Monthly Archives: January 2017

The world’s most expensive sneakers made by Bicion and Mache

Rock solid sneaks

Dubbed the Li-Ning Way of Wade “The Fire Monkey” (we have no idea what it means either, but it has something to do with NBA basketballer Dwayne Wade) the shoes are covered in hundreds of carats of white diamond pieces and blue sapphires set in 18 carat gold. You also get a solid gold hang tag depicting the logos of Bicion and Mache.

World’s most expensive sneakers

Covered in gold, diamonds and sapphires, and valued at US$4 million, the world’s most expensive sneakers are unveiled in New York.

Thankfully this extreme excess is for a good cause. The sneakers were launched in New York City with the announcement that the money will go to Soles4Soles, a charity that collects and distributes shoes and clothing for those in need.

According to rumours, an interested sneaker buff from China is flying in to buy them. We’re tipping they’re unlikely be seeing any jogging action.

Collectable kicks

Chris Kyvetos, the founder of Australian retailer Sneakerboy, says expensive sneakers are not unusual, especially in the world of collecting. He once collaborated with luxury French fashion house Balmain to create a men and women’s hi-top that featured a waxed hide with python accents. It sold off the shelf for $2800.

The most expensive sneakers he stocks are a mid-top leather with rabbit fur ankle by Buscemi. Handcrafted in Civitanova Italy, they sell for $2280.

It’s when rare sneakers are resold to avid collectors that prices start to get really crazy. Kyvetos nominates the Nike Air Mag as a case in point. The shoe was made famous in the movie Back To The Future 2, in which it supposedly had self-fastening laces. Nike released a limited edition run of the shoe (albeit without the self-fastening laces) in 2011 for around $US800, examples of which now fetch in excess of $US10,000 ($13,300).

Kyvetos says another example is Kanye West’s original sneaker for Nike, the Air Yeezy. “That shoe sold for $US300, and now they arefetching up to $8000 for a pair,” he says.

How R.M.Williams became the Australian brand the whole world wants

Boy from the bush

Times have well and truly changed and now the bush outfitter is just as much the outfitter to the big smoke. Indeed, the brand, which dates right back to 1932, has reinvented itself as a must-have luxury label. Since being taken over in 2014 by L Catterton, the private equity arm of fashion goliath LVMH alongside IFM and private investment partner Hugh Jackman, R.M.Williams seems unstoppable.

The brand is now sold in 15 countries around the world with more than 900 stockists and 50 retail stores, including a swanky new boutique in Westfield London, and a flagship store in SOHO Manhattan designed by Mika Utzon, grandson of Sydney Opera House architect Jorn Utson.

A boot like no other

Much of the success has been driven by the elastic-sides riding boots that were first manufactured in Percy Street Prospect, South Australia, in 1934, by bushman and entrepreneur Reginald Murray Williams.

The ‘Craftsman’ boots are still manufactured in Adelaide. What sets them apart from other Chelsea boots on the market, is the one-piece leather construction, involving more than 80 hand-held processes. The simplicity of the design means it can work just as well with jeans as a suit.

You can spot the Craftsman on some fairly famous feet too, including Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. Signature Craftsman (made from premium veal leather and retailing for $1000) are worn by former leaders, Bill Clinton and David Cameron.

A new luxury

Recently the company launched a new bespoke service, enabling clients to go online and select from 11 leathers and three sole types. The leathers include such decadent offerings as ostrich skin, crocodile and camel. Bespoke Craftsman start from $800, with the crocodile version a snappy $4000.

There’s little doubt L Catterton’s injection of funds has enabled R.M.Williams to transform the brand into a major fashion label on the world scene.

And it’s not only the boots that are gaining attention. R.M.Williams clothing is also starting to make an impression in the city. “I’m seeing more and more of the shirts and knitwear on the streets,” says fashion blogger and tailor, Miles Wharton. “The branding has done a complete 180-degree turn; it’s become a little more fashion forward and starting to tap into that market of young professionals.”

