Wikipedia describes the work of Canadian shoe designer John Fluevog as “progressive, art deco inspired styles” and if you’ve ever seen a pair of his shoes then you know they’re not for the faint of heart. John Fluevog shoes for men and women are bold, colourful, fun and meant to create a footwear fantasy for its wearer.
Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Madonna, Scarlet Johanssen and Robin Williams, to name a few, have worn his creations. However, when I interviewed John at gravitypope’s Toronto store opening he isn’t the least bit concerned with the trappings of Hollywood, nor does he care. He has an independent spirit, doesn’t follow trends and likes the idea of anti-fashion, which is why he ranks at the top of my list of footwear designers to interview; people who march to the beat of their own drum have always intrigued me.
The Souls of My Shoes: What made gravitypope one of the stores you wanted to partner with and have carry your shoes?
John Fluevog: I’ve known Louise (Dirks) for a long time and I was probably one of the first brands to ever be in her store. Louise is a great buyer but beyond that she buys brands and is loyal to them, she doesn’t dart from brand to brand and will continually buy season after season which, I think, is key to having a retail store that works and functions, you get that continuity.
How would you describe the evolution of John Fluevog Shoes?
Well, I hope it hasn’t evolved too much. I hope it remains somewhat similar to when I started out. Do the styles change? Yes they do. Does the essence of them in terms of the fun factor or emotional factor change? I hope it hasn’t. The brand, my shoes and the business is all part of me.
Your style of shoes have a particular look and feel, some people don’t gravitate towards it, but it works for those who want fun footwear and who want to stand out.
We have Fluevog Fanatics, people who have hundreds of pairs of my shoes and collect them. They like them because it forms part of their identity and who they are, but really at the end of the day it’s actually cheap thrills (both of us laugh).
That’s not a bad thing because the price of shoes these days can be astronomical. I can’t even think about buying certain pairs of designer shoes at full price, I’d have to save up.
I don’t like those kinds of price points. Yes they’re a luxury, but my shoes are an affordable luxury. I call them ‘hip luxury,’ it’s my ethos and by ‘hip’ I mean not looking like everyone else but standing out.
Then what are your criteria for a well-constructed and well-designed shoe?
I don’t have exact criteria. I like thinking that when you buy a product, a pair of my shoes, it will work and last. For me a well-crafted shoe would tend to be more robust and stronger.
I like the idea of anti-fashion. I’ve found over the years that the shoes which were difficult to sell at the time become the most endearing when I see it on somebody’s feet five, eight or 10 years later. They look terrific because they transcend the current fashion trends and on their own look good.
Is there a particular style of shoes you like or favour?
I don’t really. Though being me, I like shoes that look familiar or things that I’ve designed and have my finger prints on them. I tend to like things that have more shape; I’m more interested in the shape and lines of something than the details.
Is there a style of shoes that you dislike?
I dislike things with no shape, an exaggerated example would be UGG boots – they have no shape! When something doesn’t follow the human body or flatter it, it doesn’t do anything for me. Shapes gives personality, shapes tell the stories.
So what’s your most memorable shoe?
The very first shoe I designed I still love, it’s called the Pilgrim and I reissued it last year. The Pilgrim has a pointed toe that’s turned up at the end and has a big buckle, quite punkie looking. It’s memorable for me because I recall designing it, the boldness of it was completely against the mainstream at the time.
Another shoe that I like is my Mini. I did them when pointed toes and really high heels were all the rage. I decided to design these rounded toe shoes that were really wacky, they were so bold for me to do at the time yet they sold.
What are some projects you have planned for the near future?
We just finished opening a store in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and are selling more shoes internationally. However, for me it’s about my team and being able to accurately articulate the vision – which I see in pictures – I have for the future so we can move forward. I like the idea that footwear can help evolve people and culture.
Recently there have been a lot of collaborations between designers and celebrities with mass retailers. What’s your take on this?
What I find fun is that I have a large open source part of my company where people can send me shoe designs; we make them up and feature that person and their life, that’s how I collaborate. I’m kind of anti-celebrity. Why should these people (celebrities) have to validate who I am? I’m fine on my own. I more so like the idea of teaming up and partnering with everyday people.
We also do open source advertising where people can send in ads. They’re voted online and I run the winning ad(s), sometimes it can be a little scary but we do that.