By Britney Grover
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
There’s not much about Sam and Libby Edelman that’s ordinary, from their dynamic personalities to their 40-year partnership in marriage and business. They’ve been through highs like the creation of the timeless and iconic Sam & Libby bow ballet flat and lows like suffering a life-altering injury. Through it all, their relationship, charisma and business aptitude have not just endured but blossomed — as has their passion for horses.
“I think it’s rare — very rare,” Sam said about the opportunity to work with Libby so closely in both life and business. “We’ve found a wonderful balance in everything we do. When Libby rode horses she loved showing, and I loved developing show jumpers for sale purposes, so we had different interests. We’d always get together on Sundays for the grand prix and enjoy it together. It’s the same in business: I’m motivated by commerce and Libby is driven by people and by styling, so it’s very complementary.”
Now equal counterparts of one cohesive unit, Sam and Libby seem to have been meant for each other. Both took riding lessons as children — at the same stable in eastern Connecticut, they realized many years later. Horses became a major part of Sam’s life, as did fashion. Specifically, shoes. “I started my career alongside my late father with a company called Horseshoes, taking the equestrian influence and applying it to fashion — we thought equestrian fashion was a trend that was coming,” he said. “Horseshoes had little paddock boots and equestrian-inspired details just as Ralph Lauren was starting. We immediately got picked up by Ralph Lauren, and that set the stage for everything that I’ve done in fashion.”
It also set the stage for meeting Libby: she was working for Seventeen magazine and reporting on Horseshoes. There, she fell in love with shoes — and with Sam, which led to picking up riding, foxhunting and showing again.
After co-founding Kenneth Cole Productions and creating the shoe division at Esprit, Sam decided he and Libby would create their own footwear brand. They launched Sam & Libby in 1987 and found instant success with their bow ballet flats, selling over 7 million pairs and setting a trend that has never gone out of style. Sam & Libby was sold in 1996 and its creators chose to focus on their family — and on horses. They moved to Palm Beach in 1999, close to their 20-acre S&L Farms in Wellington, and Sam turned to breeding, training, buying and selling horses full time.
Then in 2001, another challenge faced the Edelmans: While riding near their Wellington farm, an alligator spooked Sam’s horse and Sam was thrown. He woke up in the hospital with his leg badly broken. Although it took two years to get back in the saddle, he was able to turn tragedy into opportunity. While Sam was recovering, he noticed a trend toward fashionable yet affordable clothing in magazines, without equally affordable and trendy shoes. In 2004, Sam and Libby launched the Sam Edelman brand creating high-quality and trend-on footwear at an attainable price.
Once again, Sam and Libby found success in the fashion industry. In 2010, Caleres (called Brown Shoe Company at that time), an American footwear company that owns and operates a large global footwear portfolio, acquired the Sam Edelman brand and helped Sam reach new heights — even buying back the Sam & Libby label in 2012. Now, the Sam Edelman brand has hundreds of millions of dollars in sales on the books and is only growing.
The brand expanded into lifestyle in 2017 with the addition of denim, dresses and outerwear under Sam and Libby’s creative direction. With Sam acting as the driving force behind the business with the support of Caleres, Sam Edelman expanded internationally and opened four shops within Lane Crawford in China. “Moving into China was a big accomplishment for Sam Edelman shoes,” Sam said. “We also moved into London, so it was a really gratifying year.”
It was a good year for S&L Farms as well, which Sam and Libby have continued to operate for the last 40 years. Now, they primarily operate out of Belgium developing young show jumpers. In 2018, S&L sold several grand prix horses including S&L Carlos Z (in partnership with Tom Tisbo), as well as having success with other horses they owned: In April 2018, S&L Just a Cobbler won the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby with Liza Boyd riding at the Winter Equestrian Festival. “We have our personal horses, some trail horses, at our farm in Sherman, Connecticut,” Sam said. “Libby is retired from riding; she’s taken up yoga and other pastimes. I continue to participate in the development and sales of hunters and jumpers today and enjoy trail riding with our neighbors.”
Moving forward, Sam and Libby’s main objective is to continue growing the success of the Sam Edelman brand, while finding ways to give back. “We have a very successful fashion business, and we’ve had a marvelously successful year with our show jumpers,” Sam said. “The goal for the future is to continue on, but maybe have a little better balance in life — to find more philanthropic opportunities for our involvement both in the equine and fashion businesses.”
This past December, on behalf of Caleres, the couple and their son Jesse Edelman co-chaired the Two Ten Footwear Foundation gala – the largest philanthropic event in the fashion footwear business. “Together, as a family and a company, we set a record in the amount of funds raised and completely changed the aura, spirit and approach to philanthropy within our industry,” Sam said.
No matter what comes for Sam and Libby, some things seem certain: They’ll continue to find success, they’ll do it together and they’ll do it with horses.
“Horses are a part of my life, and they’ve been part of my life since I was 7 years old,” Sam said. “You know, it’s like Winston Churchill said: ‘There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.’”
For more information, visit samedelman.com
Photos by Shawna Simmons, www.sasequinephotography.com