By: Jill Lang; arts columnist NICHE magazine – CA
Balancing on the edge of what’s feasible – René van den Berg explores the tension between form and function in footwear.
Shoe guru René van den Berg specializes in designing and manufacturing tailor-made shoes, carrying on a family tradition of shoemaking that dates back to 1902. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all cobblers who repaired shoes, while van den Berg is fourth in line and the first shoe designer of the family.
Building on his thorough background as an orthopaedic shoe technician, van den Berg opened his workshop for tailor-made shoes in 1992. Among others, van den Berg has collaborated with haute couture and fashion designers like Thierry Mugler, Ilja Visser and Klavers van Engelen, with his creations reaching celebrities like Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Fergie and Beyoncé. Van den Berg also works as a teacher in traditional shoemaking at the Dutch Shoe Academy in the Utrecht centre of excellence for craftsmanship.
In 2003, creative entrepreneur/designer Karin Janssen attended a course on artisan shoemaking at the Dutch Shoe Academy, and ten years later founded A SHOE CAN BE in collaboration with van den Berg to explore new frontiers in shoe making. In 2013 A SHOE CAN BE revealed their latest sculpture ‘Coral’ inspired by the deep ocean reefs. It is decorated with 5,000 handmade leather beads in 400 colours and over 7,500 Swarovski crystals.
“The ODE futuristic platforms might seem at first frivolous and daunting, that is until you notice the layers of intricate detailing, bold colours and delicate mastery. How many designers can say they’ve had five pairs of shoes commissioned for a futuristic club in Heineken? Outlandish footwear and a damn good party where you say?
I was more tickled about Usher’s performance at Super Bowl 2011, but Fergie is still fun to look at in the Luminex boots crafted in collaboration with Anouk Wipprecht. I can’t help but be taken with the metallic heels in Hind, and the Art of Vanity gives van den Berg’s genius away with its nose turned up and everything. Then the penetrating wisdom of the artist is revealed by the subtle and not so subtle hearts of Vickey and Heart Heel, respectively. Of course the artist pays homage to his Dutch heritage with Black and Beige (among others), and van den Berg is even so thoughtful that he made pumps for ballerinas with the Red Shoe. How can you not, at the very least, want to try them? And of course, every woman needs a Mary Jane! Universe, I’ll take a 6.5 in black, please!”
To the future, to primitive times, to the witches’ den, to the heart of a delicate soul – nobody is forgotten in this collection. Clearly van den Berg is a man who can do whatever the hell he wants and get away with it, I think, mainly, beaus he cares.