Ce Ce Chin is best known for her shoe label, 80%20, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a party at Lower East Side bar Panda tonight. But the Chinatown-based footwear designer was immersed in leather and hardware long before she launched her own line. The Michigan native got her start as a handbag designer for Michael Kors, then Calvin Klein. She broke off from the label in 2005 to focus on footwear, initially inspired by the graphic styles of sneakerheads she dated. “I wasn’t going to wear dunks, but I didn’t wear a lot of heels either,” she says. “I wanted something fun and casual that would give me a little height, but that was still girly.” The pursuit led to her first collection featuring the line’s signature hidden wedge.
Chin aims to make funky, distinctive shoes sans the sky-high heels: chunky ankle boots, perforated sandals, printed canvas lace-ups, and cork wedges. “Shoes are the punctuation point in fashion,” she says. “They make the final statement.” This spring, she launched a new, eponymous line of faceted heels (available at Tani) and is scouting locations for a combination store, showroom, and design house in the Lower East Side or Nolita, set to open next April. We chatted with the designer about her favorite vintage finds, the crime that is men wearing harem pants, and channeling Chanel.
What’s the story behind the name 80%20?
If you look at your wardrobe, you’re really only wearing 20 percent of it most of the time. I wanted to focus on those repeats that you keep going back to.
What kind of person wears your designs?
The active Lower East Side or Brooklyn girl who wants a shoe that will carry her from her daytime appointments into evening cocktails. Then she wants to be able to ride her bike home.
How has the brand evolved over the past five years?
It started out with a sneaker concept, a lot of Vans-style slip-ons. Then I grew out of the sneaker trend — and skateboarder guys — and wanted something that was fashionable and sophisticated but [still] fit into my lifestyle.
Who are your favorite designers?
I love the simplicity and avant-garde elements of Martin Margiela and Rick Owens. I’ve also been wearing a lot of pearls and jewelry lately and channeling this inner Coco essence.
What’s the first designer item you ever bought?
I think it was a frilly Betsey Johnson dress in high school. She’s having such a great comeback that now I’m like, “Damn it, where is that dress?”
How would you describe your personal style?
It’s like Molly Ringwald at her finest, with a hint of Coco Chanel.
What trends are you appreciating right now?
I love the paper-bag waist on a kind of louche, sophisticated pant. And I love those forties-style high-waisted bathing-suit bottoms that can be worn as shorts. I’ve been searching for the perfect pair.
What trends are you ready to see retired?
Definitely one of the worst is harem pants on a guy — I can’t even handle that. I’m also over tattoos and piercings, though I’m going to offend some of my friends by saying that, and those horrible Ed Hardy shirts that they spawned. I think it’s really chic to have no tattoos.
What’s one item you’re saving to buy?
I’ve been looking for a Coco Chanel suit on eBay.
What should every woman have in her closet?
A nice set of pearls. I’ve been wearing the same pearl necklace and earrings set since I was 16.
What’s something you never leave the house without?
Lipstick. Right now I’m really into Laura Mercier’s Tender Lips shade.