Author shows the ‘Art & Sole’ behind the world of fantasy shoes

p1-art-and-sole-12-5The line between fashion and art is often indistinguishable, as illustrated in Jane Gershon Weitzman’s Art & Sole, a book that features a collection of 150 fantasy art shoes, built out of everything from corrugated cardboard to steel to a deck of playing cards.

Ms. Weitzman, a Greenwich resident and wife of renowned shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, first began commissioning artists to create fantasy shoes in the mid-90s after the original Stuart Weitzman boutique was opened on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. As the executive vice president of the company and the one who oversaw the store’s window displays, Ms. Weitzman wanted to create a fun atmosphere where customers would enjoy shopping, and used the fantasy shoes as a way to attract them to the store.

Before long, the displays were drawing crowds from around the world and Ms. Weitzman began traveling the country seeking out new artists to create unique fantasy shoes for display.

And according to the author, although the Weitzmans and their partners sold the company last December, the legacy of Stuart Weitzman fantasy art shoes lives on in Art & Sole, which officially went on sale in September. The book features works by 33 different artists who created their shoes from a myriad of unique materials, including feathers, paper, ceramic, metal, resin, Swarovski crystals, flowers, and frosting. Several artists even created fantasy shoe themes, such as Dan Crowley’s Alice in Wonderland collection, which features shoes made from polymer clay and paint and includes Alice, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and other characters from the well-known story.

Choosing the artists and shoes that were ultimately represented in the book was no easy task, Ms. Weitzman told the Post. Beginning the process a year ago last April, Ms. Weitzman said, she had to choose 150 shoes from the more than 1,000 models, which included hundreds of shoes that were created for display over the years, along with new submissions — an extremely time-consuming endeavor.

In addition to getting permission from the featured artists and taking the time to select each shoe, each photography session was a tedious process, Ms. Weitzman said. Without an idea of what would be involved in the photo shoots going into them, the author was surprised by how long it took to get the lighting and particular angle of each photograph just right, she said, adding that she was very pleased with photographer Lucas Zarebinski’s work.

Fortunately, Ms. Weitzman said, selecting certain shoes for the book was a breeze because “the cream rose to the top.” The quality of some artists’ work, she said, was “just so obvious” that they simply couldn’t be excluded from the book. Although it’s a “very eclectic collection,” it was often clear which shoes were the best, which helped much of the process fall into place.

And as an added bonus, Ms. Weitzman said, “it was wonderful to be able to reconnect with the artists.”

On the other hand, Ms. Weitzman said, there were artists who submitted fantasy shoes that simply were not up to par. Although some had the right look for a window display, they would not ultimately hold up with time and had to be dismissed, she said. Other models were selected for the book by Ms. Weitzman but later overruled by her editor, who said the shoes were not up to standard. The reason for the occasional discrepancy, Ms. Weitzman sad, stemmed from the fact that it was harder for the author to recognize when something wasn’t up to par, having had a previous personal relationship with most of the artists.

For similar reasons, Ms. Weitzman said, she does not believe that one shoe from Art & Sole stands above the rest, having worked with the commissioned artists, each of whom has a different style, for so long.

“I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite,” she said.

And although she is not an artist herself, Ms. Weitzman said she was thoroughly impressed by the talent it must have taken to construct some of the more intricate models featured in the book, adding that the artists’ varying natural abilities allowed the book to feature such a wide array of designs. Anthony Rosiello’s collection, for example, is comprised of shoes made from simple watercolor paper, each of which features elaborate details, including latticework and intricate flower petals, that look as though their creation was incredibly time-consuming, Ms. Weitzman said.

Art & Sole has not simply been about visual pleasure since its release, however. In September, all proceeds from book sales were donated to breast cancer research, and in October the proceeds went toward ovarian cancer research, Ms. Weitzman said. Any additional royalties will be donated to a charity that has not yet been selected, she added.

“We just feel as a company that makes shoes for women that the proceeds should go to … things that would benefit our customers,” Ms. Weitzman said. “We wanted to promote awareness.”

In addition to cancer awareness, Ms. Weitzman hoped to promote the work of the artists featured in Art & Sole, she said. Although she has not heard from every single designer, most have contacted the author to praise the book and to show their appreciation. In turn, Ms. Weitzman said, she hopes each artist will benefit from the book and is optimistic that good things will come to those whose work is featured in the publication.


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