It all started with a tweet, with me thanking Noritaka Tatehana for greeting me when we met at the Mastermind show which was the last runway show of the Tokyo Fashion Week. We’ve already met before during his first anniversary party at Le Baron de Paris Tokyo last August. Because it was 2 months since we first and last met and I am just a nobody, I thought that he has already forgotten about me. So it was a big surprise when he waved in the most unexpected place, telling me that he has never forgotten this foreign commoner who’s trying to be fashion blogger. After my tweet, he replied, telling me to visit his exhibit soon so I could try his shoes on. When I read that tweet, my heart started to sing gleefully. I sent an email to his press office to have a scheduled visit and the next thing I know I was already in the Trading Museum Comme des Garcons in the GYRE Building of Omotesando, meeting the heelless shoes and the man behind these works of art.
Noritaka Tatehana shouldn’t be a new name to everyone who loves fashion and Lady Gaga. He has been known world-wide for being patroned by one of the biggest pop stars of this generation, wearing almost 40 cms of his creation. He has also made shoes for Daphne Guinness who’s also popular for being one of the top fashion icons and socialites of today. With these women wearing his shoes, how would any fashion maniac not know Noritaka Tatehana?
I arrived 5 minutes earlier than my scheduled visit to Noritaka’s exhibition. I came in and saw him, talking and sharing some good laughs with the CDG staff. He saw me and asked to hold on a second so that he could prepare himself for an hour showing me his wonderful works of art. After making myself busy by checking out the clothes at Comme des Garcons, he came back and asked for my shoe size. I said I was a European 39 which makes me 25 in Japanese. He went to the glass cabinet near the entrance where his archive pieces were on display and reached for this kind of gold-colored heelless pair of shoes embossed with the Tatehana family trademark pattern. “Try it,” he said. “Is it really ok if I try it on?” I asked for confirmation. “Of course,” he answered with a smile.
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One of my great dreams in life was to wear Tatehana heelless shoes. One of GREATEST is to have my OWN pair. LOL! It felt so surreal when I started to take off my socks and shoes to replace it with one great piece of art. Why do I say a piece of art? Ironic as it may sound for someone who makes modern shoes, Noritaka started in making traditional Japanese kimonos and “geta” (wooden clog slippers). Living in the busy red light Kabukicho and being inspired by traditional classic Japanese art and the torturing lotus shoes of the Chinese, each pair is meticulously created with love and passion combined with hard work. A pair of shoes may take more or less 6 months to be created, considering all the process it has to undergo. The embossing of the leather, the measurements of the wedge and the angles that support the balancing system of the shoe, Noritaka makes sure that his creations are perfectly done. One may think that his shoes are very heavy due to its shape and appearance but one shouldn’t judge a shoe by its leather. It’s actually very light and easy to walk on. Well not that easy especially if you are wearing it for the first time because I had some balancing problems myself. Humility aside, I was able to overcome them in less than 15 seconds. *winks*
This pink heelless shoe is Noritaka’s graduation piece in the Tokyo National University of the Arts in Chiyoda, Tokyo. It’s made of glossed stingray skin with a little black cow leather at the back . Since this was his first work, it’s relatively heavier to his current works. When I asked him a little story about it, he told me that it was really a trial creation because he was mixing everything up that made it hefty. Since he was majoring in classic Japanese art, his professor didn’t really like it.
Noritaka’s shoes may be too modern in a glance but if you observe carefully and open your history books, you can see that it’s inspired with the classics. Those clogs shouldn’t be new to everyone because geishas have been fashioning them since historical times. Geisha’s wooden clogs and Noritaka’s heelless pairs are both towering high plus they made a walking support at the front to make motion easier to the one wearing it. With that in mind, Noritaka’s shoes can be considered timely and timeless, a contemporary classic, an art based in rich history that shall cater not only the present generation but also the succeeding ones.
I asked Noritaka if he wants to extend his brand to clothes and apparels. He told me that the brand is not just about fashion, he considers it as an art. With that being said, he wants to try doing other stuff which is more artsy.
Like what I said earlier, he has made shoes for Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness, two women known for their strong personality and style influence. When asked if there are celebrities who he wants to make a shoe for, he said that he’s not aiming for the celebrities (with the exception of Gaga of course). He’s not really aiming for Hollywood stars to wear his creations but for people with very unique sense of style. They necessarily don’t have to be famous but he wants to see his shoes on the foot of people who are comfortable with who they are and what they are wearing. When Noritaka told me that Paris Hilton isn’t the type of person he would imagine wearing a pair of Tatehana shoes, I had a better understanding of his point, even saying “YES” with full conviction. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Paris, I actually like her beautiful Barbie face and her support to Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao but I can’t really picture her wearing Noritaka Tatehana heelless shoes while tanning herself in Malibu.
We know how much of a celebrity Lady Gaga is so when she decided to put on those Noritaka heelless shoes, it became so famous that others started copying it. Some second rates are really good (but still, being called a second-rate is not something you wanna hear from anybody) while others are lazy enough to perfect it and just wanna earn tons of dough by stealing someone’s design. When asked about this “taking inspiration” issue, he said that he was really worried about it at first but then, he realized that copying can’t be prevented so he tries not to think about it too much and put stress inside his head. Well, we all know what the old cliché says: imitation is the biggest form of flattery. After all, others can copy all they want but people, especially yourself, know who’s original and who took or steal something from whom.
While I was talking to Noritaka, I suddenly noticed that I was holding his shoes in my arms as if I won a Grammy or something in that level. We found it really funny and her friend who was with him in assisting me during the time I was there decided to take a photo of me. Gosh! I really was in shoe heaven together with a shoe god. Being surrounded by these beautiful heelless shoes and having worn one of them were simply magical.
It looks like a joke but holding these pieces of art is really scary because I just don’t want to drop them and leave unwanted marks on them. And I was carrying the first heelless shoe that Noritaka made. Imagine yourself holding a very sentimental piece that included all the love, sweat, sleepless nights and passion in making it and you ruin it because of your clumsiness. Oh gosh! I just can’t bear the hideous scene in my head but I’m thankful I didn’t destroy a single thing during my stay in the exhibition.
This is a picture of the shoe god, Noritaka Tatehana and one of his pieces studded with Swarovski crystals and accented with metal spikes. Despite of his speeding rise in the industry at a very young age, he remains grounded. Being in his presence is already overwhelming but talking and knowing him better was a very pleasant experience that I will never ever forget. It was quite funny how I asked him questions in English and he would answer me back in Japanese but we both understand what each other was saying.
Noritaka Tatehana’s exhibition is actually being held in three cities now- London, Paris and Tokyo. If you are in one of these cities or planning to visit them, might as well put his exhibition in your itinerary. Click HERE for more details. If you wanna avail your own Noritaka Tatehana shoes, visit his online boutique HERE. For those people who want their shoes to be unique, good news because he also does customized ones.
Thank you for accommodating me, Tatehana-san!