Churchill Downs Magazine
by Graham Pilotte
Horse racing is known as the Sport of Kings. With a field of sleek horses and hopeful crowds clenching their bets, race day continues to redefine its role in society. Evolving in sophistication while balancing an understanding of consumer trends, the Thoroughbred industry’s distinct parallels to the world of fashion extend far past the finish line. What was once your grandfather’s sport, a day at the track can now be considered an opportunity to show off one’s personal style. And while some may think “track style” is synonymous with “Derby hat” - 2017 Breeders’ Cup fashion partner, Christina Lombardi dares your to walk a furlong in the shoes of the racing industry’s feminine audience.
Chrissy (as she’s referred to) is the owner and designer of her namesake line which has seen quick success and growth since launching in 2016. Now just one year later, the young designer can add the title of official luxury footwear designer can add the title of official luxury footwear designer for Breeders’ Cup to her accolades. “Fashion has really become a see-and-be0seen aspect of Thoroughbred racing and being an official fashion partner of this year’s Breeders’ Cup is very special to me,” Lombardi says. Showcasing feminine lines and thoughtful details, Lombardi’s footwear has an approachable take on modern elegance. “My brand’s mission is to empower women to feel confident by providing them with accessible glamour.”
The New Jersey native’s passion for design started at a young age when family outings included afternoons frequenting Monmouth Park Racetrack in Ocean Park, New Juersy. “Decades ago my grandfather owned horses, which led to my dad’s interest in the sport and it trickled down from there,” Lombardi recalls, admitting to getting swept up in the excitement and nostalgia of America’s pastime. “No matter how big or how small the race, whether we had a horse running or not, we’d all head to the track as a family and make our way to the rail to cheer as loud as we could.” Those experiences, combined with a natural design aesthetic, have equipped Lombardi with a unique insight needed for designing women’s footwear in an industry still overwhelmingly male-dominated. “I have firsthand experience of what works and what women are looking for so they can focus on having fun and express themselves in a pair of stilettos without compromising comfort,” Lombardi asserts.
A quick scroll through her well-curated online showroom reveals thoughtful creations. Flattering lines, trendy textures, and up-to-date prints populate the website, paired with time-tested classics. From delicate sandals to studded flats, each design demonstrates careful work on an elegant product. “It’s really been fun to see my designs evolve over time,” Lombardi says. “Stylistically, I am taking more risks and introducing more custom and complicated components to my work - which, I hope, has helped broaden my clients’ interest. I think it’s very important, for every aspect of life, to be open to evolving as a person in whatever you do.” This can also be said for her approach to the business of fashion. Among other unique brand practices, Christina Lombardi footwear has adopted a post-luxury model approach to design by motion to release only a few styles every two or three months, which allows her to forego the strict seasonality that can sometimes limit designers int he world of retail.
Theses types of risks are balanced by Lombardi’s artistic sensibilities and a strong sense of the business she’s running. Understanding that brick-and-mortar stores are a relic of fashion retail’s past, instead, she has embraced the work of e-commerce by directly selling to her customers. By doing so, she avoids box box stores and is able to offer buyers luxury products at accessible prices. The product materials are sourced from, and made int the same factories as many of the high-end, powerhouse brands people are familiar with, but much more affordable because of this method. “We want to encourage women to take risks and have fun with fashion, without breaking the bank - or breaking a poorly-made heel,” Lombardi says.
For fashion enthusiasts seeking an affordable option for trendy footwear, effortless glamour and always-in-style comfort, Christina Lombardi might be the winning ticket. Most of all though, Lombardi urges confidence. “The best piece of advice that I can give anyone, is just do you,” she says. “Don’t feel like you need to wear something because that’s what’s on trend. There’s nothing worse than feeling self-conscious or uncomfortable at the track - or anywhere.” Instead, she says, choose an outfit that reflects your personal style. For her, that’s not always a dress: “My current go-to look for a day at the races is a pair of shorts or three-quarter pants, usually silk or patterned, with a simple tank top or crop top and matching blazer,” Lombardi describes. “Depending on the event or the venue where I’m going, I usually reach for my nude Angelina pumps. If I know I’m going to be walking around all day, like on are day, I’ll pull out the Sofias.”
While Lombardi’s top selections for event-specific activities roll off her tongue with ease, asking her to pick an overall design favorite presents more of a challenge. “As a new designer, you really become attached to each design as if it’s your own child.” Lombardi says with a laugh. However, if she had to choose one from her recent line, she looks no further than the classic Aria sandal. “Currently, I live in them.” As her designs continue to evolve in style and trends, she is also cognizant of how footwear rotates with the every-fluctuating weather. “I’m looking forward to my Kenzie II flats and Alessandras in the cooler months,” she recalls. “We spent a lot of time shifting the lines of Alessandra so that the end result is the most flattering version possible. The studding accents and color combinations give an added flair of edginess to this updated silhouette.”
Whether you’re headed to the track, traveling the country, or enjoying the comfort of your own home, there’s no better time than now to be fearless with fashion. Christina Lombardi footwear is a perfect place to start, since the brand seamlessly blends easy elegance and high-end style. “Now is the time to experiment with fashion and find what works for you, enjoy it. Take risks, do it up, and always wear a smile,” Lombardi says.