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STYLE & CULTURE | FASHION

Quite a feet accompli

Designer George Esquivel will realize a dream when his collection of custom men's shoes debuts Nov. 7 at Fred Segal Feet.

October 22, 2002|Michael Quintanilla | Times Staff Writer

Driving through Anaheim, men's shoe designer George Esquivel points to several motels he and his family called home during his middle school years.

"Most of the time we didn't know where the next meal or the rent money would come from," he says, pulling into a parking lot. From the driver's seat he stares at the motel with a tropical sounding name. But the place was anything but paradise. "Drugs and mostly scary people lived there then -- and probably still do today," says Esquivel, 32, who grew up with his mother and four younger siblings. "When you live the way we did -- scraping to get by and not knowing how -- you move a lot. That's how you live when you have no control over the circumstances." Esquivel is grateful to his mother, Luz Maria, "and always God," he says, for helping the family break away from that environment.

He figures that being in those cramped motel rooms in front of a squiggly television set may have led to his designing career. When he wasn't mowing lawns, raking leaves or running errands to earn money for necessities, he'd watch "I Love Lucy." And though Lucy was the star, it was Ricky Ricardo who captured his attention because he had such style. And his shoes were sweet.

As a kid, Esquivel would take bright markers to his thrift-store shoes or patch them up so they'd look stylish, not like hand-me-downs. Now, more than two decades later, he'll debut his shoe collection of eight styles in various eye-popping colors -- starting at $480 a pair -- on Nov. 7 with a fete at Fred Segal Feet on Melrose Avenue.

In the last few years, his custom designs have been garnering attention, seen on such famous feet as those of Drew Carey, Kevin Costner, Seth Green, Richard Tyler and rockers Robin Finck of Guns N' Roses and Lit guitarist Jeremy Popoff.

Earlier this year, Esquivel was invited by the Petersen Automotive Museum to create shoes influenced by the exotic custom cars on display. After studying hoods, steering wheels and taillights, Esquivel created several pairs, including a stunning square-toed buckled alligator creation inspired by the Buggatti. The pair, among others, is featured inside a case in the museum's gift store. Price tag for the Buggatti-inspired shoes: $3,500. Others start at $700.

"I know that I'm not going to sell 500 pairs of these at the Petersen. That's not the goal. But having a shop on Rodeo Drive called Esquivel has always been a dream of mine," he says.

For now, Esquivel is content with the nearly 400 pairs for Fred Segal Feet he and shoemaker Oscar Navarro of Capri Shoes in Fullerton will create by hand through the holidays. With a $5,000 investment on the line, Esquivel is confident his timing is right.

He's made shoes with toe boxes cut to resemble drag racing flames, leather that is punched and layered over yet more leather, woven and patch-worked. Laced up, buckled and slipped on, from two-toned saddle shoes to Chelsea boots, from red pony hair and blue suede to alligator hide, just about the only thing Esquivel won't do is conservative.

"When George came to me I couldn't resist working with him," says Navarro, who has been a shoemaker for more than 20 years and specializes in dancing shoes as well as footwear for entertainers and clowns. "I've been doing clown shoes for a while, so this is a change and a challenge I love."

Stanley Silver, who has been in the shoe business for 32 years and is known, along with his wife, Patricia, for discovering and promoting new talent at their Fred Segal Feet shop, agrees. But mostly, Silver and others who know Esquivel admire the designer for not hiding his past.

"He grew up tough, not having the privileges that a lot of us enjoy. He's warm, enthusiastic and full of life. All of that is infectious when you're around him. And he's a rising star. He's going to capture a niche in dressy men's shoes because his styles are sophisticated and whimsical," says Silver, who after meeting Esquivel and seeing the shoes, signed a deal to get them in the shop. "Believe me, George doesn't put out boring shoes."

Compared with European competitors that can take six months and longer to turn around a pair of shoes, Silver is pleased with Esquivel's faster production: four to six weeks from sketch to finish.

Ellen Campuzano, trend forecaster and editor and publisher of Fashionfactsfolio, a New York-based newsletter for the footwear and accessories industry, says an operation such as Esquivel's is rare. "It's really unheard of these days because, basically, the finest shoemaking comes out of Italy, the center of the leather and shoe factories of the world." Campuzano frequently attends shoe fairs across Italy and one in Paris for lesser known designers and smaller operations.

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