Shoe designers: Israeli cobblers find there's no place like home

Shani Bar After Shani Bar graduated from Bezalel in 2002, she started designing theater costumes and accessories. "I studied shoemaking and design, so I learned how to make a shoe from the beginning to the end, but I didn't start out making shoes" she says. After about a year, Bar started using the knowledge of shoe design, sewing and putting together shoes to start her own line. In 2005, she opened her first store in Tel Aviv's trendy Gan Hahashmal neighborhood. "I made my first collection all by myself, pair by pair," she says. "It was hard work, but I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot." Bar's classic shoe designs fuse old favorites with new twists. This winter, she was inspired by men's and women's shoes. "I usually combine two different elements from various areas to make something original," she says. Her winter collection, which includes boots, ballerina shoes and low-heeled pumps, is largely black, brown, taupe and white. It was also inspired by a technique of metallurgy and each collection includes research from different fields. Over the summer, for example, Bar's shoes used elements from lingerie in their shape and form. "I make two collections a year, and I work mostly with leather. I like leather because it's durable and flexible," she says. This winter, Bar took a classic ballerina shoe and created a new design by punching holes in the front to give it a new look. The small, wooden heel and delicate snaps on each side accentuate the pattern on the toe that resembles a curling fleur-de-lis. Her oxford leather shoes represent her interpretation of tennis shoes, and some of the shoes offer animal-like prints and shapes. The low white boots, for example, have a curved heel that looks like a bird's beak and the leather is shaped like feathers. A small button on the side is situated where the ostrich's eye would be. One pair of black boots has a crocodile texture while another looks almost like fur. "Shape is very important to me," she says, "and my shoes are all hand-made and unique." Bar's customers range in age from 15 to 60. "Because I combine modern and classic, my shoes appeal to women of all ages," she says. "They can all relate to the design somehow." Michal Miller "I was never very artistic as a child but after I finished my B.A. in East Asian studies at Tel Aviv University, I realized there wasn't anything practical to do with it, so I started looking for a profession," Michal Miller says of her surprising decision to become a shoe designer. "I saw an ad for the Achilles school, and I knew I wanted to do something creative, so I thought it would be cool to try making shoes." The courses were small and interesting. They taught Miller every aspect of shoe design and manufacturing. When she finished in 2006, she started working for a company that manufactures in China. "I was working on the more technical side of the field. I knew I wanted to design my own shoes and have room for more creativity, so I quit my job and started my line." In the summer of 2007, her first line came out. Today, she sells to stores all over the country. This winter, her colors include shades of magenta, chocolate and black patent leather. Although mostly leather, the winter soles are rubber so you don't slip, and Miller says she is fascinated by how the shoe actually looks on your foot and what you see peeping out of the shoe while you're wearing it. Her boots have a line of snaps down the side that close around the ankle like a large sleeve, and her leather Mary Jane's offer a crisscross pattern on the toes and a small leather strap that buckles across the ankle. "I spend a huge amount of time trying them on and fixing them until they meet my standards of comfort and quality," she says. "These are the most important things to me." Her mother's friends are big fans, but she also has clients who are still in high school. Miller says her philosophy centers around designing shoes she would want to wear, which means classic and clean lines without a lot of fluff. Her shoes range in price from NIS 680 to NIS 1,200 for boots. "I don't have a huge agenda. I just want to make pretty shoes." Inbal Yosifon/ Shoemaker Inbal Yosifon has known she wanted to design shoes since she was a teenager. "Fashion was always my thing. My grandmother used to tell me that it doesn't matter what a woman wears as long as she has a good pair of shoes and a nice bag," she says. After studying in Italy, she returned to finish her degree at Bezalel. In 2002, she started creating for her original, handmade line, Shoemaker. "My inspiration comes from everything except shoe exhibitions and the industry," she says. "It closes my mind to look at other people's shoes." Yosifon, whose funky line plays with different forms and materials, also incorporates different fabrics, textures and colors. Her designs have a distinctly vintage appeal, and she tries to create shoes for every mood. "My collection varies because it's not like clothing that goes