Aristocratic taste

Could R.M.Williams’ popularity herald a return of the Sloane Rangers? That British trend championed by Lady Diana Spencer (before she was the Princess of Wales), and characterised by equestrian wear – Drizabone jackets, johdpurs, Hermes scarves.

Some fashion watchers certainly have that opinion, with many believing Kate Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge) is picking up where Diana left off.

Much of the credit for the upmarket direction of R.M.Williams must go to the talented head of design, Jeremy Hershan. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology graduate arrives home with an enviable CV after a decade in London that included a stint as senior formalwear designer with Dunhill, head designer with Aquascutum, and an assistant design role with Gieves & Hawkes.

New blood

Hershan’s debut collection (Autumn/Winter 2017) with the 85-year-old brand has just been released and is being well received by both consumers and fashion critics.

“I was always a big fan of R.M.Williams,” he said. “I’ve been wearing the boots for the best part of a decade. My first pair were inherited from my brother, and I bought my second pair in London. My personal preference is the Comfort Turnout with its round toe and finished in a rough-out suede tan leather, relating back to the saddlery.”

Before even putting pen to paper, Hershan ploughed deep through the R.M.Williams extensive archives for inspiration. “My intention with the collection as a whole was to go back to the roots of the brand, looking for beautiful and relevant details to bring them to life for a contemporary consumer, while not forgetting the lifelong customers from the heartland.”

Quality and utility

Careful attention was paid to cut and fabrication. An example of Hershan’s expertise can be found in the Windsor Tweed Sports Coat, where the designer utilised a long-term relationship with a UK woollen mill to develop a signature herringbone tweed, suggestive of the Flinders Rangers landscape. “It’s a piece that will appeal to our refined loyalist customer,” says Hershan.

It could also be just at home teamed with a pair of jeans and a crisp white shirt in the inner-city.

One of Hershan’s favourite pieces is the Classic Drover Belted Jacket; a waxed piece that is about as Sloane as you can get. “Yes, I can see why you would think that,” says Hershan. “A lot of born and bred West Londeners are big fans of R.M.Williams.”

Hershan has been careful not to mess too much with the signature half-placket Murphys Brigalow shirt, featuring military buttons. “It’s part of the brand’s DNA, and was cut as authentic workwear back in the day. Today’s consumer craves authenticity and R.M.Williams has it in spades, we’ve never had to make it up.”

The case for spending more money on shoes

If the shoe fits

A well-made pair of shoes is a beautiful thing, a piece of high craftsmanship.

You probably think you know a well-made pair of shoes. You’re probably wrong.

For years, I’ve owned Florsheims and other shoes like them – Aquilas, Rockports. My preferred make is a light brown brogue. They were sexy shoes. Sharp, sleek, and curvy. They cost me about $200 a pair, and I felt a million bucks.

The problem? They wore out. Like clockwork, they’d need to be replaced every two years.

The stitching on the Florsheims came off, and then the sole came off and my sock started poking out. The upper on the Rockports slowly separated from the sole at the front of the shoe, and eventually my foot got nice and wet.

I figured this was pretty normal for a shoe. Every shoe I’ve owned since primary school followed the same basic pattern, going to pieces – quite literally – after about two years of wear.

A better boot

But, as I discovered, there is a better way

Despite paying what I thought was a significant sum of money, $200 does not get you a lot of shoe where quality is concerned.

Before I replaced my shoes yet again, I set out to do some research on shoes. Here’s what I learned

  • Most shoes, right up to the $200 pair, have glued soles. This is a key weak-spot. More on this in a sec
  • On a proper pair of shoes, a worn out sole is an expected consequence of wear, and can be fixed – just like you might fix a car
  • Well-maintained, a pair of business shoes can go forever

$200 shoes have leather uppers glued to the sole. Over time, this glue fails and comes apart. When this happens, a cobbler can reglue the shoe, but it will be forever weaker than before, and will inevitably fail again.

A nicer pair of shoes, a seriously nice pair of shoes, has what is known as a Goodyear welt. These are expensive to make, requiring hand-stitching and careful workmanship. They are also the key feature behind a shoe that will last forever.

