Belgian Shoes would be the last brand you’d ever accuse of hopping on a trend. Save for an early 2020 renovation of its lone store in Midtown Manhattan, close to nothing has changed about the business or its hand-sewn loafers since 1955.
So, at a time when cross-pollination between fashion labels is its zenith, it feels significant that Belgian Shoes has only now landed its first-ever dance partner in the form of London-based artist Boyarde Messenger, founder and creative director of Boyarde Art House. Through this newly launched partnership, customers will be able to purchase shoes in-store and then have them sent directly to Messenger, who will consult with the client to learn how they’d like their shoes to be hand-painted in her signature, Pop Art-style.
Sarah Vanacker, who has co-owned Belgian Shoes with her sisters Barbara and Vanessa since it was bequeathed to them by their father Georges Vanacker, admits that it’s a big step for the business, which has turned down many suitors in the past. “We don’t really like people interfering with our product,” Vanacker tells Robb Report.
But she was impressed by Messenger’s work, so much so that she commissioned custom, surrealist-style artworks to be painted on the brand’s two most recognizable styles: the Mr. Casual loafer for men, and the Midinette loafer for women.
In the case of the Mr. Casual, a black calfskin model was hand-painted with imagery referencing the brand’s dual heritage, including the figure from Belgian artist René Magritte’s “The Son of Man” and the Chrysler building. The Midinette, meanwhile, had its brown suede upper decorated with Magritte-esque clouds and bowler hats and Belgian malinoises.
Both pairs can be viewed at Belgian Shoes, where they can be freely mined for inspiration. However, clients are welcome to propose their own designs to Messenger after purchasing their shoes in-store (Belgian Shoes, it should be noted, does not offer e-commerce).
After a consultation period that may last several weeks and require communication between the client and Messenger, a final design will be confirmed. Afterward, clients can expect to receive their one-of-a-kind, hand-painted loafers in a matter of months (this may seem an eon to the average consumer, but not Belgian Shoes, which famously asks customers to send back their leather-soled loafers after a few weeks of wear to affix a sturdier rubber slip to the bottom).
As Vanacker sees it, the artist’s unwillingness to rush perfection ties her back to the product. “She does it all by hand. Nothing is printed, nothing is digital and that’s the way we make shoes, so we thought they were a good match,” says Vanacker.
In this case, the feeling is mutual. “The impeccable craftsmanship of Belgian Shoes was a huge draw for me and to have the chance to be able to create art with a brand so long established, priding itself in detail and traditional workmanship, was too irresistible,” says Messenger.
According to the artist, painting each pair took around 80 hours, and involved 14 or more layers of paint to ensure their longevity. “These pieces are wearable art. They are not painted just to be looked at, admired and undoubtedly be fabulous,” she says. “That quality has to be there to ensure that the client can take them on that journey with them.”
While potential patrons will purchase their unpainted loafers at Belgian Shoes, they will pay Boyarde Art House for Messenger’s services. No set pricing is available, as the final artwork will be based on the client’s preferences. With possibilities like that, making up your mind may be a challenge. But don’t worry, as the partnership is ongoing. As we’ve stated before: Belgian Shoes doesn’t like change.