The Shoemaker and the Elf
Once upon a time there was a tiny shoemaker with twinkly eyes who made beautiful boots and soft suede shoes using small hammers, scissors and a hand-cranked Singer in a sunny studio the size of a broom closet. Is it OK to call Louise Clifton ‘Elven’? “Well, I do have pointy shoes and I am little. It’s a fair call.”
When you first meet Louise, you can’t help but think she might be able to grant wishes. The people who sign up for her 4 day, 4 people at a time (will fit in the studio) Shoe School certainly do. “I can see students doubt if their shoes are going to materialise at the beginning of day four. At the end of the day I take a picture of my students with their finished shoes and they look astounded." As well as prop-makers, costumiers and fashion graduates, she gets a lot of tourists, people with shoemaking on their bucket list, who change their travel plans when they hear about her shoemaking course, and come to Dunedin wanting to do something significant.
Louise is not a cobbler. A cobbler lives in a thatched hovel with a shouty wife and a couple of goats and makes a living repairing shoes. Louise is cordwainer, after Cordovan in Spain where the loveliest leather comes from. A shoe-aholic ever since she saved up for years to buy a pair of Dr Martens (8 hole, changed her mind at the last moment and went for the purple, still regrets it); she moved to Dunedin from Hokitika via Wellington - where she trained as a photographer - before deciding to do something less digital, more hands-on. She agrees shoemaking is a fairy-tale occupation. “Maybe it’s the magic of a workshop, creating something from nothing from start to finish?” she wonders. I wonder if she can spin hay into gold but think better of asking.
Did you know Dunedin has a history of shoemaking? During the gold rush most of the shops on Filluel Street were shoemakers and everyone wore handmade leather shoes. How the mighty have fallen. Crocs, anyone? “Yeah, but there’s a big interest in making shoes now.” It’s all part of the ‘makers movement,’ a new-found curiosity and appreciation for how things are constructed. People want to connect with objects around them and ensure they’re lasting (a little shoemaker humour there). “My business is all about giving people the tools and the knowledge to carry on without me, creating a new wave of shoemaking in New Zealand. It’s quite special,” said Louise. Before closing her eyes, whispering something quietly to herself and tapping her heels together three times.
Post submitted by Lisa Scott
Photography credit: Phoebe Lysbeth Kay Mackenzie