THE HAND-MADE
A NEW BREED OF DESIGNERS BRINGS OLD WORLD ARTISANSHIP TO MODERN-DAY DESIGN.

Byline: James Fallon / Katherine Weisman

Claire Norwood
LONDON-- A new crop of young shoe designers is sprouting forth in London and Claire Norwood is at their forefront.
Norwood, 30, is older than most "young" designers and only came to footwear after stints as a magazine editor and public relations assistant. Yet she has always been fascinated by shoes, and when the last magazine she worked on shut down, she decided to try to grab the brass ring. "I've always liked the look of shoes," Norwood said, sitting in her basement studio in North London. "I've bought shoes I've never worn and now and then I simply get them out of my closet to look at them." She laughed softly. "It sounds kinky." So at 27, Norwood enrolled in Cordwainers, the London-based footwear design college, and graduated last August. She then set up her own company to design and make made-to-measure shoes. "I only learned how to make shoes by hand after I left Cordwainers," said Norwood, who has linked up with the Greek immigrant shoemaking community in North London and literally sat at their feet for the last year to pick up the tricks of the trade. "I'm desperate to learn all I can from them before they aren't around any longer," Norwood said of the craftsmen, many of whom do piece work for such legendary shoemakers as John Lobb.
Norwood generally uses one main style of last--a long, narrow form she found at an old cobbler's and adapted. "I love that long, slim, almost artificial look. It is really elegant without being the nasty, pointy last a lot of people use." Customers order from the standard last and then Norwood manipulates it to fit them. She generally makes two to three pairs of shoes a week, ranging from bridal shoes to high boots to high-heeled backless mules. The shoes sell for about $200 to $300.Last spring, Norwood linked up with women's wear designers Press and Basyan, doing shoesfor their collection, and hopes to produce awholesale collection for spring '95. Some of her styles have already been picked up by footwear consultants Calceus, which has them mass-produced forU.K. chains. But even when she launches a wholesale collection, Norwood said that she will not give up made-to-measure shoes. "I love the fact that you can experiment with it," the elfin-like designer said. "Because they are 'one-of,' it means I can go to a flea market and buy an old green leather jacket and make a pair of shoes out of it. I just think it's wonderful making things for people that you designed."Nancy Giallombardo
PARIS--In the heart of Pigalle, in a fifth-floor walk-up, there is a thigh-high black suede boot destined for the July haute couture show of Louis Feraud, awaiting finishing touches. "They called me the other day to say that the prototype doesn't fit the model, but they changed the model on me," said shoe designer Nancy Giallombardo. "Every season, there's so much stress. I tell myself that I won't do another show, but I keep doing them." Giallombardo, 29, is a displaced Buffalo, N.Y., native, now designing and hand-making shoes here. This Parsons School of Design graduate has her studio in the apartment of an eightysomething former Moulin Rouge dancer. Her shoes, which range in price from $173 and $288, often have wild touches on not-so-wild forms, giving the wearer a very original upper and silhouette in a very wearable shoe. (Some shoes, though, are extreme--like asymmetrical square-toed mules that make the wearer look like she put her shoes on the wrong feet.)Her trademark designs, in an albeit brief career, feature hand-folded or pleated silk and satin uppers and hand-wrinkled leather uppers. She also does custom wedding shoes in luxurious laces, satins or whatever fabric a finicky bride might fancy. These designs have given Giallombardo a small, private following, here, and are starting to catch the eye of fashion editors and observers.
"When I graduated from Parsons in Paris with a fashion degree, I didn't go out looking for a job like my friends did," Giallombardo recounted. "Instead, I started to take shoes apart and put them back together." She had an internship with Paris-based custom shoe maker Di Mauro and about six years ago, she started making her own small collection of shoes, sourcing materials from companies found in Paris' Yellow Pages. Her first customers were individuals who heard about her creations through word-of-mouth. A former boyfriend gave Giallombardo the chance to design the shoes for the Marithe et Francois Girbaud '92 Spring/Summer ready-to-wear collection.
About a year ago, she met the owners of a Paris-based shoe factory which now mass produces a few of her more simple models. One of her first shoes was picked up by the ultra-trendy Maxfields on Los Angeles' Melrose Ave., Giallombardo boasted. In 1993, the designer got a Houston-based financial backer, and the new revenue source helped her show for the first time at the Fashion Footwear Association of New York (FFANY) for Spring '94. A handful ofkey U.S. retailers ordered bits of her collection, including Fred Hayman Beverly Hills and the Stephane Kelian store in Washington D.C. The big question Giallombardo is asking herself these days is whetherto stay in the custom business, make shoes industrially, or do both. "There will always be clients for 'one-ofs,"' she said. "But then again, it's the normal stuff that sells (in greater quantity)."

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