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Where High Art Meets High Arches

Top shoemakers, artists take the unusual step of teaming for a party at Bergdorf's


NEW YORK — It seemed incongruous to have high art in the second-floor shoe department of Bergdorf's.

But there it was Wednesday night--along with a pack of rich art patrons savagely pursuing a pair of red satin 5-inch spikes with long straps and a black-and-white beaded patch on the toe.

Seven artists each had designed a shoe. Seven top shoemakers had produced them in limited editions of 20 pairs. Bergdorf Goodman sold them for $650 to $1,200 a pair, using the occasion to launch its renovated shoe salon. The New Museum of Contemporary Art benefited from the sales, earning $70,000, which doesn't seem like a lot considering the price of a good painting, but not bad for shoes.

Yes, it was just your average, outrageous New York evening where everybody made out--yet barely a kiss was exchanged. The city's most cutting-edge museum buddied up with its fanciest department store. Uptown met downtown. Art mixed with commerce. Artistes and artisans collaborated--although mostly by fax and through "their people." Young and old jammed together to suck oysters off the half-shell and lounge on rust-colored velvet couches in a shoe salon so lush it looked like a Victorian boudoir.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 28, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 4 inches; 164 words Type of Material: Correction
Artists' names--A story in Friday's Southern California Living about a benefit shoe sale in New York misspelled the names of two artists. They are Jeff Koons and Liza Lou.

And, by evening's end, a lot of people happily, graciously, ravenously were shaken down.

"We bought them, we bought them," squealed Sunny Goldberg, a New Museum trustee, waving her size 8 red spikes designed by New York photographer Laurie Simmons and crafted by Bernard Figueroa, a New York shoeman. But are they art or will she wear them?

"Oh, both," Goldberg said, whipping off her sunglasses and smiling wisely. "They'll be what we want them to be."

Goldberg, who lives with her money-manager husband in an art-filled mansion in the suburbs, explained that she is a size 7 1/2 and her daughter Lilli, a social worker, is an 8 1/2.

"We'll share our 8!" mother and daughter said in stereo.

Simmons seemed overwhelmed by all the attention she and her red-satin spikes were getting--and unsure of what she had created. "It's one of those crazy things artists get to do," she said. "But this is not the real thing."

Simmons also brought her daughter Grace, 10, who clearly understood why her mom's design was so popular, and why eight pairs sold. "I think my mom's are gorgeous," said Grace. "I think a lot of the others are a little too crazy and not practical."

Some shoes really were over-the-top, like New York artist Jeff Koon's collaboration with Italian designer Andrea Pfister. It was a boot with a woven-leather overlay, topped with an inflatable cuff. It got so complicated to produce that there were none available Wednesday night but two were special-ordered Thursday. It seems that getting turtle-shaped inflatable shoe ornaments was too difficult anywhere but in London or maybe China. It was impossible to get them to Bergdorf's by 7 p.m. Wednesday.

"We only started planning for this benefit in April," said Ann Livet, the wizard-ess consultant whose idea it was to match her oddball clients, the museum and the store. It also became her job to marry busy artists and shoe designers in their different time zones and mind sets.

"You'd be amazed how short six months is," Livet said.

George Malkemus, president of Manolo Blahnik USA, said his boss had no pretensions about this project. "Manolo doesn't see himself as an artist. He says, 'I'm a craftsperson, a factory maker. I'll listen to the artist.' " But he was weirded out when he was paired with Damien Hirst, once called the "hooligan genius" of British art.

"Manolo thought, 'Oh my God. Am I going to be dipping sheep in formaldehyde?' " Malkemus said.

But then, even though they both live in London, Hirst's people faxed Blahnik's people examples of the artist's classic motifs--spin art and polka dots. And the shoemaker put each motif on a classic Blahnik ankle boot. The boots sold like hot cakes, at $1,200 a pair.

"It's a combination of the simplest ideas that sometimes works the best," said Malkemus, who was unsurprised that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had bought a pair of the polka-dotted boots for its permanent collection. "The biggest appreciator of shoes in the world are New York women," Malkemus said.

Hooey to that, insisted Nell Campbell, a co-chairwoman of the event, which was called Art + Sole. "All women have shoe fetishes," the New York nightclub owner said, categorizing herself as a collector of slippers. Wednesday night, she was wearing her favorite thongs studded with dangling rhinestone stars. But in an interview at the event's peak--about 450 people elbowed their way to bars set up between shoe displays--Campbell took a swipe at the L.A. woman's comprehension of true shoe love.

"We New York women," announced Campbell, who was born in England, "have to actually walk in our shoes. Unlike those L.A. babes. They're always getting in and out of their Mercedes. What do they know? We know shoe pain. We know shoes."

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