with something else. When you buy a pair of shoes, they stand alone and don't necessarily connect to other models." Her winter collection includes options that are designed to be worn all day and her philosophy focuses on the consumer, not the design. "I take care of any and all problems with my shoes, even from collections that came out two years ago, because that's the way I believe it should be as a consumer." This winter, her designs include bright colors and unusual shapes. A pair of taupe heels with a red patent overlay and large taupe buttons and olive green shoes with a white heel and edge have a distinctively retro appeal. A more modern pair is boots that start with a black toe, wind up the ankle with gray straps and finish at the calf with a yellow band. Her clients range in age from about 25 to 65, and her shoes are priced from NIS 700 to NIS 1,030 for boots. "All of my shoes are hand-made and sold exclusively in Israel," she says. "A good pair of shoes can change your style. It's all about the small but critical details." Yafit Riklin Yafit Riklin, who designs leather accessories imprinted with her artistic graphic designs under the Tifaarts label, recently added shoe design to her repertoire. "One of my dreams was always to design shoes," she says. "When I heard about the Achilles program, I decided to go and learn how to do it." In August 2007, after finishing an intense program that included everything one needs to know about how to design and produce shoes, she made her first pair. "A lot of shoes in Israel look good on the rack, but once you get them on your feet, they aren't flattering or feminine enough," she says. "I looked like a crocodile in a lot of them because I have wider ankles, so I wanted to design a solution for that problem and make a shoe that would look good once you get it on your foot." The move from the design of two-dimensional accessories to three-dimensional shoes turned out to be a great learning experience. "I've been in the accessories industry for many years, but making shoes taught me things that apply to all of my techniques." Riklin, who designs private label shoes for several stores, only makes shoes to order and specializes in original designs for brides. Clients can choose from one of her many patterns to imprint on various types of leather in two different shapes: a closed shoe and an open shoe with a single strap. Her sample winter shoes include a pair of gold leather heels with a delicate black lace overlay and a pair with gray, taupe and blue floral print, but clients can order from a large variety of her graphic designs. They can also pick their heel size (three or five centimeters). The interior matches the exterior print and Riklin focuses on uneven lines that give the classic shoes an unusual edge. "I was inspired by baby-doll shoes, but I wanted to give them a unique look so I made them asymmetrical," she says. They range in price from NIS 1,000 to NIS 1,500 per pair, depending on the options you choose. "Comfort is really important to me," says Riklin. "My shoes are designed with a feminine look that complements the shape of the leg." Ahat Ahat Mira Gafni and Almog Weiss studied together at Achilles. After finishing their degrees three years ago, the pair worked separately but remained close friends. "We went to the manufacturers and suppliers together," says Gafni. "At first, we each had our own label, but eventually we started to interfere in each other's work and that meddling led us to create a brand together." Ahat Ahat, "one, one," is the name they chose to represent both shoes that come in pairs and their partnership. This winter, their second season, the footwear is inspired by men's shoes. Most of the collection has flat soles and a masculine retro appeal - especially obvious in the brown and gray leather loafers with a rounded front. Only one model has a five centimeter heel, and the colors this winter are largely dark - brown, black, gray and olive green. Perhaps the model that stands out the most is the low-heeled leather shoes with a rounded front and a scalloped lip where the shoe curves over the toes. This model, the most feminine of the season, comes in red as well as brown and black, and has a quirky appeal. If you're looking for comfort and suede is your thing, the brown loafer with a fold and a buckle over the toes has a North American Indian look to it and would go well with long skirts and pants. "Most of our clients are artistically inclined women aged 40 and up," Gafni says. "We even have some clients who are over 60." In January, after designing two collections together, the pair opened a studio and shop in the Jaffa flea market, where customers can browse through both the new collection and sales of previous seasons' models. Ahat Ahat works largely with leather, and Gafni says that even the soles are usually leather. This winter, however, they didn't use leather soles because they aren't waterproof. Every pair of Ahat Ahat shoes is handmade, and the prices range from NIS 620 to NIS 1,400 for boots.