Sun, 15 Jun 2003

Stepping to fame with sumptuous shoes

Muara Bagdja Contributor Jakarta

With inquisitive visitors peering into their glass cases, it's initially difficult to make out the special features of the four pairs of evening shoes on display at Plaza Indonesia, Central Jakarta.

It's only on closer inspection that we see what sets them apart from the sneakers, sandals, pumps and other examples of regular footwear that the rest of us put on our feet.

First, these beautifully crafted shoes were once worn by Hollywood actresses, shown in the photographs under their respective cases, and second, they bear the brandname of one of the world's most famous shoe designers.

Stuart Weitzman counts a long list of entertainers as customers, among them actresses Calista Flockheart and Halle Berry, and singer Diana Ross. Although the 2003 Academy Awards were a decidedly toned-down affair because of the war in Iraq, at least 15 Hollywood stars wore his designs.

"He is dubbed the 'king' of evening shoes," said Evelin Setiadi, brand manager for the shoe designer in Indonesia.

"His unique works are seen as having artistic value, which makes them worth displaying in this plaza's Art in the City program to commemorate Jakarta's anniversary this month."

Of the shoes exhibited at the boutique, those worn by Laura Harring at the 2002 Oscars stand out. The Mulholland Drive star donned strapped sandals with 464-carat diamonds, and photos of the "one-million-dollar shoes" made the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Visitors to the exhibition will have to be satisified with another, less expensive version of the shoes, as Harring's pair were sold at auction in London. Even without the teardrop earrings, one can imagine the drop-dead glamor of the originals.

The next pair on exhibit, named "Divine", pays homage to the beautiful feet of Oscar-winning Halle Berry, who wore black leather strapped sandals to the Wish Night program in 2002. There are also the "Delirious Dyed Sky Blue" satin sandals that singer- actress Queen Latifah wore to this year's Oscars.

It's not only actresses who rely on sumptuous pumps, glittering mules or studded stilettos to help them put their best foot forward. In the expert hands of a designer like Weitzman, the shoes take on a character of their own.

The son of a shoe designer who originally worked on Wall Street, Weitzman is nicknamed the "master of mix" or "master of craftsmanship" for his skill in combining leather with other materials.

"I've always enjoyed working with innovative materials. Lucite, natural cork, vinyl, wallpaper, 24-carat gold -- there are many interesting mediums for the art of making shoes," Weitzman said on his homepage,

Among such products are the "Nuclear shoes", the last pair on exhibit. Worn by Minnie Driver to the 1998 Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony, they take the form of leather sandals with transparent plastic straps.

Creations like Weitzman's shoes have come a long way from their original, practical function to protect human feet and emerged as an art form.

In 3500 BC, "the Egyptians made imprints of their feet in wet sand, molded braided papyrus into soles of the same size and attached rawhide thongs to keep them on the foot", writes Linda O'Keeffe in her book, Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More.

In the Roman era, people began to use slippers. Native Americans in the United States created moccasins, which have now developed into loafers.

O'Keefe notes that the first record of a pair of heels worn for reasons of vanity was in 1533, when Catherine de Medici brought heeled shoes from Florence to Paris for her marriage to the Duke of Orleans.

Her example set off a trend among ladies of the court.

The fact that the right pair of shoes can change one's life is shown in the story behind Harring and her pricy pumps. According to, Harring's stylist, George Blodwell, was responsible for turning the little-known actress into an overnight sensation.

Blodwell negotiated with Weitzman, who was seeking an actress suited to his creation and had in fact contacted Sharon Stone.

But Harring was finally chosen, and the stylist picked out Giorgio Armani's column dress to accentuate the shoes. He tied the gown to the waist to raise it a bit so that the diamond shoes were more noticeable, and Harring and her shoes became the talk of the town.

Publicity around such an event not only serves to raise the status and popularity of the artist, but also enhances recognition of the value of shoes in society.

Unfortunately, the exhibition does not do justice to the shoes or their designer. They are presented too simplistically to inform visitors about the shoes' art, glamor and value. Although the exhibition is a peak into the brilliance of the designer, it fails to pay him proper homage.