Our Latest Obsession: Tori Soudan
DESIGNING SHOES IS A FULFILLMENT OF DESTINY FOR TORI SOUDAN. THE LUXURY SHOE BUSINESS THAT SHE HAS BUILT IS A CULMINATION OF A LIFETIME OF GENERATIONAL KNOWLEDGE, FORTUITOUS MOMENTS, AND LIFE CHOICES. TORI’S STUNNING DESIGNS AND INSPIRING STORY—ALONG WITH LOVE HAPPENS’ INFALLIBLE LOVE FOR SHOES—MAKE TORI SOUDAN, OUR LATEST OBSESSION.
While shopping at the prestigious Tyson’s Galleria Mall outside of Washington, DC, Janet Morais, KOKET CEO and publisher of Love Happens, came across Tori’s boutique holding its own alongside top luxury fashion brands like Gucci, Prada, and retail powerhouse Neiman Marcus. A pair of gorgeous leather boots called to her from the window and upon stepping inside Janet found more than just beautiful shoes, she found the inspiring design powerhouse behind this up-and-coming brand. Tori shared her inspiring story and the precise moment she knew she wanted to pursue fashion design with Love Happens over lunch and, as if the shoes weren’t enough (which by the way they are!), we instantly fell in love with the brand and the empowering woman behind it.
Sewing and fashion were a big part of Tori’s upbringing in Connecticut. Every Easter Tori would get a new dress for the church “fashion show”, but at the tender age of nine her mother, a certified tailor, thought it was time that Tori start learning how to sew her own Easter dresses. This sparked a love for fashion in Tori and sewing became much more than just a family tradition. It became her passion.
Tori continued sewing throughout high school, then both designing and sewing prom dresses for herself and classmates. She visited the Fashion Institute of Technology dreaming of a career in design. But like so many dreams, they succumb to prudence. Even at her young age, Tori was aware of the harsh realities of the fashion industry. Breaking into the industry would be challenging due to the cases of inaccessibility and harsh competition, so she decided on a more realistic path for her future.
“While attending college at Spelman, still searching for that realistic career path”, a serendipitous moment occurred when her roommate, unaware of Tori’s passion for design, shared her stresses over finding a dress for a beauty pageant. Tori, quick to help a friend, offered her services, unaware of the shift that was about to take place in her life.
Sitting in the audience at the pageant, Tori had that coveted experience of being a “fly on the wall” where she was privy to an abundance of candid and positive feedback on her work. It was so gratifying that she immediately restructured her life to pursue design, not letting the fact that she was a French major deter her. She used it to her advantage while studying abroad in Paris during her junior year, ensuing the role of pilgrim in fashion mecca — incessantly exploring the city’s and greater European fashion scene.
A weekend excursion while abroad found Tori in Italy where she experienced the second biggest turning point in her life. She was divinely introduced to the art of Italian shoemaking by a group of nuns that ran a convent just outside of Venice. Once they discovered Tori’s interest in fashion, they immediately informed her of an exposition nearby featuring one of Italy’s most renowned shoemakers. And thus began Tori’s deep love and appreciation for shoes.
The remaining years between that weekend in Italy and her conception of the Tori Soudan Collection were marked with fashion classes at Parsons, an internship with Tommy Hilfiger, a business degree, and the creation of a beautiful marriage and family—proving that you really can have it all if you just put your mind to it.
In 2009, Tori revisited her desire to design and decided to focus solely on shoes. She emersed herself in the shoemaking industry—taking classes, visiting production factories in Italy, and developing her business strategy through extensive planning and networking. To gain exposure, Tori continually attended women-focused conferences where she exhibited her work and built a robust mailing list. These contacts were crucial to Tori’s growth as she traveled the country to show and sell her shoes at invite-only events she hosted in luxury hotels. In 2011 Tori took the Tori Soudan Collection online and opened up a brick and mortar boutique at Tysons Corner six years later in 2017.
Tori describes her collections as “timeless, sophisticated, and sexy”. The secrets to her success are her architecturally strong designs, expert Italian craftsmanship, and integrated comfort. Tori is one of the few female luxury shoe designers in the world, meaning she can actually wear her own product, which she does. As a busy professional, she knows first-hand the importance of wearability so she always ensures her designs don’t come at the expense of comfort. Quality is Tori’s key to comfort—a spacious toe box, premium leather allowing the shoe to stretch without losing shape, and thoughtfully designed foot molds are the foundation to all of her shoes. Tori wants women to feel comfortable and confident in her designs: “When you put on the right shoes and march into that special meeting you can’t help but strutt and feel empowered!”
When the shoe fits Hollywood takes notice—some of the most notable women to don Tori’s designs have been Carrie Underwood, Debbie Allen, Uzo Aduba, Tasha Smith, Angela Bassett, Sonya Walger, Rochelle Aytes, Aisha Hinds to name a few.
Tori is a natural observant not only in her work but also in her life. That talent has allowed her to navigate life in the fulfillment of her dreams and to design the highest quality and most aesthetically pleasing products possible. Drawing from photography, architecture, travel, and the latest trends, Tori takes it all into account and doesn’t let a drop of inspiration go to waste.
It’s with that mindset that Tori’s has found success as a luxury shoe designer, yet we take inspiration from Tori’s entire story as a woman, wife, mother, and business owner. Tori is proof that our lives are more than just a string of uncorrelated moments. Every period is a pivotal element in the foundation of our natural talents and life purpose. Tori wants to inspire other women to be patient, resilient, and endlessly devoted to their dreams as well. So while all of us here at Love Happens are obsessively dreaming of Tori’s latest luxury shoes, Tori is going full circle—tirelessly designing shoes that allow every woman to pursue her dreams with confidence.
Words by Alexa Jennelle
Article Originally Appeared in Love Happens Volume 2, 2018
All Photos Courtesy of Tori Soudan