To the layman a Goodyear welt is identifiable by a line of double-stitching clearly visible on the sole of the shoe. This is known as the welt seam. I now judge my fellow businessmen by who is welt-seemed and who is not.

The welt lies between the upper and the sole of the shoe, firmly anchoring both together via stitching. When the sole wears out, as it inevitably will, the sole can be replaced and a new one reattached to the welt, without effecting the upper of the shoes.

In this manner, the upper can be preserved, theoretically forever, while the sole of the shoe can be replaced again and again. Shoes that never wear out.

Welt heeled

I decided to pick up a pair of Goodyear welt shoes from McCloud Shoes in Melbourne. These boys are the real deal. The shop smells delightfully of leather, in the way that fancy furniture shops smell of oil and wood.

You take a seat in a chair, and a salesman works with you one-on-one to find exactly the right pair for your feet. I spent a good hour with mine as he walked me through the intricacies of shoe-making. The customer service was almost worth the price of entry alone. After I bought the pair, McClouds reworked all the inner surfaces with foam and insoles to shape each shoe perfectly to my trotter. McClouds is a proper family operation; one of their shoes is even made by an entrepreneurial brother.

After doing my research, I settled on a Loake. This venerable company has been hand-stitching its shoes in England since 1880 and has won a deserved reputation for quality.  Each pair takes eight weeks to make (you can watch the whole process here). I went with a pair of Buckinghams in brown. They are objects of great beauty.

I have now been wearing them nearly every work day for a year. They are aging superbly, the leather softening and taking on a slight amount of personalised wear. The eyelets, often the first to go in a shoe, remain intact. Not a single stitch has slipped. If anything they look more beautiful than when I purchased them.

So far, I’m not ahead on my $600 investment, but I’m looking good. Come back to me in five years.

‘Smart’ Ballet Shoes Digitally Paint Dancers’ Fancy Footwork

Ballet is an exquisite, ephemeral expression. A dancer’s delicate footwork vanishes into thin air as quickly as it’s created, but it doesn’t have to. Not anymore.

Enter a pair of “smart” shoes you probably never expected: A sensor-laden pair of E-Traces ballet shoes strapped to a ballerina’s fancy feet. They’re smart pointe slippers that literally transform ballet into art in motion.

That’s right, wearable tech has finally and quite beautifully tiptoed its way into ballet and the most difficult form of it no less — classical pointe. With so much connected footwear strutting into the trendy wearables spotlight, it was only a matter of time.

Spanish graphic designer and dance enthusiast Lesia Trubat Gonzálezsays she created the motion sensor-equipped, satin and leather ballet shoes to help ballerinas “recreate their movements in digital pictures.” And that’s exactly what E-Traces, short for Electronic Traces, do. They capture dancers’ fleeting footwork — every landing, twirl and sweep of the floor — then transform them into vibrant, multicolor digital drawings.

The results, displayed on an accompanying smartphone app, look like curved, whimsical Asian ink wash painting brush strokes.

How E-Traces work is apparently much simpler than balancing on pointe. Still only in concept mode, the tricked-out dancing shoes — outfitted with $20, sew-on Lilypad Arduino microcontroller circuit boards, conductive threads and motion sensors — record the ground pressure and movement of wearers’ feet.

Here’s the geeky-cool part: They then send signals — snippets of “the memory of dance,” as González puts it — to a presumably Bluetooth-paired smartphone. From there, the companion app automatically crunches the dance data and converts it into simple, yet gorgeously animated visual wisps, slashes and streaks. The artful metrics visualizations can be customized to suit each user. Exactly how isn’t clear, though.

E-Traces aren’t available for purchase just yet and there’s no official word on when they will be. Imagining the data visualization of your smooth moves will have to suffice for now.

This isn’t the first time González has dabbled in graphing ballerinas’ motions. She’s also experimented with capturing their graceful motions in scattered salt and smudgy black paint. Sure looks fun, but no thanks. Too messy. Given the choice, we’d stick to the funky hacked slippers.