Once Lady Gaga has worn your shoes, where do you go from there? Up and up is the answer, at least for the incredibly talented Kobi Levi. Levi is an imaginative footwear designer known for his quirky depictions of everyday items. His repertoire runs the gamut of creative ideas from interpretations of iconic characters and celebrities—such as Olive Oyl and Madonna—to everyday concepts (think a stiletto getting caught in chewing gum or a dog wagging it’s tongue). Most people could never envision such seemingly mundane occurrences personified in a shoe and yet Levi is able to make it work, and make it wearable.
As much a shoe designer as he is an artist, Levi focused on footwear design during his studies at the Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design in Israel. “I went to seasoned shoe makers to learn more about the design process, so that I could make my fantasy shoes real and not just sculptures,” he says. These magnificent, yet wearable designs are artfully crafted with the focus on creating well-made shoes that speak for themselves. With an influence of cartoonish, tongue-in-cheek design, his work is amazing on display but it takes on an entirely different effect in action.
“I like to take inspiration from unexpected places,” says Levi. “Or I take an obvious inspiration and design it in an unexpected way.” His ingenious Sling-Shot pump is the perfect example. Somewhat effortlessly, Levi seems to be able to transform any random object or idea into a shoe. Anyone who has worked in product development—or worn a badly constructed shoe—can understand the kind of technical skill and out-of-the-box thinking this requires. “I don’t know, but when I see a new idea in my mind, I’ll try it…” says Levi. “But I don’t force an image to become a shoe. They need to like each other to become one.” Levi works with traditional materials, such as leather and other common textiles, but he also steps it up with unconventional options including metal, wood and plastic.
These unexpected elements contribute to his powerful designs. When asked what his most gratifying moment is to date, it’s no surprise that entry into Gaga-land was high on his list. You will see Levi’s Double Boots creation in her Born This Way video. In the company of Thierry Mugler, Alexis Bittar and Petra Storrs, Levi’s design is a definite style highlight. “It’s amazing to see my designs in Gaga’s world. People have always said that she would be the perfect person to wear my designs and when it actually happened, it was perfect,” says Levi. This is but one unexpected high for the humble designer. “It’s great to see that I have reached so many people. I never imaged this when I created my blog a year or so ago.”
Levi has recently gone on to parlay his incredible talent into a women’s shoe line, Shoola, in collaboration with a shoe retailer in Israel. His humour and innovative thinking has certainly carried over to this collection, but in a subtle manner that suits the commercial market. Levi has an endless list of accomplishments and he continues to create shoes that have an undeniable jaw-dropping effect. It is certain that we will be seeing more of this talented designer as people continue to spread the word.
Soludos has only been around since 2010, but you’ve already had major collaborations with retailers like J. Crew and Opening Ceremony and designers like Mara Hoffman. How did your shoes catch on so fast?
We’ve been lucky to work with these great brands and each partnership has led to original and often unexpected designs. I think the appeal comes from the timeless quality of our espadrille. It’s such a simple shape that works well with a contemporary twist, no matter the personality of the designer.
Who would be your next dream collaboration?
The Opening Ceremony Soludos have become a nice summer tradition, and I’m always excited to see what fabrics and designs their team comes up with. We’re not sure what’s next, but the less predictable the design, the better!
Any chance you’ll expand into the wedge market?
People do ask us about doing wedges, but so many designers already do espadrille wedges so well. We love our flats at Soludos and we’re developing some really cool new silhouettes for next Spring that even Running with Heels will appreciate, we promise! (We believe you!)
What has been the most rewarding experience since you started the company?
I still get such a kick out of seeing people wearing Soludos on the street. It’s our third Spring season, so it’s still new to me to see someone strolling around Soho wearing Soludos! I used to go and chat with anyone wearing our shoes, but I think people got a little weirded out when some random dude approaches them and asks them about their shoes…so I’ve put that on hold for now!