As a preschooler, Adriana Epelboim-Levy remembers, she slipped on her mother’s heels in their Caracas, Venezuela, home and felt like not only the most beautiful girl in the world, but also an empowered one. “Everything came down to posture,” she says. “It’s like the base of a building: What’s at the foundation of your posture? Shoes.”
Today, inside the North Miami office of her artful footwear and leather goods brand, Alepel, Epelboim-Levy has melded that desired function with artistically inspired form: Her shoes, handmade in her native South America, sport designs hand-painted by Florida artisans, including whirling botanicals, fanciful hummingbirds, abstract shapes, and other looks such as the precise black strokes adorning her own bright white sneakers.
The spark for Alepel ignited when Epelboim-Levy, a former architect who studied at New York’s Pratt Institute, began looking for a creative outlet. When she and her husband, Meyer, moved back to Caracas for his job, she decided to dive into making accessible yet high-quality leather shoes for women. “I am so passionate about footwear,” says Epelboim-Levy, who recalls regularly setting her alarm to be the first in line to purchase shoes at sample sales in New York City. “Around the time Alepel was developing, Christian Louboutin red soles were having their moment, so I felt the space and interest were there.” She visited Italian and Brazilian factories and attended design classes offered by the prestigious Milan-based Arsutoria School.
Then an idea struck due to political turmoil in Venezuela. She reached out to a local artist to depict patriotic symbols on the shoes she designed to raise funds for those in need. The artist painted the country’s national flower, tree, stars, and bird on the pairs. The limited collection sold out immediately, as Venezuelans living all over the world bought the shoes to support people in their homeland.
From there, Alepel took off, expanding to offer six silhouettes—mules, sandals, heels, loafers, slides, and sneakers—with a seventh, boots, on the way, in three base colors: white, beige, and black (with the occasional special-edition hue). “As an architect, I wanted everything to be minimalist except for one statement piece,” Epelboim-Levy says. “That idea translated to Alepel, where any of the silhouettes themselves are simple, but the painted designs are what make them stand out.”
When the designer and her family moved to Miami in 2018, she hired local artisans to paint the patterns she sketches and then digitizes. However, “at the end of the day, these artists become the designers,” she says of the small-batch lines, which are available online. “They bring their own interpretation to the product.” Those touches include butterflies extending their wings across the vamp of a mule, a cheetah jumping along the side of a sneaker, and infinite waves traversing a sandal.
Epelboim-Levy says Southerners have especially connected with the charming designs. In recent years she has added home goods and accessories to Alepel, including wine bags, vases, handbags, and card holders, and she is currently creating wallpaper prototypes. She also offers clients the option to personalize any of the leather products, plus the chance to work directly with an artisan on a custom piece, typically a three-week process. On a quiet Tuesday, in fact, artist Gabriela Milner sits at her drafting desk, methodically painting a pair of custom white heels. The subject? A future bride’s beloved shih tzu.
Milner, a native of Argentina, pauses after a careful brushstroke to look at her work in progress and smiles. “Alepel customers are not only purchasing products, but they have personal feelings that are involved,” she says of the designs. “That gives me happiness, and that makes my art feel happy.”