Belgian Shoes would be the last brand you would accuse of jumping on a trend. With the exception of an early 2020 renovation of its sole store in Midtown Manhattan, almost nothing has changed about the company or its hand-stitched loafers since 1955.
So, at a time when cross-pollination between fashion brands is at its zenith, it seems significant that Belgian Shoes has landed its very first dance partner in the person of London-based artist Boyarde Messenger, founder and creative director of Boyarde Art. Accommodation. Through this newly launched partnership, customers will be able to purchase shoes in-store and have them sent directly to Messenger, who will consult with the customer on how they would like their shoes hand-painted in their signature, artistic Pop Style.
Sarah Vanacker, who has co-owned Belgian Shoes with her sisters Barbara and Vanessa since their father Georges Vanacker bequeathed them, admits it’s a big step for the company, which has turned down many suitors in the past. “We don’t really like people interfering with our product,” says Vanacker. Robb report.
But she was impressed with Messenger’s work, so much so that she commissioned surreal-style custom artwork to paint on the brand’s two most recognizable styles: the men’s Mr. Casual loafer and the Midinette moccasin for women.
In the case of the Mr. Casual, a black calfskin model has been hand-painted with images referencing the brand’s dual heritage, including the “Son of Man” figure by Belgian artist René Magritte and the Chrysler building. The Midinette, on the other hand, had its brown suede upper decorated with clouds and Magritte-style bowler hats and Belgian malinoise.
Both pairs can be seen at Belgian Shoes, where they can be checked out freely for inspiration. However, customers are encouraged to submit 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. Then, customers can expect to receive their unique hand-painted moccasins within months (this may seem like an eternity to the average consumer, but not to Belgian Shoes, who ask customers to return their leather-soled moccasins after a few weeks of wear to affix a stronger rubber brief on the bottom).
According to Vanacker, the artist’s reluctance to rush to perfection brings her back to the product. “She does everything by hand. Nothing is printed, nothing is digital and that’s how we make shoes, so we thought they were fine,” says Vanacker.
In this case, the feeling is mutual. “Belgian Shoes’ impeccable craftsmanship was a huge draw for me and having the chance to create art with such a long-established brand that prides itself on detail and traditional craftsmanship was too irresistible,” says Messenger.
According to the artist, painting each pair took around 80 hours and involved 14 or more coats of paint to ensure their longevity. “These pieces are wearable art. They are not painted just to be looked at, admired and no doubt fabulous,” she says. “That quality has to be there to ensure the customer can take them into that travel with them.”
While potential customers will buy their unpainted moccasins from Belgian Shoes, they will pay Boyarde Art House for Messenger services. No fixed price is available, as the final artwork will be based on client preference. With such possibilities, making a decision can be a challenge. But don’t worry, because the partnership is ongoing. As we have already said: Belgian Shoes does not like change.