“If you buy heels, you walk on heels,” quips Israeli shoe designer Kobi Levi.
And he sure knows what he’s talking about, being the mastermind behind some of the most fabulously heeled footwear you could possibly imagine stepping into.
When Levi says heels, he means the real, towering ones. Baby heels just don’t do it for him. “It’s not pretty, it’s not the most comfortable, and it doesn’t obtain its goal,” he determines.
This no-middle-of-the-road attitude perhaps best describes his work: original, handmade designs that are absolutely fantastical. Whether depicting a cat stretching out, a beach (complete with a mini palm tree) or chewing gum stuck to sneakers, he goes all out, everytime.
“I’ve always loved shoes, for very unclear reasons,” says the Tel-Aviv designer of his lifelong passion, which he also studied at Bezalel Academy’s jewelry and accessories department.
Once there, he realized that he needed to further specialize in the technical aspects of the craft to bring his dream designs to life and turned to what now seems to be a surprising source of information: orthopedic shoemakers.
“These professionals do a really, really amazing job,” he says. “I learned a lot from them and applied it to other things.”
Upon graduating, Levi went to work for commercial shoe brands but kept working on his private creations. “I didn’t show them to anyone; I didn’t even have any photos. I made them just because I wanted to, because I could.”
Things took a turn when he sent some photos to a website dedicated to shoes and started a blog of his work.
“After three months or so, I started receiving this tsunami of emails with millions of questions,” Levi says. These included inquiries about deliveries, shoe sizes and prices, all things Levi hadn’t considered while designing for his own enjoyment.
In 2010, he decided to give things a chance and make his shoes available by opening a studio and selling his creations, which were soon picked up by the likes of Lady Gaga, CNN and international exhibits. Soon after, in 2012, he started an online store.
“People started ordering shoes. It’s the coolest thing to have done something that you love just for yourself, and it becomes the focal point of your work,” Levi says.
More success soon followed, with actress Whoopi Goldberg becoming a devoted fan and Walt Disney reaching out for a collaboration for which he created three styles based on Disney witches from “Snow White,”“Maleficent” and “The Little Mermaid.”
A recent famous fan includes Israeli Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai, who wore Levi’s shoes at last year’s performance.
As to what makes Levi’s customers tick – and purchase his far-from-cheap creations – he’s quite clear.
“They’re enjoying what they’re seeing,” he says. “That’s the purpose. It’s actually wearable art. These are not shoes for the office, or for a certain event. They’re stepping out of the box, quite literally. It’s just important to have fun.”
One of the reasons Levi’s creations are so imaginative is that they weren’t originally geared at any particular audience.
“These are not shoes for the office, or for a certain event. They’re stepping out of the box, quite literally.”
“It started out as art. There was no one in the back of my mind who would wear it. Things started out as fantasy and only then women wanted to wear them. I’m happy it happened this way. If I would have thought who would buy it, it would have ruined the fantasy,” he says.
Inspiration, Levi notes, can be drawn from anything.
“From everywhere. Just life around us. It can be people, it can be places, it can be architecture,” he says. “It’s like pop art. It’s bringing forward things that surround us but showing them in a different way – much more glamorous, much more fun.”
But back to the issue of comfort. Levi insists that as far as high heels go, his creations are as comfy as they come.
“They look much worse than they really technically are,” he laughs. “From a technical point of view these are real shoes and completely walkable.”
The secret, he says, is in the tilt. “The highest tilt I use is 10 centimeters,” he says. “Never have customers said to me, ‘This is not comfortable, I can’t walk in it.'”
As for the ultimate heel height, Levi explains it’s a personal decision. “It depends on the wearer. The wearer decides what’s comfortable for her, for how long, and how much.”And this, apparently, goes both ways. “You’d be surprised, but there are some women who don’t go anywhere near flat shoes,” he notes.
Levi finds it difficult to pick a favorite shoe – “It’s always a difficult question, it’s as if they’re your children and you need to choose a favorite” – but settles on a design called Miao.”It’s inspired by a cat, although everyone thinks it’s a dog.”
What he likes about Miao, he explains, is the parallelism between the figure of a stretching cat and the shape of the heel, which are otherwise two completely unrelated things. This sort of surprising connection generates the best designs, Levi believes.
As for his own collection of shoes, Levi is a surprisingly modest man. Asked how many pairs he owns, he laughs.
“Me? I’m a guy. I have nothing; we’re neglected. It doesn’t reach the dozens.”
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