult celebrity following, George Esquivel prioritizes exceptional quality and a timeless aesthetic. He’s best known for his handcrafted and hand-burnished shoes, but he’s also passionate about sustainability, community and one-of-a-kind retail experiences.
I meet George Esquivel and his wife, Shelley, at the newly opened Esquivel House in Downtown Los Angeles. After being teased with photos for weeks, I’ve been cordially invited to preview the space—what’s been a long time coming for the veteran shoemaker. My curiosity is piqued to the highest degree.
To anyone familiar with the label, DTLA is a fitting location, as it’s burgeoning with businesses run by some of the city’s most reputable artists and artisans. Entering Esquivel House for the first time, I decide in seconds that the designer has seamlessly joined his distinct sartorial perspective with a setup that’s full of possibilities. Sleek and minimalistic, the space is open-concept and plays host to a workshop, showroom, kitchen and dining area. It’s also full of pithy and
distinctive touches, from the two lime trees at the entrance (a nod to the Basque translation of the designer’s name, which is ‘house behind the lime trees’) to the bright white, hand-painted sewing machines and tools in the workspace (which Esquivel says took three months to disassemble, paint and rebuild).
A view of Esquivel’s atelier from the custom dining table designed to comfortably seat 12.
Creative people can be intimidating, but the Esquivels’ warm welcome and eagerness to catch up on everything since our last meetup is mollifying. We met for the first time about seven months ago through my uncle, George Kotsiopoulos, who is a longtime friend of Esquivel. The designer has since asked me to write for Esquivel Shoes, which brings us to this day in June. Consistent with each of our past rendezvous, Esquivel is eager to show me his latest creations and the new space that the brand has been preparing for months, only to culminate in a nationwide lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “We just kept going,” George Esquivel says, within the guidelines, of course—craftsmen and customers are properly distanced and wearing masks to comply with safety regulations of the new normal. Esquivel’s earnestness is more
invigorating than ever given the dispirited hums of many businesses trying to get through the tough times.
Esquivel House’s vintage jewelry case features pieces from Will Hanigan Pearls and Cheryl Dufault. Leather accessories by Esquivel, like the LAX totes and made-to-order footwear, are also on display above.
I peruse the showroom and quickly spot a pair of luxe cowboy boots beneath the industrial shelves displaying much of the designer’s collection. I make a mental note to revisit them before our meeting’s end. Of course, this is exactly what the designer intended—a configuration where the craft and the creations are the only real focus. “In a gallery, all of the walls are white to show the artistry. I want my craftsmen’s work to pop,” Esquivel says.
As part of the process to create a pair of Esquivel’s shoes, craftsmen stick suede or leather onto the last, or form that is shaped like a human foot.
As for the shopping model, Esquivel explains that what he envisioned even prior to the global health crisis is more intimate than that of a typical luxury retailer. Actually, it’s a lot like what we’re doing now. Similar to the way art galleries operate, Esquivel House is open to the public by appointment only, which the designer says is more conducive to a personalized customer experience (i.e., business and pleasure) and little disruption of the creative and artisanal processes, which also take place in the 6,500-square-foot space. A big perk of having the showroom and the workshop under the same roof is that guests can watch the creative process unfold as craftsmen meticulously stitch, pull and stain the leather for a pair of shoes or an accessory.
A white backdrop, complete with the hand-painted sewing machines, is intended to make the colors of the craft pop.
There are six people working in the space today, including the Esquivels. During appointments with patrons, there will be just as few, according to Esquivel. Easier to admire the space’s craftsmanship, I say to myself, like the hand-blown glass pendants by Simon Pearce or the hand-painted equipment, which Esquivel later tells me is meant to invoke an artisan rather than industrial feel. Over lunch in the dining area, at a custom table built for 12, Esquivel tells me he hopes to host a farm-to-table feast here with friends and colleagues when restrictions are lifted. Later, with a digestif in hand, I find myself gazing at the vibrantly colored tableaux by Newport Beach-based artist Pierce Meehan, which are hanging opposite two chairs upholstered with leftover fabric from past collections near the entry, and at the black and silver mural by Marquis Lewis, the graffiti artist internationally known as RETNA, located just beyond the glass on the exterior wall.
A mural by RETNA, or the designer’s last name written in the artist’s unique typography, marks the entry to Esquivel House.
We also discuss his collaborations in more detail. Lola James Harper, who created the scents for Hotel Costes and colette, has developed a signature scent for Esquivel House, and LA-based hatmaker Nick Fouquet is designing an exclusive collection of hats with Esquivel. There’s one hat already on display in the showroom, a gray fedora with mauve details, that seems perfect for any season.
Esquivel shoes and items from collaborations with Fouquet and Parisian accessory designer Cinabre are on display, and available for purchase, exclusively at Esquivel House.
A unisex, black leather Esquivel boot with handmade laces on display in the designer’s showroom.
I decide that what I—and, I presume, so many other clients—like best about Esquivel is his ability to prioritize all of the things that make a truly covetable brand: artistry, practicality, sustainability and camaraderie. It’s what makes the brand, and the shopping experience within its walls, so unique. And considering that such a space has been a dream of the designer’s for nearly a decade, it’s abundantly clear to me that every detail has been considered and carefully attended to, like each pair of Esquivel shoes.
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