Designers through the Decades - Show Biz to Shoe Biz

SHOW BIZ TO SHOE BIZ

Number  1552 Broadway – actually right off Broadway  on the uptown side of  West 46th Street – is a building that captures the attention of those interested in the annals of theatre, the importance of preservation, artists and their works , persons of legend.  And shoes.


 At the second story level, one sees,  gazing out from  their niches  as they have  for nearly a century,  statues  of four women,  among  the most acclaimed  stars of their time  in their most famous roles: Marilyn Miller as Sunny; Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy; Ethel Barrymore as Ophelia and Rosa Ponselle as Norma.  The statues were sculpted in 1929 by the noted artist,  Alexander Stirling Calder, father of the equally noted sculptor and mobile artist,  Alexander Calder.  The building itself was, in 1999, designated an exterior  landmark. And, to get to the shoe part, an inscription carved into the face of the building reads  “I.Miller Building. The Showfolks Shoe Shop Dedicated to Beauty in Footwear.

Israel  Miller, a Polish shoemaker, who emigrated   to New York by way of Paris,  started a business making bespoke  shoes for   actresses, dancers and vaudevillians – the Dolly Sisters and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson  among them .   Enamored of their work shoes,  the performers  prevailed upon  Mr. Miller  to  provide them with footwear for their private lives. The  business prospered.  Mr. Miller built factories. And  retail stores. And a dynasty.  Israel’s son, Jerry, followed in his father’s footsteps.  As destiny would have it – as it so often  does – Jerry’s namesake  son, recently discharged from the military and hopeful of Georgetown and  a career in the foreign service, made a prescient  visit to the Long Island City factory; the defining “aha” moment.  Miller went to work … in the design room, the leather room, in  pre-fitting, heeling, sole-laying, bottom finishing;  cut sock linings and heel covers. He went on the road, selling shoes for the I. Miller sub-divisions, Mademoiselle  Shoes and the Carlisle Shoe Company  sold shoes on the floor at Brooklyn’s long gone A&S department store, learning, along the way, everything  there is to know about designing, crafting, marketing, buying and selling shoes.

 

For many years,  the country’s predominant name in shoes, I. Miller, which includes in its illustrious history, the advertising campaign illustrated by Andy  Warhol,   was sold to Genesco in the 50s, shortly after, forever gone. Third generation   Miller – flamboyant, eccentric, volatile, totally original Jerry Miller -  ventured out on his own to become one of the most brilliant and illustrious names in the business; founder of Shoe Biz; respected and admired by the scores of designers and shoemakers with whom he worked  in  Italy,  Spain,  Brazil, France, Greece,  the Philippines… wherever  in the world  shoes  are made.  Counted among his employees, partners,  colleagues, friends and customers are some of the most iconic  shoe names of all time: Walter Steiger, Vittorio Pollini, Mario Bologna, Moya  Bowler, Natalino Pancaldi, Charles Jourdan, Renzo  Rossetti, Charles and Mabel Julianelli, Beth and Herbert Levine, Arsho Bagsharian and Silvia Fiorentina whose shoes are like none other, immediately  recognizable  by their exquisite style and beautiful top and back lines.

Starring in today’s arena of obsessed over, coveted and budget-busting  shoes – some of which reside in their own zip code -  there are  many incredibly gifted designers whose creations fly off the shelves, inspire envy and win well deserved awards  but, arguably, not many among them  are actually crafters of heels, toe boxes  and lasts;  trained and experienced  shoemakers  in the truest  sense of the word.


Scrolling way, way back, while Jerry Miller was learning his trade in the I.Miller factories, he met  and  married Margaret Clark,  a gifted young woman working in the design room  there. A brilliant, prolific, directional designer, Margaret Clark is credited with a number of  innovations that changed, forever, the way shoes were made; among them, replacing  French cord bindings with the folded, straight topline that kept  shoes – then and now - from digging into the backs of heels,  creating  uncomfortable and unsightly “pump bumps.”   Much later, the two started a business together, designing, making and selling chic, elegant  shoes – all the buzz in  Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Footwear News  and stocked by the most important retailers of the time.

 

One of the most rewarding and enduring partnerships  between Margaret Jerrold and a retailer was that with Lord & Taylor. Originally the Millers  called their company Margaret and Jerrold  about which Dorothy Shaver, then president of Lord & Taylor, said “sounds like a dance team,”  and the company became simply Margaret Jerrold. So successful was the association that, in 1982, the Lord & Taylor Fifth Avenue windows announced the Margaret Jerrold retrospective on view throughout the shoe salon. 

 

In the continuing story of six degrees of separation, Dorothy Shaver is known to us as one of the founders of Fashion Group and the first female president of a major department store. Not to be macabre but rather recounting  an historical event, Shaver was buried in a pair of white satin Margaret Jerrold pumps – a moment, said Jerry Miller, that registered as  one of the proudest of his life.

  Dorothy Shaver