Heeless in the Making

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I'm backdating again as I rewind to my trip to Tokyo (even though I'm currently in Shanghai, and then Beijing, my last leg of my trip) where I had another encounter with shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana.  I thought nothing could top his kindness of allowing me to try on a few pairs of his shoes in the Comme des Garcons Trading Museum store, whilst both he and the staff there sniggered at my inefficiency of walking on air and also at the little Mexican man embroidered on my dress.  Noritaka went one better and allowed me into his inner sanctum home slash studio slash workshop to see him apply sole to upper and thus finish off a pair of shoes that is intended for Daphne Guinness (his other ardent fan alongside Lady Gaga).  

I knew Noritaka ran a small scale production but it was even more intimate than I thought.  Noritaka's rabbit Choco wscurrying about in his wee cage in one corner and his sole assistant was at a desk working on tracing out a sole for the shoe in another.  The rest of his workshop is occupied by one Singer leather sewing machine, one Nippy leather skiving (I still can't get over that technical term) and a square desk where he set about applying sole to shoe.  First he skived the edges of the leather sole so that the edges were thinner than the centre and trimmed it, in preparation for the shoe.  Then he made it more pliable with water and then he sets about painting it with a sort of quick-dry dye to give it that black polished finish.  After the imprint of his logo and the bending of the sole with expertly cut-out freehand slits means it's ready to be joined with the grey suede and Swarovski encrusted upper (as instructed by Daphne Guinness).  Both sole and bottom of the shoe has to be brushed with glue and left for five minutes so that the surfaces will stick together properly.  I loved that Noritaka uses a Japanese calligraphy brush to apply the glue.  He won't have it any other way.  Once both shoe and sole are properly sticky, then he puts the two together, hammering away at the sole so that it sticks there.  I thought there might have been a clamping process but it turns out Noritaka uses all parts of the hammer to really press the sole onto the shoe.  You can visibly see the bumps being ironed out with the curve of the claw, the handle of the hammer and a super smooth edge forming that comes from the leather having been brushed with water, making it flexible under pressure.  It wasn't the full process from start to finish but the sole binding final process is a crucial stage where the shell of a shoe becomes well… a proper pair of shoes.  

If the description of the process above sounds a bit dry and stale, then I can assure you that in person, it was quite mesmerising to watch.  This was a very different kettle of fish from observing the factory set-ups seen at Dr. Martens or in Portugal.  This is one lone Noritaka, living and breathing that inky dye and that pungent glue and really getting to grips with his own personal hammer to craft his namesake shoes, on this teensy tiny scale of production.  From the way he works, you get the feeling that he wouldn't want to relinquish that control of forming his shoes with his own hands.  I questioned whether Noritaka could expand beyond custom orders but after seeing this, you'd rather than not happen if it means he doesn't get to personally put hand to shoe himself.  The shoes may make you feel like you're walking on air but there are some solid and concrete foundations, within this feat of footwear engineering, that people may not realise or see after being blinded by their initial "WOW, that's FREAKY!" reaction.   

Oh and there's a little secret about the construction of the super high platform, which really surprised me.  But that would be giving it all away… 

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Olive Goods

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The world just keeps getting smaller as I'm turning ye olde blog posts into real life in-the-flesh encounters.  Elaine, the owner of The Olive Shoppe, the former vintage eBay store once based in California, has been bouncing around the world, from Beijing to Bangkok and now to Shanghai for an indefinite period of time.  Their website Olive Shoppe is still going, filled with Elaine's quirky eye for vintage but it is her taste in new designers picked up on her travels that has created her pop-up shop that is currently going on in Shanghai (812 Julu Road) until the 31st May.  The Olive Shoppe also has a guest pop-up rail in Dong Liang Studio, just around the corner (184 Fumin Lu) just around the corner, extending her physical shop reach.  Elaine's nomad ways means that her labels are geographically sprawling – Two Weeks and Proef Tights from the UK, Daniel Palillo from Finland, Fleamadonna from Korea, Chromat from USA and Reality Studio from Germany.  They're all names that are hard to find in their very own source countries but have found a home in a furniture store near the somewhat hip-n-burgeoning Fumin Road area in Shanghai as well as on their Taobao shop (more about the wonders of Taobao later…).  

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My biggest discovery from Olive Shoppe was the London-based Kerhao Yin, a name who I vaguely knew but hadn't seen his collections up close.  It's all too little too late alas as this half Taiwanese, half Burmese CSM graduate has now stopped his own label and has taken a job at Marni.  Still, we can reminisce a bit over his S/S 12 collection which is a mash-up of unexpected textures and basketball attire and is one of the most interesting examples of warping sportswear that I've seen in a long time.  The deliberate light/heavy contradiction is seen in the use of tulle contrasted with heavy quilted wadding or green cut-out felt sports initials.  Here's hoping Kerhao brings his aesthetic sensibilities over to Marni.    

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Seeing as Kerhao is no more and this is the one opportunity I'd be buying a piece of his work, I faltered and ridiculously bought a London-based designer's work all the way in Shanghai.  Doh.  To rub salt in to wounds, these new pistachio slingback shoes by Alex & Rose are also by a British label based in London.  Double Doh.  I'm going to maintain that I'd never see either of these items in London so I haven't really broken my "If I can get it in London, it's not worth buying.." rule of travel shopping.  The Kerhao mesh jacket reads Sports Day, a day which I loved slacking off from for almost all of my primary and secondary school life.  Can you tell I'm really excited for the Olympics *voice dripping with heavy sarcasm* ?  

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(Kerhao jacket worn with Antipodium shirt, COS dip-dyed sweater, COS neon skirt, Alex & Rose pistachio shoes)