Photos by Tom Wallace
Meeting John Fluevog of the famous, cult-like footwear brand John Fluevog Shoes is an extremely rare occurrence because the Canadian designer behind the shoe movement rarely gives interviews. However on October 2, in celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Melrose Fluevog store in Hollywood, CA, John Fluevog made a special appearance, driving his classic 1965 pimped-out British-looking low-rider Jaguar from Vancouver to LA for the occassion.
The evening was a unique combination of learning what makes a footwear brand iconic while meeting an original designer of the craft of shoemaking, and seeing the diverse group of people -from celebs, musicians, artists, and designers–who all are devoted “Fluevogians.” In celebration of the revamped store design and 5th year anniversary, Fluevog featured a metallic “Melrose” boot in purple with the classic Fluevog heal -a limited-edition category available only at this store. In addition, Zia, from the Dandy Warhols, DJ-ed throughout the night in the store’s back courtyard.
However it was the new collection of Fluevog’s for Spring/Summer 2009, and the designer himself (not to mention his car parked around the corner) that attracted the most attention. Given John Fluevog’s undisclosed age, he remains a very good-looking older guy, and this evening, dressed in a hip, elegant 3-button-collared purple shirt he’d just picked up in Milan 3 weeks ago (“to match the store’s new purple carpet”), brown and black plaid leather vest, white denim jeans, and of course Fluevog boots, he was the epitome of classic cool. Fluevog shoes have such a unique, almost art deco appearance that I asked what it was that made his footwear a constant enigma in the age of sneaker culture and fashionable footwear. “I think part of the difference is that I work with the shoes’ bits and pieces. I actually hand-grind the soles and work with different types of leathers, work with putty and sole stitching so I feel what it’s going to be when I’m creating the next designs,” explained John.
The process of bringing a Fluevog shoe to fruition starts with John’s hand-drawn designs, his own crafting of the shoe which he says comes from “not following trends so that they tend to be “trendless” and always timely no matter what’s going on culturally” and then works with his carefully selected team in terms of choosing color as the shoe goes into production. He checks in at least 3 times in the production process “fine-tuning because for example, the color of the stitches may look different when it’s all together so things need to change.” In the end, John’s goal is to bring back quality and repair-ability to his shoes, which he calls “affordable luxury” because quite honestly, when you buy a pair of Fluevog’s they tend to last for years.
What’s also interesting abut John Fluevog and his process of making footwear is that his aesthetic is greatly influenced from car culture. He grew up in Vancouver working in his dad’s drive-in shop called the Luxury Freeze where you could get an ice cream and your car repaired. John believes that his car design work and passion for cars have been quite influential in his design creations in footwear. “There’s a crossover in what I do with shoes that comes from my passion for cars which may also account for why they are different.”
Fluevog shoes came to the forefront with the opening of their store in Seattle which was a key location for musicians and artists during the grunge era in the mid- 80’s and early ’90’s. Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and the Melvins all wore the chunky heeled Fluevog boots in that era, as well as celebrities who liked how often Fluevogs incorporated little messages in the shoe. In the 2000’s, he introduced the “mini” heel which is a staple design concept in John Fluevog shoes to date. With several more stores opened in key locations from San Francisco to Montreal, plus a green collection, the Fluevog brand has fully developed into one of the most iconic shoe companies in the world. Fluevog stores have become beacons of cool within each city location attracting the connoisseurs of footwear including celebrities such as Madonna, Courtney Cox, Scarlet Johanssen, Perry Farrell, Anthony Keidis, Elijah Wood, the Black Eyed Peas, among others.
Interestingly, Fluevog shoes is one of those rare brands where the CEO is also the head designer, which John said may also add to the unique aspect of his company overall. “Sure there have been offers to buy Fluevog shoes or turn over things towards making a lot of money, but that’s not really why I do what I do. I like this business. I like to design shoes. I’m comfortable with the growth of what we’ve achieved so far.”
Fans of Fluevog can also post their ideas for creating new designs on their site (www.fluevog.com) in the Za Za open source area. If your designs are chosen next, Fluevog will name the collection after the person who created it. Here are some pics of the latest collection starting with limited-edition Melrose boot in purple metallic: