Black Dandy: renovating an old trade

Black Dandy, who prefers to go by his nickname, doesn’t just make shoes; he’s a craftsman.    His small boutique in the Marais, one of Paris’ chicest neighborhoods, is barely big enough for three to browse his collection at the same time.   In same room is his workbench, an overflowing table of tools and footmolds, with concept drawings littered everywhere.

Behind the workstation is a magical looking contraption of polished bronze, actually a hand pumped espresso machine, with a finely regulated grinder behind it.  As I walked in to pitch Dandy on this article, I got see it at work.    “You’ve got to have just the right grain size, and make the coffee right away,” he said, fine tuning the precision grinder.  He put the beans under my nose.   “Smell that!” His eyes lit up.  “You can smell the bananas and vanilla from the plantations that surrounded it in India.  Amazing.”  Dandy lit a cigarette with a butane burner, normally applied to melting molds for his shoes.

Dandy makes microseries of shoes, no more than 10-20 pairs.  Each shoe is designed from scratch, starting by carving out a wooden mold of the shape of the shoe he wants to build.  For the hard-to-fit types with deep enough pockets, he also custom builds shoes, starting at about $2000.   His work, (see some photos below) is unique, classical with an extra fair of color and material, small refinements in form.

When asked about his inspirations, he says they come from the most unlikely of sources.  “Sometime I see a shape and an idea hits me,” he stated thoughtfully.  “Once I had a great idea while reading comic books- there was just so much to absorb!”  Most importantly, he says, he makes shoes because they’ve got the most character of any fashion accessory.  “You can  tell a lot about someone by looking at his shoes and his watch.  And when you look at someone, you always start at their shoes and move up.”

The shop, open just four months ago,  is growing steadily.  “Sometimes I sell a few pairs in a day, sometime I go a week with selling nothing at all.”   “I’m just here all the time.  When there aren’t customers, I’m trying to expand my women’s collection.”  He works constantly, trying to better understand what makes us human in our own special way.

He’s doing more than just expanding it.   Dandy is pushing the limit, developing shoes from a new kind of plastic cement, so that the straps don’t connect on both sides, but rather just swirl gracefully along the feet.  Check out the diagram below- pretty wild stuff.

What was truly amazing about my time with the cobbler, however, was that there was some sense of traveling into a bygone era.  The place had the smell of handiwork- leather, wood carvings, grease- a smell that few of our generation come into contact with very often.   His passion and dedication to the work felt timeless, like he’d still be doing this 15 years from now.  There were no investors in his store,  no major company deals.  It’s not that he hadn’t tried, but the tiny venture capital industry in Paris isn’t interested in the shoe business, and the fashion industry to weel entrenched to pay much intention.  Dandy opened the shop anyway- digging deep into his own savings. His is a story of commitment, of throwing everything he had behind his passion.  As he toils behind his wooden models, and reworks the form of the shoe with plastic cement, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him soon.

[flickr-gallery mode="photoset" photoset="72157629048408999"]


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