The perfect pair

America’s first couturier, the venerable Charles James, famously said, “I spent my life making fashion an art form.” Almost four decades after James passed away, Canadian footwear brand Aldo is on a similar mission. After all, fashion and art are not really strange bedfellows.

The 46-year-old footwear brand has initiated a global campaign across Europe, Canada, Dubai and India, collaborating with artists in these regions to create artworks using Aldo shoes. In India, Aldo has roped in venerable artist Jehangir Asgar Jani to create art inspired by their fall/winter collection.

These resultant five artworks, formally launched two days ago at an Aldo store in Mumbai in the presence of Bollywood actress Yami Gautam, are collectively titled #ARTANDSOLES.

This is a first-of-its-kind collaboration and the proceeds from the sales of these artworks, which would be available for retail in October, would go to charities chosen by Jani. “You can decorate your living room with these artworks,” says Tushar Ved, president, Major Brands India. “We will send these pieces to our store in Delhi as well.”

Aldo stores in Canada have fresco paintings done by artists who work at the store for a period of seven to ten days. Hence, collaborating with artists was a natural progression. As for Jani, he was always the first choice for the brand. “His work speaks for itself,” says Ved. “I was amazed to see how he’s used cement with the shoes. When his artwork was sent to the head office in Canada, they were very impressed. He’s done justice to Aldo.”

This is a career first for Jani, who’s never worked with a fashion brand before. He admits that his work doesn’t resonate with the fashion world because it’s too individualistic. But when Aldo approached him in May this year, he was keen as it was about footwear.

Jani had to work with brown Oxford shoes, strappy stilettos in an arresting wine, pink and gold pumps, and a pair of rust-coloured flats. Women’s shoes have a broader spectrum of style and materials to choose from, making him favour them more than men’s styles. “Also, I had to embed them in cement, so the material was of prime consideration. I could only work with leather or artificial leather shoes,” said Jani, who bought his first pair of Aldo shoes from Canada in 2003. “They were strappy tan sandals that happened to be made in India,” he recalls.

Jani says the project was fun while being challenging. “The brand is so contemporary that they are always innovating in design. I have always admired their shoes. Working with cement was like a conundrum. Concrete is so unmalleable that traces of people who walk on it disappear. But if you look at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, actors imprint their footprint or palm print on concrete to immortalise themselves.”

Jani’s work almost always symbolises something to do with human beings. His cement work for this collection has some intervention in the surface in the form of text, code or abstract imprints and can either be seen as a landscape or merely a slab of cement. “Footwear is either in a showroom waiting to be purchased or it is on the streets, discarded,” he says. “How does one understand it without getting into an evaluation process? Shoes began as utility items and became more sophisticated with time, appealing to a certain economic background from a rudimentary state. And yet it’s primarily about comfort and not fashion.”

With wearable art being such an important part of the current fashion mood globally, the gap between fashion and art has been bridged significantly. Yet, Jani points out a few characteristic differences between the two. “Fashion is ephemeral and also current, while the longevity of art is more assured in terms of validity,” he says. “One is exciting, fun and can be discarded, but can also become an heirloom. The other has an existence independent of trends and culture. Art is part of a certain system, whereas fashion faces a lot of pressure to be current all the time,” says Jani.

As for who he wishes will own his artworks, Jani says, “An independent, self-assured, good human being who’s not in politics.” Let’s hope it comes true.

Popular Posts