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Don't Worry, NO FURRY

ANIMALS were not used in the making of these VEGAN-FRIENDLY shoes

August 27, 2000|DEBRA J. HOTALING

Do you imagine vegans as berry-eating, Birkenstock-shod New Agers? How five minutes ago. Think Drew Barrymore, Alicia Silverstone, Moby--hip, young and stylish--and every one of them vegans who, in addition to not eating meat, don't use animal products or byproducts, including eggs, honey, milk, silk, wool and, yes, leather. So where do the fashion forward go for non-leather shoes? Payless, confesses one insider. "Two pairs for the price of one, and they're all plastic."

But for dressy evenings out, it's Andre. "I am Andre," says a 56-year-old man stepping out from a back room where one-off shoes, both leather and non, are created for clients from New York to Beverly Hills.

The shop, tucked next door to the Director's Guild on Sunset Boulevard, smells of shoe polish, although the front room is remarkably devoid of footwear. In fact, with an inviting couch and a coffee table stacked with magazines, it could be a therapist's waiting room.

And, like any good therapist, Andre Rostomyan is unfazed by his clients' desires. "Satin, cotton, crepe, velvet, imitation suede--all of these can be used for beautiful shoes," he says. "I can make anything. Shoes for vegans are no problem."

Walking down a hall to the back room, Rostomyan explains the drill. "The customer comes to the store--or I go to where they are--and I measure their feet. Then they choose a design--evening shoe, casual, boot. And then I make it." As he speaks, a worker concentrates on polishing a man's dress shoe. Singer sewing machines line one wall. On another, shelves of shoe boxes hold detailed drawings of each customer's feet.

His workshop offers a few tantalizing clues as to his clientele. In one corner stands a silver metallic platform boot--"For the band KISS," he lets slip. In another cubby, a pair of leather shoes bears the symbol of the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince stamped on each heel.

"When I came here from Armenia, I could have lived in New York, but I didn't want to set up shop to make orthopedic shoes for the rest of my life," Rostomyan says. Instead, he designs forgiving shoes for professional dancers' anguished feet, cowboy boots for folks who've never laid eyes on a cow pie and strappy little numbers for elegant vegans dressing to pick their way through red-meat charity dinners.

Rostomyan stops to pull bolts of sumptuous fabric from shelves to show his visitor and extracts a Cinderella-goes-naughty clear plastic boot festooned with rhinestones sexy enough to make any carnivore drool. Remarkably, it contains neither hide nor hair of the material formerly known as cow.

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