At a time when any foible can now be airbrushed, edited, filtered or just plain omitted at will, the idea of imperfection as asset is a refreshing one. Such is the philosophy of Artemis Design Co., a company that makes shoes from the kaleidoscopic textiles of vintage kilim carpets.
Started in 2013 by designer Millicent Armstrong, who fell in love with kilim tapestries while on a trip to Istanbul, Artemis works with cobblers in the city to repurpose the Turkish carpets as bags, wallets, slippers and, most attractively, loafers. The result is an eye-catching combo of one-of-a-kind patterns and classic design—souk meets Stubbs and Wootton.
The carpets, which are woven primarily by nomadic women, are ones that have actually been used, and thus, sometimes have very small imperfections. Although one can barely see the tiny defects with the naked eye, they help give the final product its charming patina and individuality, especially when you consider how they came to be.
“If you picture a carpet, a pair of shoes can be cut from two different sides to get the symmetry,” explains company director of operations, McNeill Shiner, while holding up two hands to illustrate the point. “And perhaps this side was under a piece of furniture and this side was walked on. You can see some signs of life.” It’s a feature that clients love because, as Shiner reports, “It has more of a human feel to it.”
Indeed, that uniqueness is a large part of what makes Artemis shoes so coveted, especially their loafers, which start at $268 and have proven to be a big hit with men. As the carpets themselves are handcrafted, no two are alike, and therefore, no two pairs of shoes are alike, either. Add to that the artistic talents of the people who make them (Artemis works with a family-run workshop to construct the shoes), and the efforts that go into carefully selecting the most outstanding parts of the carpets, and the shoes begin to seem like a piece of art rather than just another accessory.
Shiner reports that the brand’s clientele are vast and varied, encompassing a large range of ages, styles and aesthetics: “We have a very sort of classic, preppy contingent that loves them, and then customers who are really bold dressers as well who love them. The shoes themselves, they can be very neutral or super bright.”
In the not-quite decade the company has been in business, it’s enjoyed high-profile partnerships with interior designers Nate Berkus, Jeremiah Brent and Charlotte Moss, and clothier Madewell, among others. Plans for the men’s line include raffia shoes next year and hand-embroidered suzani shoes for women sometime this summer.
Known for their comfort and lasting power, the shoes come with a one-year warranty for purchases made directly from their site (“under all reasonable circumstances”), but that’s not why customers keep coming back. As Shiner reports, it’s something else entirely: “To have that little piece of the textile and the craftsmanship—all of the people who’ve touched that piece. It’s very special!”