Lisa Simpson has pretty much worn the same pair of red Mary Janes for the past 25 years, but the actress behind the eternal eight-year-old has something of a shoe fetish. When she’s not giving Lisa a voice – which she’s done since The Simpsons debuted on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987 – Yeardley Smith is designing shoes for her own footwear line.
Smith launched Marchez Vous (that’s French for “You Walk”) in 2011. “My whole life has been predicated on this premise of ‘Screw it, let’s do it,’” says the actress, who started the label despite having no formal training in fashion or shoe design. “There’s something interesting and exciting and a little bit daring about someone who [says], ‘I don’t know [how], but let’s do it.’” Two years later, the collection – a range of Italian-made women’s heels, flats and boots made in that retail for between $295-$625 – is available in 40 boutiques across the country and online at MarchezVous.com.
Despite some initial challenges, Smith has figured out a way to balance her Simpsons gig with her passion for shoe design. “It can get a little nutty when you’re juggling both jobs,” she admits. But don’t expect her to give up her day job anytime soon. “People always say, ‘Do you get tired of doing Lisa Simpson?’ First of all, I love that girl… But really, the most important thing is that the show has afforded me so many opportunities to do other things in my life… You can have all the money in the world and not do anything with [it], but I think that would be a tremendous waste. I’ve chosen to do some really interesting, daring, fabulous, and different things. Things I never thought I would do and that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do if I didn’t have this sort of freedom of choice.”
Read on for our full Q&A with the actor-turned-shoe designer.
EW: Why did you transition from voiceover artist to shoe designer?
Smith: People [always] ask me, “You do voiceovers. Do you just show up to work in your pajamas?” I’m like, “Listen to me, the minute you leave your house in your pajamas people know something’s terribly wrong.” Even though I’m not on camera, I am a woman in the world who encounters other people in the world as I go about my day. If I look my best, I have a better chance of being at my best. I got into the shoe business to solve a problem. I realized I had this extraordinary wardrobe, but I didn’t have any beautiful, comfortable shoes that could keep up with me all day long. So without knowing the first thing about how to make shoes, [I said], “I think I want to be a part of that solution.”
Between The Simpsons and your shoe brand, what is your work week like?
The Simpsons actually takes up very little time for the actors. It’s absolutely full-time for the animators and the writers. It’s completely different for them, but for us… We do a read through of the script on a Thursday morning [that] takes one hour. That’s the first time the writers hear the jokes out loud, so they hear what works and what doesn’t. Then they do a rewrite of the script and we record that episode the following Monday. So I worked yesterday for instance and we had Zach Galifianakis as a guest star on the show and he was fantastic. Really fun. We do it all together like an old radio play. It takes about four hours [and] we don’t take a lunch. We’re a pretty well oiled machine. Then I leave there and drive across town to go to Marchez Vous. If you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work.
Is your collection in any way inspired by The Simpsons?
No. Lisa Simpson has worn the same red dress, pearls, and red shoes for 25 years. She’s pretty much sticking with what works, I guess. She does have a dress she wears to church, which is very cute. My favorite decades are from the 1920s to about 1960. Those 40 years are so rich with detail. So much happened in fashion during those four decades. I go through old Vogue magazines or look through old Hollywood photographs, take the inspiration of that and apply it to something on Marchez Vous.
What do you think Lisa Simpson would say about this collection?
First of all, I think Lisa Simpson would be so proud that the company is owned and run and designed by a woman because the women’s shoe business is [mostly] run by men, which I had no idea about. [It’s] fascinating to me and seems a little bit bold considering one assumes they’re not test driving the product. At least not to the extent that women do. Lisa would love that. She would say, “Go Yeardley. You’re a rock star. So proud. Let’s hear it for girl power.”
Is there a pair of shoes you could see Lisa wearing?
If I had to put her in a [different] pair of shoes, she probably would love the Veronique [style] from the new collection, which is elegant. She could pull that off even at 8, but I’d love to see her in a pair of the red Roux boots, which are probably a little old for her, but they’re the go-go dancer from 1972 “I wish I was dancing on Elton John’s piano” kind of boots. Lisa Simpson can totally think out of the box.
Lisa certainly is ageless.
It’s true. Every time she has a birthday, she turns 8. We just don’t talk about that. She was 7 for a few seconds, then she turned 8 again… like, “Oh yay, she’s 8. She’s been 8 for 25 years.” Lucky girl.
