Like many people who travel to India, Matt Bernson had an epiphany there—but his involved the perfect sandal. It was 2005, and he was working as a manager for his family’s construction business. He ended up returning to India, trying to find the source of the sandal and ultimately spending a month making a sandal with a factory. “I had always been a bit of a shoe nut when it came to my own shoes,” he says.
Originally from Westchester, Bernson says people didn’t think he was crazy to jump into the shoe business. “Women were excited,” he says. “Every woman loves shoes.” In 2006, he rented a back room at Museum Editions; in 2007, he moved around the corner to the ground floor of 434 Greenwich (at Vestry). “People wonder why we’re not in the Garment District, but once they come here, they understand.” Convenience was also a factor: He lives in north Battery Park City, and he can walk his dog, a Vizsla named Abraham, to and from work.
The Matt Bernson style started as “downtown meets the beach,” but over time, as the company added fall lines, it shifted. “I think of our style as Downtown, Everywhere, USA,” says Bernson. “It’s unique but understated—nothing overpowering, nothing too cheesy. We’re not chasing crazy trends.” He likens the aesthetic to what you see around Tribeca, at places such as Steven Alan and Estancia 460: “People renovate, but they keep what has been here for a long time—the beams and brick walls. They respect the natural aspects of the materials.” Made in China with materials from Brazil, Italy, and Spain, all Matt Bernson shoes are vegetable-dyed and hand-crafted. They’re sold in 250 stores worldwide; locally, they can be found at Steven Alan, as well as at Scoop in Soho and the Meatpacking District. A men’s line is planned for next fall.
“A very specific person wears these shoes,” says Bernson. “Someone who’s creative, doing a lot during the day but not going home to change before going out at night.” That includes his wife, social-media consultant Lindsay Bucha Bernson, who test-drives all shoes—or at least the women’s ones—before they’re added to the collection.