“My inspiration comes from all aspects of life: animals, nature, day-to-day situations, celebs, media and lots of other places,” says footwear designer Kobi Levi, who has designed shoes for many celebrities, including American singer-songwriter Lady Gaga, American singer Fergie and Israeli singer Netta Barzilai, as well as actress Whoopi Goldberg. In honor of International Women’s Day, an exhibition opened in March at Ramat Aviv’s Ofer Mall featuring a large number of new high-heeled shoe designs that interweave women’s history, contemporary processes and turning points.
“My inspiration comes from all aspects of life: animals, nature, day-to-day situations, celebs, media and lots of other places,”Kobi Levi
One of the new designs on display features a shoe made to look like a cup of coffee being poured. “I made this design to represent the stereotype of how in the past, women who worked as secretaries in offices would constantly be asked to prepare coffee for their bosses,” says Levi.
Another shoe design features a female soldier wearing a uniform. “Serving in the IDF is an extremely important part of life for Israelis, and my goal in designing this shoe was for it to represent the incredible capabilities of women soldiers and the positive changes that have enabled women to serve in more serious and senior roles during their IDF service,” Levi says.
“Things are different nowadays, though of course there is still room for improvement. Another design that I’m showing in this exhibition is a black shoe that has a hollow space in the shape of a woman’s silhouette between the heel and the rest of the shoe, representing women’s presence in society. No society is whole without women, and if women were not there, their absence would be felt strongly,” Levi explains.
Levi, 48, began designing shoes 25 years ago. “I grew up in Tel Aviv and studied at Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, and then at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. I began experimenting with shoe design when I was still in high school. For some reason, the artist part of my brain was excited to bring together my talents as an artist and designer and my love of shoes.”
Currently, Levi has an online store through which he offers limited series of his shoe designs by custom order. The shoes, which are made from a variety of materials, are purchased mainly by customers in the US and Western Europe, with the average price for a pair of shoes being $800 to $1,000.
“I didn’t plan for my designs to be more popular overseas, it just turned out that way,” Levi says. “Most of my designs are of high-heeled shoes, since I consider shoe design a form of art, and it’s much easier to come up with interesting, three-dimensional shapes on shoes with high heels. However, when I’m creating a new design, I don’t decide ahead of time if it’s going to be a flat shoe, high-heels or boots – I just go wherever my inspiration leads me.”
What kind of interaction do you have with celebrities?
Some women regularly purchase shoes directly from me, and sometimes my shoes are used in a photo shoot for a magazine, video clip or to be worn at an event. In these cases, the shoes are returned to me afterward.
How did you meet Lady Gaga?
Over a decade ago, Lady Gaga wore a pair of my ‘double boots’ for a video she made for her song Born This Way. The toe part of the boots look the same on the front and back of the boots. I usually deal with celebs’ stylists, who are responsible for creating a certain look for their clients. My shoes are often used for photo shoots or in fashion shows.
For example, I got a call one day from fashion director and fashion editor Nicola Formichetti, who was outfitting Lady Gaga. He asked me to send him a few options, which I did. Lady Gaga wore the boots in her video, then they returned all the shoes to me. These boots are currently on display in an exhibition at a shoe museum in the Netherlands. Another set of these boots are on display at Tel Aviv’s Periscope Gallery.
Was it exciting to see Lady Gaga wearing your boots?
Yes, it was incredibly exciting. I felt like I was part of the production, and I was on pins and needles waiting to see how it would come out in the end. It’s amazing when someone so famous, who can choose anything they want from anywhere in the world, chooses to use one of your designs, that you created in your own studio.
LEVI SAYS that Whoopi Goldberg has also worn one of his designs on her daily TV talk show, The View.
“I also made a special design for Netta Barzilai for her Eurovision performance, for which she came in first place,” he adds proudly.
“[Singer] Fergie’s stylist requested shoes for a clip she made of her song ‘M.I.L.F. $.’ She used two different designs – one with a chewing gum heel, and one in the shape of a flamingo. Whoopi Goldberg, on the other hand, contacted me directly, and not through a stylist. She sent me an email requesting a few different designs.
“She owns quite a few pairs of my designs. I think that’s pretty awesome, I must admit. And I’ve met her a number of times while I was on trips overseas. I can’t even begin to explain how exciting it is when someone that famous and popular chooses to wear shoes you designed,” Levi gushes.
Levi works out of his studio in Holon. “I do everything – from concept all the way to the finished product at my studio. When I need help, I bring in assistants and students to give me a hand.”
For which other famous people would you like to create an original pair of shoes?
There are so many famous women out there that I admire, I wouldn’t know where to start. I must admit, it’d be dope to design customized shoes for Madonna or Beyoncé, since they’re the top of the top, but I’d also love the chance to design something for artists like [American rapper] Doja Cat or [Albanian singer] Dua Lipa.
I hope to always be in a place where I can aspire to reach new heights and give free rein to my creativity. But I am also super excited when random people who are interested in my artistic designs reach out to me from all around the world. I love selling my designs to people who appreciate my art, such as shoe collectors or museums.
It is so flattering.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.