Noritaka Tatehana probably won't be an unfamiliar name to you, unless you have escaped the clutch of pop culture.  This might look like I'm coming too late to the praise of Tatehana given that since Lady Gaga has acquired no less than eighteen pairs of his shoes, his name has probably popped up in the blogosphere more than most Japanese fashion designers.  Despite my awareness of Tatehana's work, I didn't want to contribute yet-another-post that just marvelled at the freakish quality of the shoes.  Instead, I waited to meet the man himself in Tokyo on this trip to come away with a Tatehana experience, that goes beyond just pointing out his famous clientale and the fact that he's only 26. 

For a start, however 'cray cray' his heeless phantom shoes might seem, they are heavily rooted in Tatehana's degree of learning Japanese dyeing and weaving techniques and in fact, he first began crafting wooden clogs aged 15.  It's actually quite scary to read his 1985 birth year in his bio.  It's easy to see the foundations of his present work in these archive 'pokkuri' and geisha 'geta' platform shoes which he made at university, where strict Japanese classicism is abound.  It's even more interesting to see how extreme we regard his current work, which contrasts so heavily with the traditions that Tatehana strongly abides by.  The complete handcrafted process of his shoes just can't be over emphasised.  When you consider the process of carving out the shoe heel (often made of wood and hollowed out), testing out the angle, securing the balance of the shoe and then hand dying the embossed leather to get the desired effect or fixing on the crystals), it's no wonder that each pair takes three months to make.  In total, Tatehana has made around sixty pairs of shoes ever, which isn't that many by a well-known shoe designer's standards but considering the artisanal process of Tatehana (who only has two assistants), you end up wanting to give him a giant bear hug to say "Bloody hell…. better you than me….!"





It is these embossed leathers which retain the strongest link to those traditional Japanese clogs that Tatehana made.  Interestingly, his family come from a background of working in the red-light/entertainment district in Tokyo called Kabuki-cho, which might go some way to explaining Tatehana's vision of women's feet as "beautifully tortured".  Tatehana is well aware that he isn't the first male in the world to restrict a woman's footsteps – from China's tradition of binding the feet and the heavy Japanese geta sandals causing women to take babysteps to the vertiginous heels of today's high-end shoe designers.  Instead Tatehana embraces this trajectory, trying to fit himself into this timeline somewhere by creating these shoes as labours of love to the best of his ability.  If you can't see the beauty of the shapes, at the very least you can admire the savoir faire.






It's therefore a crying a shame that a designer as seemingly obscure as Tatehana is now the victim of poor rip off versions which I suppose is the negative effect of Lady Gaga's patronage.  The shape of Nasty Gal's leopard versions are less extreme (clearly they didn't have the time/energy to perfect the balance of the shoe and took a lazy shortcut instead) but the imitation is quite clear.  There's no getting away from inspired versions of the catwalk but a designer/craftsman like Tatehana is probably the last person I expected to be ripped off.  You can pull the "But they're two different customers…" line all you want but the problem is of course Noritaka Tatehana's name could potentially not be strong enough to fight off the cheapie versions should he wish to expand his shoe line in the future and produce footwear that goes beyond his made-to-order system at present. 



These crystal encrusted shoes were created for a Dom Perignon event in Le Baron, Tokyo where pole dancers in Somarta catsuits (Tatehana has collaborated with this Tokyo designer on previous occasions) wearing these shoes showed that agile movement is totally possible.  This YouTube video is full proof



Tatehana insisted I try a pair on even though I turned up wearing the most inappropriate outfit for pairing up with his shoes.  I'm pushing my luck if I think a childish Mexican dress with a funny little embroidered man on my chest is going to do these shoes justice.  Still, I had to seize the one opportunity to walk in a pair of Noritaka Tatehana shoes and walk I did – well, I teetered three metres down the Comme des Garcons Trading Museum store in Gyre where I met Tatehana.  I was petrified at first but once I took a few more steps and got used to Tatehana's clever shaping of the shoe, I can just about see how Daphne Guinness teeters about.  By tilting the degree of the shoe to an extreme angle where the foot is dipped forward, the balance of the person wearing them shifts so that you end up feeling like you're lurching forward and gradually you lose the fear of tilting backwards and falling on your arse.  Once I let go of the walls and stopped grabbing onto the ledges, it felt somewhat empowering to walk on air.  Gaga's consistent orders for Tatehana's shoes could certainly be rooted to a reason beyond aesthetic pleasure.  






Leave a comment
  1. Ollie

    2011-10-24 at 3:45 PM

    Amazing article! I really hope he goes beyond the made to order system soon, even at a very high price I would love to see his shoes in stores.

  2. Kate

    2011-10-24 at 4:17 PM

    Adore this post and every single pair of shoes! And, to be honest, I kinda love your dress with those shoes 🙂

  3. Mobus

    2011-10-24 at 4:27 PM

    I love your dress !! Are these shoes really confortable ?

