While Thom Solo was studying at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts School, a professor noticed that the young man was molding his work into extreme shoe forms: precarious stilettos, avant-garde heels and daring platforms.
“I started as an artist with an eye for design,” said Solo, now 26 and based in Boston. “I liked the idea of dabbling in sculpture, video, photography, installation.” He recalled how the late Alexander McQueen’s final collection sparked his aspirations: “His armadillo shoe really spoke to me. It had so much life. It inspired me to take cobbling courses.”
Instead of attending a traditional designer shoe school, Solo stayed local, learning under the tutelage of veteran Massachusetts shoemakers. “There are some incredible cobblers in my hometown,” he said. “They took me under their wing and taught me everything they know.”
After a few years of toiling in obscurity, making outlandish, fantasy-driven shoes for a handful of specialty clients, Solo got his big break in 2014. It came via Instagram and involved Lady Gaga.
“I liked the right photo at the right time and got an email within the hour from her stylist’s assistant,” Solo said. “We’re on our 10th project with her now.” That connection led to other special projects with Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Demi Lovato. Orders continue to roll in via social media from fashion provocateurs such as campy Canadian socialite Sylvia Mantella, a top client.
Solo estimated it takes two to four days to make each pair of his heels from scratch, with prices starting at $600 for a single-sole stiletto. The designer is preparing to move his manufacturing (and possibly himself) to New York to keep up with production demand and reach his ultimate goal: to be sold on a department-store shoe floor.
“I’ve been very lucky from the start to have an angel investor,” he said. “I’ve been able to do so much from Boston, but I know I need to move if I want to take things to the next level.”