By Katherine Terrell | LSU Student
Lele. Aileen. Audrey.
Those are more than names to Baton Rouge resident Dee Keller. They are creations.
Each pertains to a shoe Keller designed. At 47, she has begun the third phase of her life as a high-end shoe and handbag designer.
Not bad for a one-time lawyer and a stay-at-home mother of four.
Each shoe means something different to Keller: Lele, named after her youngest daughter; Aileen, the friend who helped her make a dream a reality; Audrey, for her late mother.
"It's one that I'll do every year," Keller said of the Audrey. "It's a staple. I wanted to remember her that way."
Keller has been passionate about fashion all her life. Joining the designing ranks had been in her mind for a long time before jumping into the fray last year after asking herself, "Why not now?"
There was no good answer to that and life has been a whirlwind ever since. Keller has learned everything from the proper pitch and sole of a shoe to designing shoeboxes.
"There's a lot of things to consider—the pitch, the heel height, the insole. And then the materials.. The design is extremely important but materials are just are important."
Keller said she had no idea of the intricacies involved in creating and selling shoes, recalling an incident a few months back where one of her shoes got stuck in customs for weeks due to its snakeskin material.
"I had a python—an exotic skin – coming through customs. (Since then) I have learned a lot about importing and exporting. You must have a Wildlife and Fisheries license to important exotic skin and I now I do. The shoes finally made it. … They got here and I love them!"
Keller blew into the shoe world last year after consulting friend Aileen Dauterive, owner of Park Lane Boutique in Baton Rouge. Dauterive took her to New York City to meet with shoe designers and with the Italian trade commission to find factories that could produce her shoes.
Dauterive said she had noticed a niche in the different types of high-end shoes that she thought Keller could fill.
"It was either trendy young and too trendy or too high end where very few people could afford it," Dauterive said. "There was nothing in between. … When she showed me pictures, I said that's the way to go."
Keller quickly gained support with despite her rookie status in the fashion world because of her never-ending energy and willingness to work hard, Dauterive said. "She is like a lunatic. She is the most energetic kind of lady, and I use that word on very few people. She is the epitome of a lady."
The business, which markets the spring collection in the $225 to $475 range, has become a family affair. The Kellers' oldest daughter Brighton, 22, helps with the website and started a blog to promote the shoes, while Coco, 21, Stevie, 17, and Lele, 15 provide inspiration.
Husband Steve is a real estate developer. He doesn't work with the business but is highly supportive, say the Kellers.
Brighton Keller said she started her blog, "Brighton the Day," in November after a conversation with her mom. After unsuccessful attempts to contact established bloggers, Keller told her daughter she should start the blog herself.
Brighton Keller put together a few outfits along with shoes from her mom's upcoming line to promote the brand, and said she was shocked at the reception it received.
The blog jumped up from 15,000 page views in December to 30,000 in January, says Brighton. Designer such as J-Brand and Robert Rodriguez have contacted her to wear the products.
"We're blown away. People love the shoes."
Brighton says the best part of being involved with her mom's venture hasn't been the blog, or even the shoes. It's the opportunity to work together. They have traveled the country together promoting the shoes, hopping from Houston one week to New York City the next.
Despite minor setbacks with trucking strikes and snowstorms in Italy, Keller's first collection of shoes started arriving for the spring. With shoes everywhere in her house and the boxes piling up, the aspiring retailer said things were finally starting to become a reality.
"The best thing about it is the creative aspect about it," Keller said. "That's the most exciting part for me personally. … It's fun, it's positive energy and it's fun."