Suzhou Cobblers - Artisan shoes twisting old Shanghai style with modern look

04 April 2016

Du Fu, the famous Chinese poet in Tang Dynasty, wrote a poem appreciating embroidery craftsmanship. What it mainly depicts is an ingenious embroiderer who uses needle and thread to channel her innermost feelings into every embroidery pattern she creates.

Many poets have vividly described the embroidery process, which indicates that in ancient China embroidery was closely linked with people’s lives throughout the many eras where such refined traditional skills were both commonplace and abundant.

Although the rapid development of modern society no longer upholds traditional skills like embroidery in such high esteem, thankfully there remains a handful of gifted individuals who are able to prevent the decline of this skill in spite of the pressure of the changing times, and put their abilities to use with a modern approach.


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Artisan shoe brand Suzhou Cobblers is one example. It takes its inspiration from ancient Chinese embroidery, using needle and thread to craft pair after pair of smart and stylish footwear. Suzhou Cobblers is created by Denise, Mengqi Huang in Shanghai. The designer Denise dreamt of living in Shanghai in the last century when it was the fashion capital of the Orient. Thus, she decided to create a brand that would pay homage to the old Shanghai style. She says,

I enjoyed very much watching my grandmother every winter hand crafting beautiful shoes for us back in the 70′s. That’s where the idea of creating my shoe brand originally came from.


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Denise herself designs each pair of shoes, chooses the fabrics and gives fun names. These initial fashion symbols are all down to the personal design of Denise, which ensures the contemporary appearance of the brand. In terms of naming each design, Denise never gets rid of getting inspiration from what she encounters everyday. Collections with names such as Pekingese Tassels, Ping Pong and Panda are all the creations of Denise based on interesting elements that she sees.

The next procedure, however, is entirely down to artistic technique. The matching of the colours, thread and embroidered flowers etc. is carefully carried out by the highly-talented embroiderers and cobblers who have decades of experience. The finishing touches to the embroideries are processed in the studio, ensuring the excellent quality and uniqueness of every item. 

Aiming to avoid passing down just one form of embroidery, Suzhou Cobblers captures the most distinguished Suzhou-style embroidery, the most authentic and rudimentary-style embroidery from Gansu Province, and the most original embroidery from the Qiang minority of Sichuan, to create each and every item. Such accomplished stylistic fusion is the product of many long travels and many diligent efforts. 


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Denise ensures that the shoes bring an essence of luxury and extravagance, but also high quality in materials. Traditionally, fine silk embroidery is not durable against everyday wear-and-tear. Having taken this into consideration, Suzhou Cobblers has treated the fine satin with highly advanced waterproof and stain-proof nanotechnology. As a result, even if the shoes do gather dirt after extensive use, one needs only use a damp cloth dipped in neutral washing detergent to wipe it down, then let the shoes dry and they’ll be good as new. Denise says,

they are just appropriate for stepping onto the dance floor or shuffling around the house.
Suzhou Cobblers only produces on a small scale in order to ensure the best quality possible, and on most occasions the shoes are made to order. Some shoes are more exclusive mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, some embroidery skills are nowadays only acquired by very few experienced embroiderers. Thus, the production heavily relies on their schedules. 

Besides, Denise is passionate about collecting rare fabrics and vintage ones, using them to make limited edition pieces. On most occasions, the fabrics only allow to produce several pairs of shoes. 


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For its exquisite craftsmanship and exclusive contemporary design, a pair of Suzhou Cobblers shoes - Garden Slippers, is on permanent exhibition in the V&A Museum in London. In 2015, its own boutique in Shanghai has been featured in Louis Vuitton City Guide Shanghai 2015.



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