Noriyuki Misawa runs one of Japan’s largest shoemaking schools and has the Misawa & Workshop bespoke brand, but it’s the art project under his own name that gotten him recognition around the world, with amazing shoes unlike anything else. In a month he will hold a solo exhibition in London, but Shoegazing has visited him at his home turf in Tokyo.
A knee-high button boot that looks mutated and received a 40 cm long distorted heel. A balmoral boot with thousands of brass nails under the sole and brogue holes filled with 24 karat gold. A shoe that looks like a grinning whale where he has stitched together three vintage bespoke shoes by the legendary maker Nicolaus Tuczek. These are some of the art shoes made by Noriyuki Misawa, as apparent difficult to describe them in text. Be sure to take a good look at the pictures here in the report, they are definitely worth it.
On the outskirts of Tokyo’s shoe district Asakusa, on a narrow street with mainly lower residential buildings, Noriyuki Misawa has his small workshop. Here he works with his wife, Yukie Misawa, who do the upper making, and at the moment two apprentices. Misawa’s business is divided into three equal parts: the art project that he does under his own name, the regular bespoke shoe business Misawa & Workshop, and a shoemaking school, which we will go into more later in this article. Here in the workshop the regular bespoke shoes are made, and the different art shoes are developed and manufactured. Right now, he is working on a shoe patinated with rust.
“It was a bit tricky to get the treatment done so the “roast attack” became good,” says Noriyuki, showing a piece of leather that looks like it has been calcined, where the rust ruined it totally.
After a few tries, however, they got the balance right, the various parts of the shoe are on a white paper and the rust brown colour actually looks really beautiful. The rust should grow for a while more before the shoes are put together, and then the leather is treated to stop and seal the rust development.
Noriyuki Misawa has been interested in art since childhood, but when he began university, the subject was English literature. Besides the studies, he worked extra in a shoe store, and it was here that he was drawn to shoes and what they could be.
“I had never really reflected on shoes before then, but I quickly became attracted to them. Here I also learned about the possibilities of making shoes by hand, and felt that I had to explore this closer,” Noriyuki says.
He therefore moved in to Tokyo and Asakusa, a neighbourhood where much of Japan’s shoemaking is still happening, and here he studied full time at a shoemaking school of a bespoke shoemaker. He then spent four years as first apprentice and then a maker here.
“It was a perfect curriculum, here I got an important basic knowledge of how to make shoes, different techniques and so forth, which I have been able to use a lot over the years.
To widen his views, he then traveled to Europe and lived for 1.5 years in Vienna, where he worked with the bespoke shoemaker Materna, but also spent time with a shoe designer who worked for different fashion brands.
In 2011, he moved back home, and started his own workshop. Already from the start, he had the ambition not only to make regular bespoke, but to experiment with different artistic variations of shoes. He spent a lot of time with various experts in areas such as leather carving, work with gold leaf, dyeing and so on. His first art shoes he called Furniture shoes, they look quite a bit like an old Japanese furniture, with a back part resembling an armchair.
“They are still special to me, it’s always like that with first pairs. Otherwise, I’m usually most pleased with the ones I did most recently”, says Noriyuki, showing a pair he finished a short while back, inspired by violins, with many design elements from the elegant instrument.
So far, he has created about 20 different artworks with different takes on shoes, often pairs or single shoes, but he also has other kinds of artwork, such as a heap of shoes “stoned” by baking in with a sort of plaster and treated to resemble stones. Watching Noriyuki Misawa’s art shoes is like going on an expedition. Partly, since it’s beautiful and interesting items, but for me personally it’s the amazing craftsmanship that is most interesting.
He has exhibited in Tokyo, Cannes, Singapore and New York, and now on December 3-7 he has a solo exhibition at Sway Gallery at 70-72 Old Street in London.
If you move over and start looking at the shelves where he has his bespoke shoe samples, it’s much more common things you’ll experience. On the men’s side there are mostly traditional models, with fairly low-key lasts that clearly signal his Japanese training. It is well-made, especially his later samples, with nice details like 16 spi(stitches per inch) sole stitching and things like that.
“Customers for bespoke are almost exclusively Japanese. It is probably a combination of the fact that domestic customers appreciate my style the most, and that I never actually marketed internationally or had trunk shows abroad”, Noriyuki says.
This clash between a workshop like any other and these in many cases crazy artworks is really inspiring; it’s a special place where you can look around and discover new interesting things all the time.
A short walk from the workshop, into perhaps the world’s smallest elevator, on the fifth floor of a combined residential and office building, we find the last third of Noriyuki Misawa’s operations: the shoemaking school. When I am visiting, it is a holiday in Japan, which means that it is full in the “classroom” since many of the participants attend evening and weekend courses in addition to their everyday work. A full-time course leader keeps things together, though Noriyuki is here as often as he can. Since the “students” are taken care of individually and have different levels of experience and knowledge, it is a demanding activity.
“For me, education is the most stimulating part of my work. I love being a teacher, and pass on the knowledge I received from other shoemakers to new talents.