Would you consider doing a Simpsons inspired capsule collection?
I don’t think The Simpsons are known for their fashion prowess, to be honest. Although Marge is quite a dish. Whenever they flash forward and Lisa grows up, [Marge has] got a body to die for. But in terms of wardrobe, you don’t look to The Simpsons. Although, then again, Lisa wears pearls every single day. How about this? I’ll put it in the hopper and give it some thought. Maybe I could do a collection all in primary colors — the colors of Springfield — since it’s red, blue, that very strong yellow, green. Marge’s dress is mint green.
The show always has fantastic guest stars, which makes it seem like there would be lots of networking opportunities. Have you gifted any of the guest stars over the years?
I gave a pair of shoes to Lady Gaga, who guested on the show a little over a year and a half ago. She was lovely as pie, by the way. She could not have been nicer. She was so game that day and totally into it. I gave her a pair of the Valentines and I said, “Look, I know these are probably too low for you, but maybe you can wear them vacuuming or in bed or something.” I don’t know if she ever wore them or if maybe she gave them to her assistant, but all you can do is continue to turn over all the stones.
What’s something you’ve learned about the footwear business since your launched the company?
The learning curve has been enormously steep. It was a little like scaling Everest the first time out… I learned that you can design all the color and detail in the world, but your best-selling shoe is going to be a black pump. And I learned that even if I don’t wear flats, it is absolutely essential to have one [in a collection]. I designed a flat that reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. The five bench marks of Marchez Vous are comfortable, sexy, witty, unexpected, and timeless. I’m a big proponent of details, though you actually don’t have to add that much detail to make something seem extra special. I’ll actually go to the store and buy fabric flowers and hot glue them to my shoes to jazz them up a little bit more. Though they’re not what sells the most.
What’s next for the brand?
I have a men’s line coming for spring 2014, which will preview in NY the first week of August and then Vegas the third week of August. I’m so excited about it. We have 6 styles — a combat boot, a wing tip, a loafer, a driver, a double monk strap, and a chukka boot. Men are usually a little more conservative. They want to be stylish, but you have to keep them within their comfort zone. It was a fantastic challenge. When I was married, I loved to dress my husbands (Smith has been married and divorced twice). It was so fun. I thought about what I would like to see a man wear. [With the men’s line] we pushed the envelope, but we didn’t tear it. I’m excited to see what the reaction will be.
What’s the best part of running Marchez Vous?
The best part is all of the people I’ve met, the customers. Sometimes they bring their kids because the kids want to meet Lisa Simpson. They don’t care about the shoes and that’s great too. I’ll go to boutiques and meet the customers to promote the shoe line. I get a lot of “I can’t believe you came!” I’m like, “I said I would come. What are you talking about?” I think it’s rare in the design world for designers to actually show up. Look, it doesn’t matter why they don’t show up, whether they don’t want to or they don’t have time, it’s all well and good. For me, it’s one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. [I’m not] just another celebrity designer. Sarah Jessica Parker, for instance, is designing a line with Manolo Blahnik. Sarah Jessica Parker gets three pages in Vogue magazine about that. I’m not that big a star. At least the press will talk to me because everybody wants to talk to Lisa Simpson… but I don’t get three pages in Vogue. So I walk this interesting middle ground. People assume it’s been much easier than it has. I don’t mind the struggle, but it certainly hasn’t been a gimme.
When you meet with customers, do they ask you to do the voice?
All the time! It’s so hilariously absurd. I’ll be anywhere, in the supermarket or at the movies, and somebody will say, “Oh my gawwwd. You’re Lisa Simpson!” and they’ll whip out their phone and they’re ready for me to record a voicemail message. I’m like, “I don’t really do that, but I appreciate it.” It’s not unlike going up to a lawyer and saying, “I have this legal problem, could you just give me 15 minutes of your very valuable expertise and solve it for me?” You can’t fault them for their excitement.
Zach Galifianakis aside, any hints on who we can expect on the show this upcoming season?
I can’t. I got in so much trouble for tweeting a photo of me and one of the guest stars before it had been released. I was like, “Well, you should have told me I wasn’t supposed to tweet that photo out.” But I will say that we’re about 8 episodes in. I think this season is really strong. It is an extraordinary privilege to be on the longest running scripted primetime television show in history.
Season 25 of The Simpsons premieres Sunday, September 29 on Fox.