Sole man: Terry de Havilland - the rock 'n' roll cobbler

The self-proclaimed rock 'n' roll cobbler, Terry de Havilland, is back with a new bespoke service. Carola Long meets him

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:29

It's hard to imagine a more perfect definition of a party shoe than Terry de Havilland's impractically high, sensually curved designs.

And with their promise of uninhibited, all-night revelry, it's not surprising that their creator has a wild side. Take the time, back in the Seventies, when after a night out with Patti Boyd the pair walked past a building site overrun with stray cats. "We are cat lovers and we wanted to give them some milk," he says, "so we stuck these shoe samples that we had with us on the demolished brickwork and filled them full of milk from a nearby vending machine. Can you imagine what the builders would have made of it in the morning?"

Like with all his anecdotes, this reminiscence is followed by an eruption of husky laughter. As the genial cobbler, now 71, shows me round his East London studio, with its heady scent of glue and leather and leaning towers of boxes, de Havilland makes his profession look like the most fun you can have with your shoes on.

In nearly 50 years since he began as a cobbler, the rock-and-roll-call of people Terry de Havilland has dressed is as eclectic as it is stellar. Back in the Seventies when he made his name, Bianca Jagger, Rudolph Nureyev and Lee Radziwill all bought his designs, while more recently he has made shoes for Angelina Jolie in her Lara Croft role, Marilyn Manson, Kate Moss and even Kylie Minogue's Madame Tussaud's waxwork. He recently made 'Kate' ( everyone from Amy Winehouse to Naomi Campbell is referred to by their first names) a pair of bespoke shoes overnight, after receiving a call from her assistant one afternoon saying that the model couldn't remember who she had lent her black wedges to and needed another pair. By 8.30 the next morning, the shoes had been cut then, covered and lasted from scratch, before being couriered out. Making shoes for celebrities, musicians and friends was what prompted de Havilland to think he should start up the official 'couture' shoe service he has just launched. Customers can come to the studio and, as his wife Liz, a glamorous crop-haired blonde bearing more than a passing resemblance to Annie Lennox, explains, "have a cup of tea and talk to us about what they want in terms of shape, fabric, colours, personal details – perhaps a name on the sole of the shoe. It's very welcoming, not like a posh shop in Bond Street." Bespoke bridal shoes will also be part of the service, for "brides with attitude," such as the woman who met her in-laws for the first time as she unveiled scarlet boots, made to match her scarlet dress, at the altar on her wedding day.

De Havilland has been making shoes almost solidly since he started out in the Barking-based family firm in 1960, but his name and profile have drifted in and out of fashion's spotlight. The shoes on display in his studio area offer a magical mystery tour of his career, which he animates further with explanations. The Forties-inspired metallic wedges he created when he started working for his dad's shoemaking business in the late Sixties were made, "either when I was on acid, or on a comedown from acid, some of them are really psychedelic. They are based on shoes that my dad used to make in the Forties. I went up to his loft once at the end of the Sixties and found the old wedge in the attic and persuaded him to start making them again." However just after the pair began recreating the style, horrifyingly, de Havilland's father was electrocuted in his factory and died in his son's arms.

After that Terry took over his business, and opened Cobblers to the World on the King's Road in 1972, which he describes as, "very much party central. We had a machinist in the basement where people came down to have individual shoes made, that was our story anyway. Shirley Bassey came in, as did Angie Bowie, Bianca Jagger. One day this woman came in to buy a pair of black leather thigh boots lined in red satin with saucy drawstrings for her sister and when we took her name for the deposit it turned out to be Lee Radziwill. Her sister was Jackie Onassis."

Does he find that people express their darker, wilder sides through shoes?

"Oh yes, when we organised the Cocktails and Heels parties in the early noughties – " kind of like Ann Summers parties with shoes," chips in Liz – "we would get really elegant women trying on these saucy heels." The shop made knee-high platform python boots for Rudolph Nureyev, but the next person to want a similar pair was the amply proportioned singer Demis Roussos. "They were, how shall I say, a challenge," notes Terry.

In the Eighties, after his shop, "went belly up" he ran Kamikaze Shoes, making pointy toed punk styles until 1989 when the business also folded. After that he started The Magic Shoe Company, making alternative street styles for a decade; also without using his name. Cher was a customer during The Magic Shoe Company era, but according to Liz, "she thought you were gay, French and dead." "Yeah she and Bette (Midler) used to buy some of my mules, but since they only found them in Paris, they assumed that I was Terry de Av-ill-ond," chuckles the designer, in his robustly not Parisan East End accent. In fact, de Havilland was inspired to change his name from Terry Higgins to something more exotic after returning from a 1959 trip to Rome. He had been to a party overlooking the Trevi fountain when Felllini took the famous shot of Anita Ekberg in it.

The duo's next project, a goth emporium in Camden Town, attracted the attentions of Marilyn Manson. One slow Saturday, during which Liz and Terry had taken, "about 10p", Manson came into the Camden shop to buy some Transmuters, a hulking gothic boot with mirrored panels or spikes that could be screwed on or off. "After he and Dita left the shop got really busy and when we cashed up the till that night we found we had taken a rather satanic 666 pounds and 50 pence," recalls Liz, "we were hysterical."

The Stables Market shop closed in 2002 after de Havilland had a heart attack in 2001, but he and Liz noticed that, "we were getting a bit of a buzz from the vintage designs we had on display in there so after the heart attack I thought, oh bollocks I'll have another go." Further, and deeply frustrating, signs that his signature glam rock look was back in fashion included Italian label Miu Miu creating a pair of shoes that were strikingly similar to a past design, and the uncredited appearance of his vintage shoes in magazine fashion shoots.

Determined to stage a comeback, de Havilland created the shoes for the FrostFrench catwalk show in 2003, working so hard on it that he and Liz had to postphone their wedding, and struck a licensing deal to have ready-to-wear shoes made under his name, while he continued making private commissions. The licensing deal ends on January 1, after which he has, "big plans," which include, "making shoes like we did in the old days. I'd like a shop and a small factory." He wants people, "to know that I'm doing it, I'm here, I'm making shoes." Now might not be the most financially felicitous time to start a new venture but Havilland's designs transcend trends, and fit perfectly into the current enthusiasm for 'statement,' and 'investment' pieces. "I don't do seasons and prediction charts," he says. "What I do is just in between the fierce and the gorgeous."

Terry De Havilland bespoke shoe service, from £600, 020-7254 4445

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