Passion Points: Style
The Financial Times fashion editor Vanessa Friedman just declared that exotic skins and furs are having a renaissance. “Turns out,” she announced in the Weekend FT, “in the current climate, as people think two and 10 times about what they buy and whether they need to buy it, it is the odd and outre (and often the obscure) that is proving the exception to the rule.”
Recently in London I discovered a designer who single-handedly is striving to make fish skin the next collectible. I have long loved those rare items that are beautifully made but that don’t star in advertising campaigns or show up on other women at parties. I am sure that I am not alone in exulting in exceptional treasures. Consider the limited edition mania of a few years ago or the passion for vintage that has swept up celebrities and their stylists. After all, who wants to spend time hunting down something special and making a fashion investment only to see the same item on someone else. Well, Gwendolyn Carrié, who worked for thirteen years as a retail analyst at Merrill Lynch covering luxury giants like Prada and LVMH, is working on bringing back the rare and the beautiful in footwear. Her secret weapon: fish skin.
At her just opened boutique off Sloane Street, the shoes rest on small shelves along the wall. Curvy pumps with arched wedges and flamboyant feather details compete with high-heeled suede sandals with delicate button straps. The elaborate detail immediately signals serious workmanship and the eccentricity of the design calls for wearers with confidence, not followers of trend. These are shoes for high-drama dames and they are made to last. Most of Carrié’s shoes are fashioned, not from kid skin, but out of fish skin. Nile perch to be exact. She first spotted the material in a museum in Stockholm that showed clothing worn during World War II. “I saw a children’s coat made out of fish skin,” Carrié recalled when I met her for tea around the corner from her shop. The material is delicate looking but is more durable than suede or leather—and naturally waterproof. After doing research, Carrié discovered that fish skins have adorned fashionable feet before. Salvatore Ferragamo experimented with the material when he was catering to celebrities in Los Angeles in the 1940s. More recently, John Galliano and Georgina Goodman have used it in some of their more look-at-me models.
Carrié nods to trends and interprets them but is more interested in creating classics than flamboyant runway looks. “One allure of the Nile perch, a cousin of catfish,” explained Carrié “is that it allows me to do a full shoe from one skin. It’s not the most exotic of skins but they are beautiful because they have a lot of interest.” The skins also stretch more beautifully than kid and give more than kid-skin copies and cowhide. “The fillers that people put in leather break your feet,” she argues, “rather than your feet breaking in the leather.” To dye and sew the skins, Carrié found craftsmen in Istanbul where some women still have all of their shoes custom made. “They make quality shoes, one shoe at a time, and other than John Lobb,” Carrié says, referring to the bespoke London cobbler, “you are not going to find that today.” Carrié’s shoes do cost what other luxury ones do—in the $500 and up range—but they are made to last. So rather than an indulgence, I can consider them an investment.
Read about Gwendolyn Carrié’s new London boutique.
Read about Carrié’s “favorite London spots’:/passions/10/departments/171/6893.
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