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In Her Shoes, You'd Help Tibetans Too

April 16, 1999

The first thing you look at when meeting a footwear designer like Nathalie Marciano is her shoes, although the conservative, black calf lace-ups she is wearing are nothing like the flirty heels, mules and platforms she designs for the Nathalie M. and Charles David footwear collections.

"What can I say? I like comfortable shoes," says the dark-haired beauty who, for the past 13 years, has created more than 200 shoe designs each season from Charles David headquarters in Culver City.

But this spring, she has also been focusing her efforts on a $1 million print advertising campaign to promote Tibetan independence from Communist China. The ads feature the slogan "Walk With Me" and include photographs of Tibetans by well-known photographers and celebrity supporters.

"We were looking for something heartfelt, a cause for ourselves and for others," she explains. "The Tibetan issue is so timely now with the situation in Kosovo. It's the same thing, except in Tibet, it's been going on for 40 years."

The effort also includes an e-mail campaign and petition drive. Marciano says approximately 15,000 signatures have been collected on the Free Tibet Web site, http://www.savetibet.org, calling for the freedom of political prisoners.

The other goal of the campaign is, of course, to sell shoes. Tibet is an especially good cause for a fashion company because of its celebrity following. Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Uma Thurman, Ethan

Hawke and Brad Pitt have autographed khatas--Tibetan shawls--for an online auction to benefit Tibetan charities.

Marciano first became interested in Tibet when she saw the film "Kundun." But her interest in shoes goes back to her childhood in Montreal, where father Charles Malka owned a shoe company. "When I was a little girl, I remember my dad coming home with all these samples. The first thing I would do was try them on."

At age 19, she attended the renowned Afpic School of Shoe Design in Paris, which accepts fewer than 20 students a year. After graduation, she moved to L.A. and married Maurice Marciano, chief executive of Guess Inc. Nathalie Marciano became the principal designer for Charles David in 1986. Her designs are now available at department stores and in 22 Charles David boutiques nationwide.

Marciano's sculpted styles are inspired by European looks and the city of L.A., where she designs. "I love the light in L.A. and the diversity of its culture. When I designed for my father's company in Canada, I had to do a lot of rubber soles."

There's hardly a rubber sole in sight in her spring collection, which is full of buttery leather mules, strappy sandals and earth-toned slides on chunky wood platforms.

"My goal is to have something for everyone. I want a mother and daughter to be able to come into our stores and buy shoes together."

* booth.moore@latimes.com.

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