Passion and Fashion

A true love of art leads local entrepreneur Mary Trudeau down the road to riches—in high style

By Allison Costa

Photo by Jennifer Pearl

“Everyday Sorcery” satchel; artist: Rodney White.

If fifteen years ago you had told Mary Trudeau that one day she would be the executive vice president and chief designer of a high fashion shoe and handbag company, she would have laughed in your face. But such is life and the meandering paths we often take to the things we are meant to do.

You may know Mary as the owner of the funky and vibrant Rainbow Bridge Market in Ojai. Or maybe you know her as one of the early owners of Agave Maria’s restaurant (now owned by her daughter Tracy Jeffares). But if you are someone who occasionally bumps into her in Ojai, what you may not know about the petite blonde is that she’s also the brains and energy behind Icon Shoes—a company making a name for itself with its innovative use of artwork on attention-getting footwear.

So how did she end up here? Fifteen years ago, Mary was busy hosting dinner parties and living the busy life of a “corporate wife,” when one day her husband, David, suggested she embark on a business venture. A love of food and a vision led her to purchase the failing Rainbow Bridge Market; and with help of manager Ernest Niglio, she has made it into the thriving Ojai institution that it is today.

In 1999 while David was working in the entertainment industry, they were introduced to a unique and never before used method for printing on leather. “We were already art collectors—and I love shoes—so we creatively decided to combine these loves by printing on a sneaker,” Mary says. They founded Icon and launched with a unisex sneaker printed with Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans. “I went from food to feet,” Mary laughs.

And now Mary is the executive vice president and chief designer, overseeing a staff of fifteen employees and manufacturing in three countries. Their products range from a $38 business card holder to a $495 platform slingback sandal, and they make handbags and wallets, stilettos and flats, even golf shoes and boat shoes. Their products are available at Nordstrom, specialty boutiques across the nation, and on the Icon website. Having recently acquired two other brands, Icon is projecting immense growth in 2014, making Mary a very busy lady.

So what is it about these shoes? “Icon is a high fashion brand because of all the work that goes into them,” Mary explains. Once the shoes are designed, artwork needs to be selected, scaled, and tested to ensure that every pair (whether size five or size nine) is identical. They start with pure white uncoated leather, and use a patented printing process that allows the color to permeate the leather so it won’t scratch off.

With a look of pride, Mary shows me the Pool Boy perforated sneaker, printed with the work of artist Nelson de la Nuez. With polka dots, vibrant colors, and comic-like conversation bubbles, his artwork is reminiscent of that of Roy Lichtenstein. A sultry, red-lipsticked and blue-eyed blonde adorns each piece of the collection, all of which emanate summer fun.

A true art lover, Mary speaks with passion about each of the artists Icon features. They are in the business of celebrating art, and pay royalties to the artist every time one of their products is sold. When asked how they go about choosing artwork, Mary explains that they ask, “Is it famous? Can we put it on fashion? Is the artist willing to license the art? Is the customer willing to wear it? And how does it look as a collection as a whole?” The end goal, she says, is to “keep the integrity of the artist, the color, and the mood, while still making each piece fashionable.”

Comfort is also important at Icon. With well-structured soles and uppers, their shoes are both functional and fashionable—and there’s that word again: fashionable. The Icon staff works hard to stay on top of the coming trends, and Mary talks about the hot patterns and colors for spring and fall 2014 like someone who has been in the fashion industry since infancy.

She explains that this year graphics and color block are big, and says that their Gustav Klimt Silhouette line uses pattern to meet that trend. The designers use the diamond pattern from the original painting as an accent on a zippered tote bag and on the thick heel and sole of the crisscross slingback heel, which, by the way, screams to be paired with a little black dress. And in the Music of the Spheres collection, by steam punk artist David Delamare, the undulating pattern of a mermaid’s tail is extricated and repeated on the peep toe wedge in the form of a flowing Hermes scarf. Talk about cool.

“We know our customer and we know art, so we uniquely combine this with the trends of the moment,” Mary says.

So who is the typical Icon customer? “We have a sophisticated, educated customer who likes art, and comfort in her shoes ... She’s a collector, and she likes the attention that our products get,” explains Mary. Take, for example, the Alistair collection, featuring artwork by up-and-coming artist Rex Ray. The roomy peacock blue handbag, made with buttery soft leather, is adorned with the geometric shapes, vibrant colors, and modern feel that define Ray’s artwork. This is a bag that is guaranteed to get you stopped on the street.

“We are a specialized niche brand that is perfect to express a woman’s individuality and for women looking to make a statement,” Mary says. Through their unique designs, Icon helps customers find a way to be different from everybody else.

Though Mary spends two weeks a month at the company’s headquarters in Palm Desert, she calls Ojai home, and also her inspiration. Having lived in Ojai for 23 years, she credits the community for inspiring her to do what she does, speaking fondly about supportive women business owners and the spirituality of the place. “I’m always glad to come home and get grounded with the reality of what is important,” she says.

Looking back, Mary says she never could have imagined that this would be her life. “I love it. I love the expression of it, of giving people what they want.”

Art talk, fashion tips, shopping, and more:

“Alistair” tote; artist: Rex Ray.

“Night” business card holder; artist: Joan Miro.

“Pool Boy” shoe and canvas bag with leather applique; artist: Nelson De La Nuez.

“Charging Horses” sneaker and wallet; artist: Jim Zuckerman..

Ojai’s Mary Trudeau launched Icon by printing Warhol’s classic Campbell Soup Cans onto a pair of unisex sneakers. Other big-name artists represented on her company’s shoes, handbags, and accessories include Renoir and Picasso.


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