I've always had a fascination with handmade or hand-tooled sandals. Such an ancient-old-world trade. There's the famous handmade Italian sandals, Amedeao Canfora, Greek leather sandals, Roman, Gladiator....leather...sandal...leather....and yet before some of my personal favorite leather artists like Jutta Neumann, Lucia Nenickova, and Meichi Peng
there was Barbara Shaum.
A total and complete icon. With a whole cult following (and sidestory that includes being one of the first females to be served at McSorley's), Barbara has been sandaling feet for well over 50 years.
The sandal maker Barbara Shaum prefers to focus on her craft, not changing trends. ("So gladiator sandals are popular again?" she asked recently, only moderately curious.) Since opening her business in 1954, her technique has stayed pretty much the same. Customers still choose from about 30 classic styles and an assortment of skins; their feet are measured, patterns are drawn; a couple weeks later, there's a fitting.
The age-old craft was taught to her by Menalkas Duncan, who learned it while visiting Greece with his aunt, Isadora. "I'm not really fashion-fashion," Ms. Shaum, 79, said as an employee fielded a call from a Vogue editor. "I'm more traditional."
Her sandals take four weeks to make (order now and have them by Memorial Day) and cost from $300 to $600 — a good deal, given their shelf life. "A woman came in here the other day who had her sandals for 30 years!" Ms. Shaum said, herself looking a little surprised.
Watch the short film on Barbara and her tiny leather shop on the East Village by Seth Lind *here*.