Art & Sole
By April Erhard
Jane Gershon Weitzman, wife of iconic shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, has cleverly combined her passion for shoes and art in her recently released coffee-table book Art & Sole. In it, she features 150 fantasy art shoes made of unique materials like feathers, corrugated cardboard, Swarovski crystals, fresh flowers and even frosting. Mrs. Weitzman discovered and commissioned fantasy shoes by artists for window displays of the very first Stuart Weitzman shop on Madison Avenue in the mid-1990s. “The windows became a destination,” Jane said.
Fashioning a Shoe Show
Growing up in Atlanta with a great deal of southern hospitality and warmth, Jane wanted to bring that graciousness she grew up with to Madison Avenue. She oversaw the window displays, where she chose to feature fantasy shoes from artists from all over the world. Mrs. Weitzman said, “I took a chance…95 percent of the shop windows in the world are product and signage…” Mrs. Weitzman said, adding that it was risky to do, but ultimately very successful. “The women loved the shoes in the window…It made the women ask, ‘What are they selling?’”
Weitzman started her hunt for artists in New York City, riding many freight elevators in lower Manhattan in the search. As the need for new artists grew, Mrs. Weitzman began traveling around the country looking for artisans to make fantasy shoes for the window displays.
The window display changed monthly, exhibiting a different artist and theme. During October, the windows were filled with Halloween monster shoes that were wrapped in pink ribbons for Breast Cancer Awareness month. “Sometimes it would be interesting… we had these monsters and pink ribbons at the same time,” said Weitzman.
Typically, the displays required around eight shoes from the artist to fill two windows. However, smaller shoes often required more from the artist: “Douglas Wilson’s shoes are smaller than the other shoes, so we needed a lot of those shoes to fill the window – around 14,” she said. “His shoes are called Automata because they have little cranks on them, and when you turn the cranks, parts in the shoes move.” Automata is made of galvanized wire, stainless steel, silver, and acrylic film. “When I was a kid, they used to make model airplanes out of acrylic film,” Weitzman said with a smile.
Art Shoe Themes
Another artist whose work was displayed several times in the windows of Stuart Weitzman was Robert Tabor. He created a New York City themed display of yellow taxis made out of acrylic, vinyl, various trims, and rhinestones. Tabor’s training in costume design shows in the intricately constructed Wizard of Oz characters and the Shower Shoe.
Then Jane discovered Sharon Von Senden’s work at the City Museum of St. Louis. A mosaic on the stairs by the artist caught Jane’s eye. “The museum auctioned off a few of Sharon’s shoes and then, of course, I met her and she made more shoes for us. Our displays revolved around her work each time we opened a new store.”
Senden’s mosaic shoes were placed on mirrored turntables so that onlookers could view every angle of these beauties. In fact, even the soles of the Jewels at Work are covered in stained glass, Swarovski crystals, and vintage stones.
The Weitzman family still owns most of the shoes in Art & Sole, but some shoes were not made to last, like the ones made by florist Jane Carroll. The Petal Pushers were made from pink calla lilies with ranunculus, hydrangea, florets, and lamb’s ear. “[Jane Carroll] showed us how to mist the flowers and she came in and touched them up periodically with real flowers.”
You can relive the artistry of those days through her new book, Art & Sole, available now.