As Director of Merchandising at PEM’s museum store, buying product is the part of my job I love doing more than anything else. When I first learned that there would be a shoe exhibition at the museum in late 2016, I was ecstatic. I knew immediately that we had to stock the store with the best shoes we could find.
Some might say shoes are not a typical product for a museum store, but I knew it would be the perfect fit for PEM during the run of our fast-approaching exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain.
If the museum shop could sell 3,500 hats during our Hats exhibition in 2012, then I knew we could just as easily sell shoes. They’re something we all wear — who doesn’t love a really good pair of shoes? The museum store has built a reputation over many years for carrying unique pieces of fashionable apparel. This was really solidified when the store coordinated with fashion icon Iris Apfel‘s 2010 exhibition.
This fall, I believe our customers will love what we have to offer in the PEM shop.
Our criteria for choosing which shoes to buy for the store is fairly straightforward. Each pair needs a unique quality in its shape, styling, color or material; In other words, they need to be pieces of wearable art. I also wanted our selection to be distinctive, so pairs you could find at the mall, or online at Amazon or Zappos, were out of the running.
To buy for a fall delivery, museum shop manager Stacey Pappas and I went to the wholesale trade show Sole Commerce in New York City this past February. We were looking specifically for handmade men’s and women’s shoes that would take time to produce.
These shoes would not be found sitting on a shelf in a warehouse. Many of them would be made specifically for us and in some cases to our exact specifications.
Sole Commerce happens just twice a year, in New York City. Last February, close to 300 shoe manufactures attended. Our plan was first to walk the show to get an overview of the selection, and then narrow it down to place specific orders. We found an international offering of some of the most exceptional, distinctive and handcrafted shoes I had ever seen. The toughest part was honing down our selection from the wide range available. We had to maintain strict quality standards.
Here are some highlights from the trade show:
Cydwoq, pronounced “side walk,” produces shoes in Burbank, California. Founder Rafi Balonzian comes from a long line of shoe makers. He grew up around his father’s shoe factory, and is also a trained architect. The mission at Cydwoq is to create hand-crafted shoes, using the best leathers, that provide the ultimate walking comfort in unique and timeless designs. We purchased both men’s and women’s shoes from this company, and paying special attention to styling were able to hand-pick from their swatches of exceptional leathers to create the shoes we wanted.
Trippen, founded by Angela Spieth and Michael Oehler, is based in Berlin. They’re inspired by modern design and combine environmental friendliness, sustainability and social responsibility in their work. Trippen’s distinctive styles have won a series of international design awards over several years. They have collaborated with many notable designers, including Issey Miyake. The company manufactures shoes in both Germany and northern Italy. From them, we chose six styles of women’s shoes in a range of colors and shapes.
Pons Quintana was created in 1953 by Santiago Pons Quintana. The company is now run by his son Santiago and daughter Magda. Their shoes are designed and manufactured in Spain, and strong design has been of utmost importance to their line. We picked three styles of woman’s flats for the PEM store, each with unique and often eye-catching materials from animal-print hide to bold and rich patent leathers.
Cordani is fairly local, headquartered in Wakefield, Massachusetts. The company was started when Allyson Cicca wanted fashionable yet practical shoes that you could work, walk and play in. Allyson was working in Boston and found that stylish shoes at that time could not withstand the wear of Boston’s cobblestone streets. Allyson and Michael Cicca fuse fashion and comfort in their line, manufactured in Italy and Mexico, and through them we were able to customize several pairs of the shoes that we ordered.
Matt & Nat, MAT(T)ERIAL AND NATURE, inspired the creation of this Canadian company in 1995. Driven by a strong social consciousness, their work aims to reflect and respect nature, and they avoid using animal products in the production of their shoes. We ordered both shoes and bags from them.
To date, Stacey and I have ordered 70+ styles of handcrafted and artful shoes for the museum shop from 17 manufacturers in 12 countries. Much like PEM’s diverse collections, our wide range of shoes will come from the United States, Japan, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Israel and Canada. The detailing, handiwork, smoothly-designed lines and avant-garde style of these fashion objects, as a group, is remarkable.
I invite you to come to the museum shop and see this dazzling array of shoes for yourself. You never know, you might just have to own a pair or two!
Explore the creativity of footwear from around the globe in Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, on view at PEM starting November 19th, 2016. Learn more about PEM’s partnership with Dress for Success Boston for a shoe drive happening November 16-27.