L.D. Tuttle"I'm not into decoration- for me that’s not what designing shoes is about."
L.D. Tuttle shoes are difficult to describe: Often comprised of unconventional shapes, materials and cuts, the shoes are anomolous as they seem to defy any literal trend and genre. Designed entirely by Tiffany Tuttle, the shoe’s straps, zippers, and heels operate in ways that seem impossible, all the while maintaining a functionality rooted in the craft of shoemaking. Having collaborated with brands like VPL and Helmut Lang,Tiffany Tuttle’s designs insist on trailblazing new territory in form, leaving exciting new aesthetics in their wake.
Were you interested in fashion growing up?
I loved making things. I learned how to sew when I was really young, 5 or 6. I would make my sister a doll, I knitted weird scarves, I made rugs. I always liked doing stuff with my hands. I kind of stopped doing that when I started dancing.
How did you get into dancing?
A lot of young girls dance. I loved dancing, I begged my mom to let me take ballet classes when I was seven. I kept dancing all through school. I was going to be a ballet dancer.
I can see that in your legs. I was like “she has got some pins on her, this girl.”
After high school I went and joined this professional company in Las Vegas, but when I got there I realized I didn’t want this as a profession. Like anything, you have to be really committed but it’s 20 times more commitment with dance. You only hang out with dancers, it’s the only thing you talk about. I missed having other things in my life. So I went to college and studied history.
Where did you go to school?
Princeton. While I was there I started to get into fashion. I applied to FIT and went that route.
Did you study shoe making at FIT?
Not at all. But I was at Rebecca Taylor, assisting. She didn’t do shoes at the time but we would do shoes for the runway, so I got to work on that a little bit. Shoes had always been something I was into, so I decided it was a good idea to just make the switch. I went to this shoe school in Milan.
It was very technical. Most of the people studying there were sent by their employers—like a shoe factory that might be paying for employees or the owner’s family members to learn the trade. I came from a design background and knew nothing about the practical side of making shoes. My background was almost the complete opposite of almost everyone else there.
It sounds like an old art there.
I am so glad I did it. Clothes are complicated but shoes are 20,000 times more complicated. It really helps to understand how the entire shoe is put together. I find when working with clothing designers, I am often trying to explain five times why something will work or won’t work. It’s really hard to understand until you have seen it made.
I’m sure. I can think of my own experience wearing shoes that are properly made, not wearing shoes, and wearing shoes that are not properly made. There is a huge difference and there is so much to balance visually and physically.
Everything you are working with is also on a smaller scale than clothing. With clothing if you are in production and a pair of pants isn’t fitting you can take it in and just modify it. You can’t do that with shoes. It changes everything. To say you want to change the heel height by 7mm is to start from the beginning.
One thing that tripped me out recently was seeing really difficult high heel shoes become so trendy that they are being sold at this mass market level. You wonder about people’s safety. People are clomping around in these giant fashion platform shoes that cost...
Yeah. $40. That whole extreme platform heel, it’s crazy.
Your shoes always look very complicated to design.
My shoes are not insanely complicated in terms having 50 million little straps—it’s the original concept that can be quite difficult. Some pattern makers I’ve worked with told me that I was totally crazy. In Italy they love to be super dramatic: “This isn’t a shoe, Tiffany,” They love to complain but they also really like the challenge of creating it.
Why do your shoes have to be manufactured in Italy?
Well they don’t. Most shoes are made in China nowadays. I started out making them in Italy because it interested me and now I love everything about it. I have done a few different freelance projects in China and there is a big difference. It makes me feel really lucky to be able to work in Italy.
I have one pair of your VPL boots. You feel like you are stepping on a lot of layers. They are quite built.
Italy is a place where you can still do that.
I forgot to ask, do you think there is some connection between the shoes you design and ballet shoes?
Definitely. I spent the first 18-19 years of my life staring at my feet and other people’s feet and legs, worrying about how good my arch was. It becomes such an obsession for a dancer. I still really relate to shoes in that way. Shoes are about movement—it’ not just this pretty high heel, it should be a three-dimensional object that can move and be looked at from all different angles.
You can do anything in your shoes, even the high ones. Thank god.
It’s so crazy—some women can wear extremely high heels, look amazing, and walk really well.
And be comfortable.
But a lot of women can’t. It’s easy to look ridiculous when you can’t walk.
Have you ever considered also making clothes?
No. I love clothes, I love fashion, I love looking at shows and reading about it, but I do not want to do it. Another thing that drew me to shoes was how focused it was. It is just this one little thing that you wear. I really like the specificity of it.
Do you remember the first shoes you designed?
I remember the first shoes I actually had made. They were very different.
Just more simple, more traditional. The thing about shoes is it takes a lot more knowledge to do the more interesting things. It has been a progression. You deal with the heels that you have at first because that’s what you can work with. Then you grow and find a factory that is willing to develop things with you.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I get asked this question all the time. For me, I try to create something that is both utilitarian and romantic. It has some sort of mystery to it, a hidden beauty. At the same time it’s super clean: with the silhouette, the lines of the shoe. I am not into decoration—for me that’s not what designing shoes is about. It’s about creating beautiful lines and also letting the shoe and the material it’s made from do its own thing.
There can be so many different shapes in a shoe. They really inform everything you are doing.
Your whole silhouette.
It is that subtle.
The other day when I flew here, I was wearing these shoes, and I hated the way they felt with my pants. It was driving me crazy all day. I don’t really obsess, and I looked like a bum, I was in a sweatshirt... but it was about the way the silhouette was working and the way it felt that was bothering me. I think shoes are really important that way.
Do you approach a collection with a certain central idea or are you just picking up where you left off the last season?
Both. Ideas from last season are what immediately come to the front as I start the new season, it’s what happens switching from one season to the next. It’s nice because maybe you have some concept you are working with in Spring but it will really change and develop into something new in Fall.
I think it is defiant to create something that isn’t changing at the same rhythm as the fashion industry.
I guess that’s true. I think it’s important to work with your ideas and see them grow and change organically. That was the great thing about working with Victoria Bartlett—she works the same way. She does her own thing.
You have so many different textures. Sometimes in one shoe you will have a bunch of them, and also your construction often becomes quite textural. The materials themselves are also tactile and very earthy.
To me that’s when things have character, for lack of a better word. You can look at a leather and see so much in it. I tend to be drawn to that stuff where you can really see the highs and lows in the leather and different colors in one.
What do you feel LD Tuttle shoes do to a person’s outfit?
Make it worse? I hope that they work with different styles but have a life of their own at the same time.
I think that’s true.
As a designer you obviously have this ego—otherwise you wouldn’t be designing at all. You are trying to create something unique, your own special thing. At the same time I think another reason you are a designer is you see amazing people around you. Like “look at that girl, her style is incredible.” You would never want to change that, you just want to be a part of that.