Walter Sedlbauer immigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1939 to work for the Bata Shoe Company at their newly opened manufacturing plant in Batawa, Ontario. In 1948 he, with business partner Anthony Ronza, founded Susan Footwear Industries in a former parachute factory in Burlington, Ontario.
A sneaker brand called Cougar became a breakout success for them in the early 1970s, rivalling adidas running shoe sales in Canada. Their next big success story came in 1976 with a snow boot style with a padded leg and red lining, called the Pillow Boot.
By the time Walter died in 1994, the company was running into hard times from foreign brands being dumped on the Canadian market. Most Canadian shoe companies didn’t survive the shift to the world market, including Bata. Wanting to keep the business going, Walter’s sons Steven and Ron bought the Cougar trademark out of bankruptcy in 1996. The brothers realized they had to play by the same rules as the modern shoemaking industry and revived the Cougar brand by moving manufacturing off shore. The new Cougar brand company found success in new designs based on Pillow Boot styles, updated for the contemporary market.
Bonnie Stuart shoes began as the Galt Shoe Manufacturing Company in 1910. Founded by E.C. Getty in Galt, Ontario, the company was sold or taken over by Dr. Joseph Radford and his son-in-law Andrew M. Stuart. Radford was a prominent physician, the city of Galt’s medical officer of health, a school board chair, and Galt’s mayor from 1895 to 1899.
The company began to specialize in children’s shoes but after a fire destroyed the Galt plant in 1922, the company moved to Kitchener, Ontario. The Bonnie Stuart brand was introduced in the 1940s, and in 1961 the company was renamed Bonnie Stuart Shoes Ltd. The company went out of business in the late 1990s.
Sergio Rossi was born in 1935 and apprenticed with his father to learn the art of shoemaking. He began making sandals for summer tourists in Rimini in the 1950s. By 1966 he had set up his own shop in Bologna and two years later launched his own eponymously-named brand.
His name became synonymous with luxury Italian footwear and by the 1990s he was creating shoe collections for fashion houses including Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Azzedine Alaia. In 1999 his company was acquired by the Gucci Group, now known as Kering, before being resold to a private equity firm in 2015.
Sergio Rossi contracted Covid-19 and died in Cesena, Italy at the age of 84.
I have been using this time at home to create order in my endless electronic archives of images and snippets. I am finding interesting things like this 1906 advert for O’Connor, manufacturer of footwear for the lame, and in another file, an extant example from, I think, the podiatric shoe museum at Temple University in Pennsylvania.
Born in 1938, Terry Higgins apprenticed at his father’s theatrical shoe making company. With plans to become an actor, Terry changed his last name to de Havilland while living in Italy in 1959. Upon his return to England, Terry went to work at his father’s business making pointed-toe ‘winkle-picker’ Beatle boot styles for men and women. They had just started to make wedge-soled shoes using his father’s old lasts from the 1940s when his father unexpectedly died in 1970, leaving Terry to take over the family business.
Terry soon began making platform wedge-soled shoes in patchwork snakeskin, selling them through a Kensington market boutique. Terry was selling his shoes as fast as he could make them to clients including Bianca Jagger, Britt Eckland, Cher, and Angie Bowie. He opened a boutique in 1972 called Cobblers to the World on King’s Road in London’s fashionable Chelsea district that became hugely popular with the glam rock crowd.
In 1974 he was commissioned to make Tim Curry a pair of platform shoes for the film Rocky Horror Picture Show. As the platform began to wane in popularity, Terry became instrumental in re-establishing the stiletto heel, first producing spike heeled shoes for a Zandra Rhodes collection. In 1979, changing tastes and the soft economy forced his store to close but de Havilland continued on, launching a new line called Kamikaze Shoes that featured extreme ‘winkle-picker’ stilettos for the New Wave scene.
When this venture closed in 1989, deHavilland began making shoes for the Magic Shoe Company in Camden, mostly for the Goth and fetish market as well ascollections for designers, including Alexander McQueen and Anna Sui.
After a heart attack in 2001, de Havilland closed his Camden shop in 2002 and returned to his roots, revisiting what he was famous for designing in the early 1970s in both a licensed ready made line and as custom work for clients. In 2007 de Havilland opened a London shop for men’s shoes called Archie Eyebrows.
In 2008 I was in touch with Terry de Havilland via email. I asked if he could proof my bio of him for my book as there was little written about him online at the time. He was teaching at the London College of Fashion and invited me to lecture on the history of shoes at the college, but it never happened. Unfortunately, I lost my emails in a computer crash years later – too bad as I would have liked to have read our conversations one more time.
Snakeskin platform shoes by de Havilland, c. 1973 – 1975
In 1814 Thomas Bostock (1777 – 1865), moved to Stafford to set up a shoemaking business. Thomas’ son Edwin (1807-1883) became a partner in his father’s firm that by 1833 was employing about 200 men, women and children. Thomas’ other sons Frederick (1812 – 1890) and Thomas Jr. (1816-1871) also each set up shoemaking businesses, Frederick in Northampton in 1835, and Thomas Jr. in Stone in 1842. Edwin took over the Stafford factory upon Thomas Jr’s death in 1871.
Despite strikes by workers in the 1850s, sewing machines and other technologically advanced shoemaking equipment were installed in the factories during the late 19th century that expanded the profitable production of footwear for these companies. Edwin Bostock & Co., became a limited liability company in 1898. In 1919, Edwin Bostock & Co. Ltd. amalgamated with Frederick Bostock Ltd. of Northampton to become Lotus Ltd., a brand name Edwin Bostock had been using for some time.
After years of being one of England’s largest shoe manufacturers, Lotus Ltd. left family ownership in 1970 and went into decline. Sold and resold several times, by 1998, all but the Northampton factory had been shuttered. The company name survives as a subsidiary of D. Jacobson & Sons Ltd.
In a few minutes this past Tuesday, Brooklyn sneaker company MSCHF (pronounced Mischief) sold two dozen shoes for U.S. $1,425 each. The customized Nike Air Max 97 sneakers called ‘Jesus Shoes’ were blessed with religious symbols: Holy water from the River Jordan were injected in the sneaker bubbles, the Vatican-red insoles were scented with frankincense, and a steel crucifix dangled from the shoelaces.
The shoes were made as a parody of the absurdity of collaborative products, although the irony may have been lost on its buyers as many of the shoes have already been resold for more than double their original cost.
The heeless pump style were invented by Romeo Griffi in 1958. That same year Griffi filed patents in Italy, England and the U.S. for his cantilevered sole idea. The style was designed to relieve the normal shock to the leg and spine incurred from walking in high heels by shifting the wearer’s weight from the heel to the ball of the foot. The American patent was granted on November 8, 1960.
Humphrey Bogart was 5’7″, and his leading lady in Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman, was 5’9″ — so how do you get them to appear nearly identical in height in scenes like the one at the airport ? You start with the hats. Bogart wore high crowned fedoras while Bergman wore low slouched, turned-down brim styles. Next, you go to the feet. Bergman’s feet are rarely shown, because they are in low heeled shoes, while Bogart wore strap-on clogs for scenes where he and Bergman had close conversations.