Tuesday 28 April 2015

Saigon Socialite Shoes

Elaborately Crafted Soles Reincarnating Vietnam's Artisan Villages through the Ancient Art of Pagoda Carving.

These elaborately carved soles from Saigon Socialite are the brainchild of LanVy Nguyen, born in Vietnam and raised in California. In 2007 Nguyen embarked on what she calls the "education of my life," which began in a Vietnamese factory.
A new openness had brought foreign investors seeking high skill, low cost labour, and while Nguyen admired the effect such infrastructure had on GDP, what she could not abide was the immediate deterioration of the artisan sector.

Feeling that business was killing the country's heritage, Nguyen and partners Thien-Nhien Luong and Spencer Ton created Fashion4Freedom, a brand incubator and source for those who seek products that preserve traditional cultures while remaining mindful of their social and environmental impacts. "I accept my mortality," says Nguyen. "We will one day dissolve, but if we dissolve and there is nothing left of the culture, what are we?"

In addressing that question Nguyen returned to the Forbidden City, the walled seat of Imperial Indochina, surrounded by vestiges of the traditional craft industries that served emperors. While touring a pagoda she told her co-investors and the craftsmen present that she thought the carvings "would make such hot shoes."

Soon after, a cobbler applied to Design Capital for an equipment loan. His shaman had read the wrinkles on collected chicken legs—a traditional method of divination—and predicted the cobbler would  "meet a very noisy woman who would help him open doors."  Though the cobbler had honed his skill in men's footwear and had some aversion to women's shoes, he decided to work with Nguyen, who was set on joining French leather work with the time-honoured craft of pagoda carving.

The resulting "reincarnated soles" take 18 days to produce. Craftspeople ensure designs adhere to cultural nuance: for example, a four-tailed dragon—reserved for ranking pagodas—was deemed too impudent, and a three-tailed one common to door-frames, was substituted. Of the carvers remaining outside the Forbidden City, only seven have met Nguyen's standards for quality. They bring their great-grandfather's tools to carve aromatic wood harvested from the surrounding orchards. Over the first 12-14 days, depending on humidity, the wood is blocked, baked and carved into one of six designs. The leather is formed over two days, by cobblers, applied to the base, and the shoes are returned to the carvers who wax out the wood grain and varnish the wedge in local oils.

Nguyen draws upon the work of 48 villages to execute 17 different crafts, and she has invested more than half a million dollars in education and equipment, which has benefited over 30,000 people in Vietnam.

Saigon Socialite shoes are available through the fashion for freedom web site.

Images courtesy of Saigon Socialite



  1. These shoes are a masterpiece. They look stunning. To think the sole is made from solid wood is genius

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