  4. thefashionguitar

    2011-10-24 at 4:43 PM

    That is some shoe art… wonder how it is to walk with…
    XO Charlotte

  5. Arstcrylique

    2011-10-24 at 5:20 PM

    This is architectural fashion. Pieces of art. Unwearable, but wonderful.
    Sara Ottavia C.

  6. Yuka

    2011-10-24 at 5:28 PM

    i’m so proud of the Japanese beautiful shoes as a Japanese! ;))

  7. sewang dorji

    2011-10-24 at 5:47 PM

    this is awesome!
    i love tatehanas shoes and im so stoked that u got 2 meet him!

  8. Cristina

    2011-10-24 at 7:03 PM

    I always wondered what it would be like to walk in these. I adore the geisha platforms and would probably wear the everywhere even though it would be inappropriate. But then again, that’s just what I do with shoes. Who wants to be sensible when you can wear art?!

  9. Anieblu

    2011-10-24 at 8:02 PM

    Thoose shoes are awsome!!!!! I didn´t doubt on wear it, they are so GAGA, and I love it!!!!

  10. Rosie

    2011-10-24 at 8:14 PM

    They are amazing!!!
    I would love to try some on you are such a lucky we thing
    stunning as they are I think that mobility (or lack of it!) may be a slightly importamt factor in them but hey, what I’d do to feel powerful.
    Rosie xxx

  11. Julia

    2011-10-24 at 8:26 PM

    these shoes are from another world!

  12. Sally Faye

    2011-10-24 at 8:48 PM

    amazing post!!! love the way you write, got me through my killer shift at work!xox

  13. Fashion Juice

    2011-10-24 at 10:21 PM

    I love the first one you’re wearing. It’s insane!

  14. sj green

    2011-10-24 at 11:56 PM

    They are absolutely mad but amazing!! I cannot imagine wearing them! Brilliant post – very insightful!
    cat and the choir

  15. yasminzaini

    2011-10-25 at 12:57 AM

    whoaa won’t you like.. fall back without heels? is there pressure too much on the toes? is it comfy enough or just ok to walk in them? theyre so beautiful though!

  16. Lulu

    2011-10-25 at 1:56 AM

    Wow! I love the dinosaurish ones! Interetsing post Susie x

  17. Aleena Saha

    2011-10-25 at 2:29 AM

    Jeffrey Campbell also has “ripoffs” on Tatehana’s signature heel-less shoe (…calling it a shoe makes me cringe because it most definitely transcends the definition of a shoe). As much as I adore the odd shape of these ‘shoes’, I’m curious to know if they are healthy for your body; you spoke of the difficulty in walking. I mean it doesn’t really support your feet, do they?

  18. vanessa

    2011-10-25 at 2:43 AM

    wow! those shoes are just statements!

  19. oni

    2011-10-25 at 3:42 AM

    what about the heeless shoes nina ricci did a few years ago?. or the ones that Antonio Berardi made for posh around the same time did he make those as well?

  20. A

    2011-10-25 at 4:48 AM

    Susie, where is your dress from? It is so pretty. A

  21. Carolinas Couture

    2011-10-25 at 5:40 AM

    I’m familiar with his work, but I really enjoyed this post and I think you tried on the coolest pair in gold.

  22. ZineLondon

    2011-10-25 at 10:46 AM

    The shape of the shoes are so pleasing to the eye & your legs look phenomenal. The first pair are my favorites.

  23. Ellyn Sheyr

    2011-10-25 at 1:02 PM

    Talk about a beautiful balancing act!

  24. Gervin

    2011-10-25 at 3:42 PM

    beautiful shoes! they looked good in your mexican outfit. and you look very beautiful with your hair down. Kisses from tokyo xxx

  25. Berty Morales

    2011-10-25 at 4:51 PM

    The shoes are just fabulous and you look stunning. Now how painful it is to walk in them? LOL.

  26. Poppy

    2011-10-25 at 7:49 PM

    I love your dress it’s really sweet.also the second pair of shoes,they remind me of watermelons .hope you check out my blog xx

  27. Christopher Yong

    2011-10-26 at 2:26 AM

    HUGE FAN of these HEEL-LESS shoes… I just can never figure out how a girl can balance on her toes for a couple of hours in one of those… ~____~”””
    @ http://f-artshion.blogspot.com

  28. suppo

    2011-10-26 at 8:17 AM

    i just saw the nasty gal version and thought how sad it is considering the number of likes received….and zero credits go to this man of marvels and wonders

  29. Lydie

    2011-10-27 at 2:21 PM

    These shoes look amazing.. a slight challenge to walk in i’m sure! But oh so wonderful..
    lotsoflove x

  30. Olive

    2011-10-28 at 3:17 PM

    love those invisible heels!!

  31. J

    2011-10-30 at 7:05 AM

    these are bad as hell! It would have been cool for you to add a video of you walking in them. I imagine I would have immediately busted my ass.

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