Duck ShoeTetsuya Uenobe refers to his playful shoes as "wearable art." Originally from Japan, Uenobe left there to attend the London College of Fashion and learn how to make shoes the old fashioned way, by hand. Back in Japan now, Uenobe answered some of my questions about his artful shoes.
Please tell me about what led you to become a shoe designer?
It's been like a Janapese proverb, "The mummy-hunter himself becomes a mummy." I was not interested in fashion at all before getting a job at a men's clothing catalog. As the merchandiser for men's footwear and leather accessories, I had to choose designs, colors, sizes and so on. I met lots of craftsmen during that time and was getting immersed in their world. But now I am in the middle of it as a shoe designer. This is why I mention the proverb.
Did anyone inspire you?
The Japanese shoe designer Tokio Kumagi was amazing. He made unusual shoes in the 1980s with a mix of materials that were playful and hand-painted. Sometimes, his shoes were inspired by animals, like his "Swan" or "Mouse" shoes or by the works of artists like Dali or Kandinsky. Another designer who inspres me is the innovative Dutch designer Jan Jansen. His shoes are like sculptures. High heeled womens' sneakers or the bamboo shoes that are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York are two of his best-known examples.
You offer regular shoes for sale and 'wearable art' shoes. Do you make all the shoes yourself?
I make all of my shoes by hand. I use only hand tools except a sewing machine for the upper part of the shoe.
What made you decide to make shoes by hand?
At the beginning, I tried to find a factory to make my ideal shoes, like commercial shoe companies. But I could not find any. So, I decided to make my shoes by hand. I went to London to learn how to make shoes from a bespoke shoemaker for two and a half years.
What is the inspiration behind the 'art' shoes?
It may be taking a rest and getting refreshed. If I do only commercial design, I will get bored and frustrated. The ideas for the art shoes often occur to me when I see shoe-lasts (shoes on the wooden form). Then I start to sketch some rough designs and look for a theme on which to build a collection for a show. Also, I have to make a clear distinction between me, who knows the art of shoe making, and other artists, who design shoes but don't know how to make them.
Do people buy your 'art' shoes to wear?
Yes, I sell my "art" designs. All of my work is wearable.
Your work has already been displayed in two museums. What's next for you?
I would like to participate in an exhibition outside of Japan if I have the opportunity.