These Boots Were Made for Dancing

April 25, 2014
In the world of high-fashion, high-function footwear, craftsmanship is still key.

PARIS - What do Kylie Minogue and the can-can girls at the Moulin Rouge have in common?

They all get their dancing shoes from Clairvoy, the Parisian bootmaker that has cornered the market for top end, made-to-measure footwear for screen and stage.

Founded in 1945, Clairvoy still operates from the shop where it all began, at 17 Rue Fontaine, just 200 meters (650 feet) from the Moulin Rouge.

Founder Edouard Adabachian started out making shoes on demand for individuals, but by the 1960s, requests from the world of performance had come to dominate and theatre, cinema and even circuses now account for 80% of the 300-400 pairs of shoes and boots the company makes every year.

Abadachian's descendants sold the business to Moulin Rouge in 2006 but little has changed otherwise. The shop remains half classic footwear emporium/half museum to the stage with its signed pictures of famous performers and a can-can costume permanently on display.

On the floor a smooth red carpet evokes the world of cabaret. "That is where tap dancers test the shoes," says bootmaker Nicolas Maistriaux, the current director of Clairvoy.

The Moulin Rouge takeover has ensured the company's future by guaranteeing a steady flow of orders, Maistriaux adds.

Among these are numerous pairs of the calf-high, blue and red mini-boots in which the can-can is performed.

Thanks to Clairvoy's attention to detail, dancers can thump the stage floor repeatedly in confidence: the heels are specially designed to spread and absorb the shocks.

'Something Timeless'

"Stage shoes have to be extremely high-quality, both from a technical and an aesthetic point of view," says Maistriaux. The laces on the can-can boots are only there to enhance leg length: a zip on the outside of the boot actually does the job of keeping the dancers' ankles fully supported.

Clairvoy regularly makes shoes to order for film-makers.

Recent examples have included the high heels that featured in acclaimed French-Belgian production "Guillaume et les garçons à table" ("Me, myself and Mum") and the Roman-era footwear sported by Gallic cartoon heroes Asterix and Obelix.

Jean Dujardin slipped into a pair of spurred Clairvoy boots for the cinema adaptation of another cartoon strip, Lucky Luke. "We modified the interior of the boot to make it easier for the actor to appear bow-legged like Luke," reveals Maistriaux.

Kylie Minogue turned to the company for her 2006 and 2008 tours, the diminutive pop star requesting shoes with four-inch heels she could dance in and walk down stairs without looking at the steps.

The company employs five people. "There are about 250 steps in the production of each shoe," says the 35-year-old director. "And a pair can involve anything between 20 and 60 hours of work."

The intensive production process means the final product does not come cheap.

For women seeking a bit of Kylie's style, a bespoke pair of high heels will cost between 1,500 and 2,000 euros while men's made-to-measure shoes go for around 3,500 euros.

It is a price worth paying, Maistriaux says, for a little piece of Parisian history. "They are comfortable, they are beautiful and there is something timeless about them."

- Caroline Taix, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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