Interior designer Ken Fulk is obsessed with animals. In his San Francisco home, an enormous taxidermied giraffe sits above the fireplace, its neck almost touching the 27-foot-tall ceiling above. The interiors that he’s designed for Silicon Valley’s tech giants often feature playful animalia. A house designed for Bebo’s founders has a winding staircase with a zebra-print carpet. At San Francisco’s The Cavalier restaurant, Fulk fills a bright blue wall with stag heads. “I remember visiting the Natural History Museum when I was a kid and wanting to move in,” he says. “My obsession with animals goes back decades. I always try to honor animals in my work.”
In a new collaboration with luxury home slipper startup Birdies, Fulk has done exactly that. The four pairs that he’s designed capture his whimsical and ebullient aesthetic in shoe form. One pair of slipper is made of emerald green satin and has a leopard on it. Another pair in a slide silhouette features a camo exterior with a golden retriever on it, a leather trim with gold studs, and an interior footbed made of bright fuchsia satin. A pair of mules features an equestrian design on a cream satin background, with a layer of fluffy faux fur. The shoes have the same kind of eclectic mix of patterns and exotic animal embroidery that Alessandro Michele has popularized with his recent collections for Gucci.
The founders of Birdies, Marisa Sharkey and Bianca Gates, launched their San Francisco-based company in 2015 with $2 million seed funding led by Kirsten Green’s Forerunner Ventures. Gates previously led retail partnerships at Facebook and Instagram, while Sharkey worked as a management consultant at Bain & Co before getting an MBA from Wharton.
Sharkey and Gates’s idea for Birdies was to create luxurious, comfortable slippers for wearing at home–but not just inside. The brand’s $140 shoes come with a rubber sole, so they can be worn outside, and interiors made of satin or faux fur, to keep your feet warm in the colder months. The Ken Fulk version comes at the slightly higher price point of $165. This might seem a little indulgent, when the average pair of household slippers costs $40 (though popular LL Bean moccasins can cost as much as $95). But the brand has been popular among young professionals, many of whom spend several days of the week working from home and want fashionable shoes to spice up long days in the home office.
This is the brand’s first collaboration, and it’s salient that they chose to partner with an interior designer rather than a fashion designer. While many fashion designers are interested in how shoes fit into a broader outfit, Fulk was interested both in the wearer, as well as the backdrop she would be wearing the slippers in. “I like to create very thorough narratives–or movies, as I like to call them–when I design anything,” he says. “With these shoes, I was thinking about the glorious home the woman would be wearing them in.”
This is also Fulk’s first fashion collaboration, but he doesn’t see it as a big leap from the rest of his design work. He leads a firm of about 50 creatives who design spaces–both commercial and residential–as well as events. He helped design Napster founder Sean Parker’s wedding in the woods of Big Sur and recently designed the interior for a coffee bar in Midtown, New York, called Felix Roasting Co. “I don’t really see myself narrowly limited by medium,” Fulk says. “When this collaboration came my way, the question wasn’t “why?” but “why not?””
Fulk says he’s enjoyed dipping his toe–so to speak–in the art of shoe design, and it’s whetted his appetite for more. “And I have always loved fashion, even as a child,” he says. “I was excited about the start of the school year because it meant getting a new wardrobe, and these days, I wear colorful shoes with my tuxedos all the time. I think fashion is a natural next step.”