By Rory Winston
Long before bands like Haim rekindled an interest in 70’s rock, pickle-making made its college campus comeback, 19th Century beards sprouted in Williamsburg, Vinyl-fever inspired kids to raid their grandparent’s attic, Hawaiian T-shirts lent porn stars from the early 80’s a sense of credibility they never had in the first place, designers had been ransacking the past in an attempt to reinvent. Although fashion’s recent forays in time-travel have been presented as daring explorations into uncharted territory, similar (often, seminal) sorties into history have fueled design as far back as the 18th Century.
While terms like hipster, retro and faux nostalgia chime among contemporary fashionistas, designers throughout history have borrowed traditional themes, resuscitating the past within the aesthetic context of their own era. Whether knowingly, unwittingly or with overt fetishist delight, each step forward has been indelibly marked by tradition. For every flight of fancy: the continuity of many lifetimes. And so, as this year closes a chapter filled with 1990’s minimalism and aviator-style shearling jackets, 2017 opens with the promise of revisiting oversized puffy streetwear, sharp colors and street smart slippers that smack of home.
‘If the shoe fits… well, it might as well feel comfortable,’ design houses like Balenciaga seem to be saying. Revamping the ‘cheap Chinese slipper’ in ‘haute couture’ form, they are not alone in their stylized granny look which juxtaposes faux eastern motifs with western design. Dolce and Gabbanna has also put a high price on comfy, as is clear from their Scheherazade variation of the slipper theme. Likewise, Chatelles has gone with a decidedly bordello in plumes look that recalls “Irma la Douce,” if not that other even more camp Jack Lemmon vehicle, “Some Like It Hot.” But for that other camp, the enthusiasts who would rather swear by ‘Some like it Haute,’ there is one design series that stands out. Going the extra proverbial step, the one shoe that not only relies on its own folk tradition for inspiration but applies the age-old handmade process throughout is: The New ‘Sallay Szeged Slipper’ designed by Zita Attalai.
Having survived virtually intact since shortly after the Ottoman invasion of Hungary in the sixteenth century, the original classical Szeged Slipper on which the new design is based is an evolved but still hand-stitched version of the Turkish slipper – one with a heel and embroidery. As for the reinvented series, it adheres to all the conventions as regards the making, cutting and sewing of the shoes but brings the nuance of what can best be described as signature sculpting into the process. The eclectic but pared-down design is the work of the Budapest based shoe designer Zita Attalai, a woman who has over the years whittled down her more extravagant designs in an ongoing process of clarification that has managed to retain both flourish and signature while nevertheless being free of effusion and ornamentation. No gimmicks, no superimposed trendy devices, her works have an architectural integrity as pronounced as that of Walter Steiger and as texturally integrated as those espoused by Jimmy Choo.
Being familiar with the noteworthy work being done by the nationally renowned artisan and designer, Tibor Sallay, it didn’t take long for Attalai to make contact with him. Although his shoes were always “made for walking,” it would be the juxtaposition of a contemporary sensibility that would lend itself to those who wanted their shoes to “walk all over you” – the you in this case being all those on whom style-savvy women want to leave a very definite impression.
Sallay who is based in the Hungarian border city of Szeged had devoted his entire life to handmade shoes. He is, in fact, the last in a long line of nearly extinct specialized cobblers capable of creating the highly acclaimed Szeged Slipper. As a national treasure and a veritable piece of Hungarikum in its own right, the handcrafted and handstitched Szeged Slipper has adorned the feet of Hungarian folk dancers, traditionalists, and cognoscenti alike. Since Sallay is one of the last remaining artisans in the field, he not only sews each slipper by hand but oversees the entirety of the process … yes, “each step of the way.” This does lend the final product a level of durability and flexibility unattained by any competitor, making it the “city slicker’s slipper of choice.” Zita Attalai and Tibor Sallay share a vision – the reinvention and reintegration of an age old tradition within a contemporary format. Although the classical model may appeal to hipsters hankering for retro shoe-ware, the new version easily competes with any designer brand.
As a testament to Attalai’s inventiveness and innovative design, the Oklahoma Science Museum has recently asked her to contribute new works to their upcoming exhibition (February 2017), entitled Sole Expression: The Art of the Shoe. Looking at the high level of craftsmanship, design, vision, passion and innovation that went into the making of Attalai’s most recent collaboration, the Sallay Szeged Slipper, it is clear why the OSM’s decision to include her creations at their venue is well warranted. Since Attalai and Sallay have both been garnering lots of interest from abroad, it probably won’t be long before their wares make that ocean crossing and appear on our shores.
For a consummate designer like Attalai, and a lifelong devotee to the art of shoemaking like Sallay, witnessing timeless tradition strutting a contemporary catwalk is more than ‘music to their ears,’ it is downright Depeche Mode – the unadulterated sound of excellence with a cosmopolitan vibe, proudly proclaiming: ‘Try walking in my shoes.’
Press Link Below to watch Short Film on Szeged Slipper :